Philosophical Moments in Neuquen
Today I’ll be Talking about…
II. How to make empanadas
V. Previous posts
VI. Coming soon
I spent the first half of my September spring break in Valparaiso, and then I popped down to Neuquen to visit my friend Yamila who recently graduated from Soka. (1 hour stopover in Mendoza between Valpo and Neuquen—just enough time to brush my teeth in the bathroom and change my shirt. Felt like an absolute BOSS at traveling.) Both were great visits, but I never want to spend that much time on a bus again.
As much as I enjoyed Chile, it still felt so good to be back on Argentine soil. I hadn’t realized until I’d left how much Argentina had become a part of me, and not just in my accented Spanish. Although Neuquen was about 12 hours south of everything familiar to me in Argentina, I knew I was back “home” when I heard Yamila shout, “Che boludo!” in response to being tackled by a friend.
Neuquen probably won’t show up on your list of must-see locations in Argentina—it was pretty quiet—but I’ll say that it was definitely a pretty place. For me, it was the site of a lot of needed reflection on my experiences.
More than anything, it was a relief to reaffirm that I really had learned something about Argentine culture and I understood it now. When I first met her and learned she was from Argentina, it didn’t mean much to me–I had no idea I’d be living there for half a year. She could have just as easily been from Paraguay, Chile, Colombia, or Venezuela as far as I was concerned. So, the reality of her life outside of Soka was a complete mystery to me. Between arriving in Argentina and meeting up with her, I had a secret fear that upon talking to her I’d realize that I hadn’t actually learned “real” Argentine things or that I would have learned the “wrong” Argentine things…but there were no secrets and no mysteries. Her Argentina was the exact same Argentina that I was coming to know and love.
We spent a lot of time discussing what it meant to us to have traveled (while she was at Soka, she did her study abroad in Japan) and what we learned about ourselves in the process. After living in the US and Japan, she’s not purely Argentine anymore, culturally speaking. She lives in some gray zone in between all of them that will never exist on a map. And that’s how I’ve begun to feel too. I want to keep traveling until my body and/or budget force me to stop, I want to surround myself with people who also like and understand traveling, and I want to maintain a worldview that doesn’t cut off at the edge of my backyard.
And I guess that’s some of what they mean when they say you can never go home again.
One night we went to classical music concert, put on at one of the congressional buildings because they still don’t have an official concert hall building. (Yamila plays violin, so she had plenty of opinions about that. However, she’s also one of few Argentines I’ve talked to who actually likes la presidenta Cristina Krischner.)
By far, my favorite thing we did together was to sit on the bank of the river where she goes swimming every summer, sipping mate.
A close second was making empanadas in her kitchen.
However, neither of the high points of Neuquen beat the moment when I came home to Mendoza. GLORY HALLELUJAH I’M OFF THE BUS. (Too bad the next weekend was the one I went to Cordoba—another long bus ride.) Because I got off the bus with a great big green backpacking backpack, hostel representatives came flocking to me, trying to sell me a night in one of their beds.
“Thanks, but I don’t need a hostel,” I said to one of them.
“I live here, che!”
II. How to make empanadas
I think the recipe on this website explains it better than I can myself right now. (I tend to use more hand gestures than words when explaining how to cook.) But I can offer you a couple of additional tips.
-Empanadas can be fried or baked, depending how unhealthy you want to be. Both are pretty simple—common sense, once you’ve read through these directions, but if you want to be very precise about it you can Google around and find exact temperature settings, how long to leave it in etc. (After using my host mom’s Oven of Death to make mother’s day cookies, I’ve kind of given up on precision.)
-You can also get pre-made dough if you don’t want to make it from scratch. Here in Argentina, you just buy the little circles of dough at the store. At home, flattened Pilsbury biscuits give you that flaky, buttery goodness.
-This bears mentioning again, even though it’s also included in the linked recipe: use water each time you want the dough to stick to itself. That’s the only real trick to it.
– Once you start using other fillings, you’re departing the territory of “authentic” empanadas, but if you like to cook and experiment, I say go for it. There’s not much that wouldn’t be delicious tucked inside an empanada. Here in Argentina, I’ve mostly seen beef (Chile has almost the exact same thing, which they call “pino” and includes hardboiled egg and one whole olive) but you can also find capresse, cheese, ham and cheese, chicken… etc. Once, back home in New Mexico, I had a sweet one with a sugary glaze on top and pumpkin inside. Let your stomach be your guide.
-That said, I wouldn’t recommend using salami as a filling. We attempted it and, although they were still tasty, it did a weird textural thing after we fried them.
Lomo – I believe I’ve told you a bit about this word once before. Well, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. It can refer to a) a cut of meat, usually in a sandwich, always delicious. b) A hot bod. c) Un lomo de burro, a speed bump. Turns out it’s because that cut of meat is off the rump reason, which is where all 3 uses come from.
Lloviznar – raining lightly (sprinkling, drizzling)
In honor of Yamila’s Spanish-Japanese culture shock and its intersection with mine, here’s a song about a guy getting his Latin dance on in a Japanese city.
V. Previous posts
11. Road Trip!
12. My Mate for Life
14. Pros and Cons
VI. Coming soon
The Student’s Life
Rafting in San Rafael
Chile Part II
The return to BA
Mar del Plata
A few tips on hostels
Reverse culture shock
Goals – accomplishments and compromises