The Origin of Empanadas

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PH: Antonio García

In Argentina, we love to say that empanadas are one of our typical dishes. This is true, but to a point, it all depends on what you mean by “typical”. Of course, “typical” in South America is sometimes difficult to define because of the strong European influence. Migration patterns after colonization were particularly particular in Argentina, so it is even more notorious here and so we have “typical” pizza, pasta, and ice-cream too, when probably you would be thinking wait, aren’t all those foods typically Italian? Yes (relatively), in fact originally that’s where we got them from, however, then each place appropriates the influx and makes it into something of its own.

When trying to trace back the origins of the famous (and delicious) empanadas, first influx in Argentina of this juicy morsel would be Spanish.  Tracing back, the Spanish might have gotten it from Arab cultures which make similar mouth-watering fatays and sfijas and kibbes. Apparently the Greeks had already imported an empanada type phyllo-dough dish called bougatsa from Constantinople as well, and in Mesopotamia, meat pies were supposed to have already been popular several hundred of years BC. In terms of prehispanic South American cultures, humitas and tamales follow a similar logic to the empanada, if one thinks of them in terms of folding and stuffing. In fact, one of the typical empanada versions we have is called humita and stuffed with corn (a prehispanic staple) and bechamel sauce. There are many more cultures with their own version of the empanada. Regardless of their origin, if you are in Argentina, make sure to try the “typical” variants, oven-baked or fried, that are common here because they certainly are delicious.

Our top 5 spots for empanadas in Buenos Aires? Find our picks here.

And, if you happen to want an evening appetizer at UCO restaurant, make sure to try our own version of tapas sized empanadas filled with mozzarella, basil, oven dried tomatoes and served with Pesto.

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