Salta, home to the best empanadas

by Forager on December 6, 2009

Our first 2 days of our trip were spent in Buenos Aires – eating, relaxing and easing into holiday mode and finding our feet with the language. On day 3 we caught a plane to Salta, in the north west corner of Argentina at the foothills of the Andes.

Through our research we were attracted to Salta as it sounded like a beautiful, quaint and picturesque town and world away from the bustling cosmpolitan metropolis of Buenos Aires. After a short plane trip, we touched down in Salta in the early afternoon, greeted by frigid teeth chattering winds, grey skies and not a great deal else. The first impression was simply: “grey”. Compared to the vibrancy of Buenos Aires, Salta was a little underwhelming. We hadn’t booked accommodation as we weren’t sure how long we wanted to stay in Salta, so it was fortuitous when there were rooms available at Hotel Casa Real, a hotel recommended on Trip Advisor. We piled on a few extra layers and went off in search of a small snack before dinner and the top priority on the list was to seek out the best empanadas in Salta.Empanadas were introduced into South America by the Spanish (and introduced to Spain by the Moors during the Arab occupation). Empanadas in South America tend to be crescent moon shaped as opposed to the circular variety found widely in Spain. Salta is famous for their own version of the empanada, known as empanadas salteñas and are savoury parcels of goodness typically made with spicy ground beef, potatoes, spring onions and other various ingredients. The top recommendation for empanadas salteñas was at Patio de la Empanada – reportedly a taxi driver favourite. And if our experiences with taxi drivers around the world are anything to go by, taxi drivers are always brilliant gold mines of information when it comes to finding tasty and authentic cheap eats. Almost everytime I ask a taxi driver for a eatery recommendation, I get a enthusiastic and opinionated response. So if Patio de la Empanada is popular with taxi drivers, it’s already looking positive!

We caught a taxi from our hotel to Patio de la Empanada and asked the taxi driver for their opinion on where to get the best empanada. Without hesitation he told us we were heading to the right place.

Patio de la Empanada isn’t so much a restaurant but a collection of small specialised empanada stalls in simple surroundings and . It’s located a good 10 – 15 minute walk from the main plaza near the central markets so there are not many tourists about, only some locals going about their daily business. We head inside and find it’s deserted. Then it dawns on us – it’s still siesta time! No wonder the entire town seems a bit empty and lifeless!

Most of the stalls are deserted, but we find one of the stalls is just setting up for the night, so we ask for a selection of their empanadas – one each of the beef, chicken and cheese. The lady behind the counter is kind enough to let us watch and photograph her making the empanadas.

She removes large tubs of filling from the fridge, freshly made dough and pulls off a small chunk. With deft hands she rolls the ball of dough into a flat circle, spoons in a small amount of filling and with a quick braid of the edges seals the empanada. In no time, all three empanadas are done and popped into the deep fryer for a minute or so. By the time we get back to our table, the piping hot empanadas are placed in front of us with a small bowl of hot salsa.

Empanadas from Patio de la Empanada, $1.4 ARS each

I’ve had empanadas before and these were nothing like what I’ve eaten before. For a start they were much smaller – perhaps only a third of the size of ones I’ve had before and the perfectly puffed appearance made the previous ones I’ve had look deflated and downright amateurish. And they were without a doubt the best empanadas we’ve ever tasted! The beef empanada was amazingly flavourful and juicy – ground beef, potato and spring onion filling an excellent tasty combination and we gobbled it up quickly, the hot fillings burning our mouths and throats.

Beef empanada $1.4 ARS
The next empanada was filled with a delicious mixture of shredded chicken, sweet corn and spring onions. Again devoured in a flash.

Chicken empanada, $1.4 ARS
The last empanada was the cheese one, the molten cheese strings stretching when we tore the empanada in two. Salty, cheesy and the spring onion adding another facet of flavour.

Cheese empanada, $1.4 ARS

All three empanadas were devoured with lightning speed and they were so tasty we could have easily eaten a thousand more! The pastry was wonderfully thin and crisp, the filling so incredibly tasty and the size just perfect like little dumplings. We both agreed the beef empanadas were the tastiest and despite not wanting to spoil our dinner, we couldn’t help but get another 6 more – all devoured immediately amidst groans of delight. And what a bargain – the 9 delicious empanadas cost us a tiny $13 ARS – that’s equivalent to just $0.40 AUD each!

Happy and extremely satisfied with our little snack, we decided a walk through the Central markets would aid digestion. I always find markets in foreign countries fascinating to explore and learn what the locals eat and what curious produce they grow. The produce section was filled with plenty of fresh brightly coloured produce – from amazing multi-coloured corn and tubers, both South American staples, to interesting grains and puffed giant corn.

The meat section had an array of interesting cuts on display with more offal than usually seen and disturbingly, none of it looked refrigerated. But maybe that wasn’t necessary as although we wanted to explore for longer, it was getting so ridiculously cold that my woollen and fleece layers and gloves weren’t working anymore so we headed back to the hotel to rug up before heading out to dinner.

The Co-pilot was still pre-occupied with meat so we headed to La Lenita, another parilla, for yet more meat.

It was still an early 9pm but the restaurant was filling up – it appears the locals in Salta don’t eat as late as those in Buenos Aires.

We’re given a couple of baked beef empanadas to start. They’re tasty but after the delicious morsels we had at Patio de la Empanada they just don’t compare.

Complimentary baked beef empanadas

To accompany the meal, we order another classic Argentine wine, this time trying a 2007 Torrontes from Altavista. We know it’s a white and not a typical wine to accompany a steak but we want to try the Torrontes after having tried the Malbec and Tempranillo. It’s floral with a hint of rose with spicy, peppery flavours too. It has a dry finish which is typical of Torrontes, but it isn’t as dry as we expected.

Alta Vista 2007 Torrontes, $39 ARS for 375mL, $60 ARS for full 750mL

There were quite a few interesting entrees on the menu and the Co-pilot chose the beef chorizo, or beef sausage. In Australia, where “chorizo” is synonymous with a slightly spicy, typically red coloured sausage, in Argentina, it just means sausage. It was very tasty and funnily enough slightly red in colour, but just a bit on the salty side.

Beef sausage and blood sausage (right)
Chorizo parrillero $7.50 ARS and morcilla casera $6.50 ARS

I opted for morcilla, or blood sausage, as I hadn’t actually tried blood sausage before. It was a rich, deep purple and had an interesting texture, not compacted like normal sausage, but loose like silky ground meat just held together by the crisp light casing. I expected to taste a strong iron-like metallic flavour like blood jelly in Asian cuisine but it wasn’t noticeable – it tasted of good, tasty mince with an interesting texture. Not bad for my first experience of blood sausage.

Given the excessive amounts of meat that we’ve been eating of late, we also both opted for the salad bar, and interestingly corn oil was offered to dress salad.

For our main we shared the bife de chorizo (the sirloin). As we wanted our steak medium-rare, but at this stage hadn’t yet learnt that the magic word for medium-rare was “jugoso” (literally “juicy”), with some difficulty, we explained in our poor broken Spanish that we wanted our steak halfway between “medium” and “rare”.

Beef sirloin steak /Bife de chorizo $32 ARS

We received our steak cut in two, with one half done medium and the other half done rare (the above photo was of my rare portion). After a bit of dumbfounded staring and giggling at our case of lost in translation, we found the steak to be very tasty and tender, simply seasoned with salt and pepper to allow the steak to speak for itself – but not quite in the same league as La Cabrera.

Whilst we dined, two waiters slung guitars and drums across their shoulders and began serenading the audience. The vibe was festive, with diners putting down their cutlery and clapping, cheering and singing along.

Feeling like a bit of dessert to finish off the meal we ordered the unusual sounding “regional cheese with cayote jam”. The cheese was not quite what we expected. A thin, flat disc of cheese topped with a pile of what looked like marmalade was placed before us. The cheese was a cow’s milk cheese that was fairly mild in flavour, and tasted not unlike a tart version of provolone but had a very rubbery texture. The cayote jam was even more unexpected. It consisted of thin noodle like strings coated in a sweet sticky syrup and tasted like candied melon. I’ve since discovered that cayote is a type of pumpkin that has the exterior of a watermelon. It was interesting but probably not something I’d order again.

Regional cheese with cayote jam
Mini quesillo con cayote $8 ARS

The final bill came to $85 ARS (about $30 AUD). The great value meals in this country will not cease to astound me.

We leave the warmth of the restaurant and step into the cold night, pulling on beanies and zipping up jackets as we go and walk past the main plaza on our way back to the hotel. It was so desperately cold by this stage that even with all my layers of warmth I was feeling the cold, a fine vapour like mist swirled about us whipped up and snapped about by the wind. We hazarded a guess that it might have been very close to freezing. Despite the cold, couples, families and children are all roaming around the main plaza. On reflection, Salta was a cute little town with orange trees laden with fruit lining the streets and park perimeters, a lovely place to unwind and empty your mind of worries. But the Co-pilot and I were looking for an exciting adventure, so we decided to leave Salta early the next day.

Next post – crossing the Andes to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Addresses and featured businesses:

Hotel Casa Real
Mitre 669, Salta, Argentina
Tel: (+54387) 421-2200 (+54387) 421-2200 (+54387) 421-2200 (+54387) 421-2200

Patio de la empanada
Corner San Martin and Islas Malvinas, Salta, Argentina

La Lenita
Balcarce 802, Salta, Argentina
Tel (+54387) 421-4865 (+54387) 421-4865 (+54387) 421-4865 (+54387) 421-4865

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Belle@OohLook December 7, 2009 at 5:04 pm

I must say, I really enjoy your detailed descriptions of your Sth American trip. Even if I never get there, it will feel like I have, hehe!

2 Gourmantic December 7, 2009 at 5:33 pm

After reading your review, I'm craving blood sausages and Argentinian wine! That dessert doesn't look very tempting though I'd try it our of curiosity.

3 Anonymous December 7, 2009 at 11:13 pm

thanks for leaving a comment on my blog otherwise it might've been some time before i stumbled my way here. what a lovely blog! just read this post and i'm eager to get to all the others. i recently tried black pudding which apparently is mash up blood sausage? It sounded a bit weird at first but actually didn't taste too bad. look forward to reading all your upcoming posts.

4 FFichiban December 7, 2009 at 11:56 pm

OOhhh that cheesy empanada looks soooo good as well as the steak! Mmmm I want both the medium and rare halves hee hee

5 Forager December 8, 2009 at 7:49 am

Hey Belle – Hehe, yes, it is abit drawn out and I can be guilty of being verbose – but intended that way for those who want to travel there and get the low down on what to do in each area.

Hey Gourmantic – I never thought I'd be craving meat so soon after that trip but my body and stomach surprises me and I want more meat despite how much we ate there. Blood sausage was good and I'd love more!

Hey Guest – Oh no! WWhich blog are you from anonynous guest? Oh well, glad you enjoyed the post and clearly I liked yours too!

Hey FFichiban – Yeah, half and half steak. Massive spanish translation fail!

6 Betty December 9, 2009 at 9:18 am

Lol at your lost in translation moment with the rare and medium steak, that's hilarious!! Hehe. And omg.. I so want to try those amazing empanadas! Great post, I was rivetted the entire time!

7 Anonymous December 9, 2009 at 9:28 am

Yum those empanadas sound fantastic. The problem with such good food, I find, is that future versions will always pale in comparison though!

And the half-half steak is classic. I remember in Paris some friends nochalantly ordered a latte and were surprised by the waiter's confusion. A few minutes later they were presented with a glass of milk. lol!

8 Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella December 9, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Did someone say empanada? 😛 They look fantastic and what a steal at 40c! It's amazing when you get to try all of this amazing food and it ends up costing a fraction of what you pay back home. And a half rare half medium steak? That's quite brilliant! lol

9 Katherine December 9, 2009 at 10:13 pm

Empanadas it's the BWE (Best Word Ever). My mum used to yell this out and all of us kids would run down to have some of her Empanadas. They are such a great little treat at any time of the day.

10 Forager December 9, 2009 at 11:00 pm

Hey Betty – Total fail on the translation front. They must have thought we were so mad – or stupid – for asking for half a rare steak and half a medium one!

Hey Helen – That must be a common story or we have the same friend! Except with my friend ordering the latte in Rome, she didn't know the word for milk was latte so thought the waiters were picking on her!

Hey Lorraine – Aren't holidays the best for good cheap food? They do spoil us for prices and I often get outraged at then having to pay Sydney prices after market hawker fare galore..

Hey Katherine – That's so lucky! Your mum made empanadas for you guys as kids! Yum! I'll have to check out your blog and see if there's a family empanada recipe! 

11 Rilsta December 10, 2009 at 4:52 pm

YUMMM!! Those empanadas look so freakin good! A friend is currently living in Sao Paolo and raves about the empanadas she has in BA! I can't wait to try one!

12 Adrian @ Food Rehab December 10, 2009 at 8:52 pm

<span><span><span style=""><span style="font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;">I love empanadas! These look too good. Being Filipino, we have our own version which is pretty much the same but we sometimes add in sultanas. The pastry is buttered out quite heavily which makes it even more addictive.

13 Ellie December 11, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Empanadas is such a great finger food. Love all the different fillings. You sure had a great time in Aouth America :)

14 Megan@Feasting on Art December 11, 2009 at 9:06 pm

Oh yum! I love empanadas! Your pics have me so hungry!

15 Forager December 12, 2009 at 12:09 am

Hey Rilsta – Yum! Lucky thing – I'd love to be back in BA! We didn't make it Sao Paolo but I know the empanadas there are popular but different to the Argentinian ones.

Hey Adrian – Oh right the Filipinos have empanadas too from the Spanish influence – I didn't think of that but it makes sense. Sultanas?! Ooh, I'd like to try a Filipino empanada now!

Hey Ellie – Oh, this is just the start of our South America trip – there is so much more to come!

Hey Megan – Argh! They make me hungry too! But as Helen said, now it's spoilt me for all other empanadas!

16 Trisha December 13, 2009 at 12:10 pm

ohmygoodness! The empanadas look amazing but that cayote jam looks yuuuuuuuuuuuuuumm!!! Oh and yes, Filipinos do have empanadas too! When we meet up again I'll try and make some and bring them. :)

17 SK December 14, 2009 at 10:43 am

That's loves so delicious. Love reading abt your Sth America trip!

18 Forager December 14, 2009 at 11:18 am

Hey Trisha – Oh yes, please do! I'd love to try the Filipino version and taste the differences!

Hey SK – Thanks! Writing about it makes me hungry and nostalgic about holidays..

19 Trissa December 14, 2009 at 7:23 pm

Looking forward to reading the rest of your trip… the empanadas look delicious – I especially love the chicken and corn idea.

20 billy@ATFT December 14, 2009 at 8:43 pm

those stretchy cheese in the empanadas got my attention… I think I can do quite a few of those. it is amazing how different they look between two restaurants.

21 mademoiselle délicieuse December 15, 2009 at 12:26 am

Look at that golden brown pastry and stretchy cheese compared with the pasty pale complimentary ones – doesn't even come remotely close!

22 Forager December 15, 2009 at 10:24 am

Hey Trissa – Oh there is so much more to come from the trip – it's going to take a long time to finish them all!

Hey Billy – I certainly could put away a few of those empanadas right now. They were so darn good and tasty!

Hey Mademoiselle delicieuse – Oh no contest whatsoever. The baked ones may be "better" for you but just lost on the taste factor!


23 Leona @ Pigged-Out December 17, 2009 at 5:20 pm

omg i know your going ot kill me im such a slow poke when it comes to getting round to reading everyones blogs. So im calling today "catch-up trina day"

Bargain!!! 30AUD for all that— BARGAIN!!! the outside of the store looks like its classy too. The sound of those blood sausages sound scaryyyy and the colour has a very dark rich colour. Im glad you tried it.. cos I would too. Its always nice trying something new and different…

Did you experience any food poisoning while you were in SA??? the empanadas look really goood! im eying the gooey cheese empanada.<span><span style=""><span style="font-style: italic;"></span></span></span>

24 Forager December 17, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Hey Leona – Haha! I know how it is – I find it so difficult to get around to reading everyone's blogs! It was an amazing bargain! It's mind boggling how you can get such excellent food and produce at such cheap prices! Boo for high Sydney living standards, hooray for strong aussie dollar and high foreign exchange rate! No, we were really lucky and didn't get any food poisoning. Lucky!

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