Everything interesting has an even more intriguing story behind it. That is the way of things. Without debating whether the propter hoc fame makes the ad hoc story interesting, today I will tell you the interesting story of Maria Martini, a name that is part saintly and part intoxicating. This is the story of a pretty Argentinean girl who started off a career in law and economics and then threw it all up for a career in gastronomy!
Humble beginnings in small yet reputed outlets in the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires led to bigger stints, which finally got her into the hotel mainstream and soon found her flying around the world in various work stints. Her last was in Delhi where she manned (is that the correct verb in this case?) the grills at Café at the Hyatt Regency.
I crossed her culinary prowess only ever so briefly but it was insightful enough to merit a column’s worth of words. Needless to add, my queries dwelled on the country that has one truly unique meat standard in the world: Argentina, and its cuisine. “Argentina has great beef no doubt, but it also has good lamb. And the cuisine is really a mix of Italian and Spanish influences from the initial settlers and the local tribes which inhabited the land since before.” This makes for an eclectic mix, and a rather unique one at that, combining two continents and spanning multiple eras.
And perhaps this is what differentiates it from ‘Latino’ cooking, a term that signifies no particular range of dishes in particular really and yet finds limited application as an adjective here in Argentina, which is considered the most European of the Southern (Latin) American countries.
Food here is characterised by use of tropical fruits and a penchant for coconut and cream. An addition to these is the use of potatoes and corn, locally available staples for the longest time, which are often cooked into stews.
Another popular preparation is the chimichurri sauce, a very traditional sauce often accompanying prime cuts of beef, Ojo de bife (rib eye) being a popular one. No self-respecting gaucho will share his recipe easily but the sauce is a mix of dry herbs like parsley, rosemary and thyme, with chilli flakes, paprika, oil, vinegar and garlic. Pretty basic hence it is all in the ratio.
The stress today is often on classical dishes which were simple to prepare and straightforward in their flavour profile and presentation yet considered easy to cook and serve. Most importantly, they were based on fresh seasonal ingredients and carried the memory of family meals cooked by mothers for the microwave meal generation.
Marina believes this very essence could help Indians adapt easily to Argentine fare. Sure there is beef, but there are also vegetables and stews, often with a flavour profile cognisant for Indians. Empanadas are already popular in India and anybody who has ever tried the sticky and treacly dulce de leche has instantly fallen in love with it for life.
As a country it may be terribly far from us but the cuisine may not be so distant. July 9 is Argentina’s national day, and we should definitely try and find a place which can serve up something from the country. If not, step up and throw something together that can transport you in solidarity and bear the carbon-footprint of a fly!