I have always loved the idea of breaking bread with others— sharing connections around a meal. I like to think of that human tradition as one that links me to not only my ancestors, but to friends, strangers, and quite literally…everyone. Studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina gave me many bread-breaking opportunities, and in fact, the daily ritual of sharing meals has been a great way to process my time abroad by focusing on the little moments that make up the day to day.
My sweet medialuna and cafe con leche breakfasts brought daily smiles from the local baker across the street. I explored new neighborhoods in search of tasty lunch restaurants with friends. Argentine afternoon snack/coffee hour, merienda, with local classmates threw me in the deep end with immersive language practice. Warm, home-cooked dinners from my host mother came with great conversation, new dining customs, and a loving friendship. I was a guest at a few asados, where families gather each Sunday to enjoy the company of loved ones and eat a mountain of grilled meat.
One meal in particular, however, is the reigning champion in my mind relating to Buenos Aires dining: the empanada.
A dish originally brought from the first Spanish colonists, the Argentine empanada is now a cultural staple. A baked, hand-sized pillow of dough filled with a variety of mouth-watering options like cheese and ham (a Buenos Aires classic), beef, chicken, and caramelized onions, the empanada combines carbohydrates and protein at a low cost, filling the stomachs of porteños during lunchtime, dinnertime, and any late-night snack needs.
Long story short, I decided to consume an — ehem– large amount of empanadas in the name of CULTURE! Due to a video I had posted in all my excitement about my newfound love for the food, I stumbled upon an accidental burst of virality on Tiktok. Suddenly, I was breaking bread with thousands of Argentine viewers on the app.
As it turns out, I touched a nerve. My new followers gave me restaurant recommendation after recommendation. Some even invited me to their homes in case I wanted to try their mother’s empanadas. I had no choice but to follow through and make videos rating each empanada I tried. With each new restaurant came more Spanish practice, new conversations, new connections with friends, and a new street or neighborhood I hadn’t explored before.
Each empanada experience was different. One happened amidst the chaos of a food market, frantically giving my order across a busy counter in order to be handed, a few minutes later, the warm, glowing, gold bar that was my empanada order. Some empanadas had arm-length cheese pulls. Some empanadas, like the Salteña, are so juicy they dribble down your chin and onto your shirt. Worth it. To be honest, my food critic skills could use some work, as most of the comments that escaped between mouthfuls of melted cheese were some version of “mmffhhmm… It’s so good…”
The comments on my videos ranged from love (“Bienvenidos a Argentina! You should try Pizza Güerrin”) to controversy (“That place is the worst, they know nothing. Come to Tucuman and we will make you REAL empanadas”) to horror (“You only bought ONE empanada????? You deserve jail”).
This echoed my experience in real life too. Wherever I went, the Argentine people were happy to chat with me and give me their recommendations not only for food, but for activities, life, soccer (excuse me, fútbol), Argentina travel, and Spanish grammar.
At the end of the day, the breaking of the bread (or the empanada) really was all about deepening friendships, sharing culture, and creating bonds and lasting memories. I will be returning home with a fantastic abroad experience under my belt– and maybe a couple extra empanadas, too.
For anyone interested, here were my favorite empanada spots in BA: 1810 Cocina Regional, Rincón Norteño, El Hornero (de San Telmo), Los Inmortales, Mi Gusto, and Pizzeria Güimpi V. Link to my full Google maps list here.
My general recommendations: eat the carne empanadas with lemon juice. Always order a minimum of three empanadas. Hornero are traditional, but fried are just better!! Don’t bother with veggie empanadas unless they are choclo (corn). Don’t ask what’s in the mondongo empanada… just chew and enjoy.
Jenna Simon is a student at Trinity University in Texas and studied abroad with IFSA’s Argentina Universities Program in fall 2022. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.