Argentina is proud of its European heritage – it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they, on the whole, consider themselves more European than anywhere else in South America, and to be fair they probably are. Except in the North there is very little indigeneous population, and looking at the faces on the streets and avenidas of Buenos Aires you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Milan or Barcelona.
This results in two things – one is a reputation in the rest of South America of a certain arrogance, that the Argentines (due to the Italian and Spanish bloodlines) consider themselves better than the rest of the “conquered” continent (leading to the joke about how does an Argentine commit suicide – he jumps off his ego) and the second result is the milanesa.
The Milanesa is everywhere. These things crop up in Europe under a variety of names depending on the country but what we are dealing with here is breaded steak (or veal or chicken), either served as a sandwich (as above) or on a plate with chips.
The thing you get to notice after a while here is that while the food isn’t bad, and is sufficiently “European” to count as familiar (no Guinea Pig here), by and large it is simply the same. Eat out in a standard cafe or restaurant and, once you’ve been here for a while, you will be able to recite the menu off-pat before picking it up.
There will be a section of coffee and medialunas, then the sandwich section – cheese, ham, cheese and ham (all options toasted or not), milanesa or beef (pay extra for lettuce or tomato). There may be a couple of empanada options, then there will be the Minuta section (the name presumably refers to length of time it takes to cook, one of the more serious cases of false advertising I’ve ever come across) which will contain more meat and carbs, this time on a plate. The milanesa will come plain with chips or Napolitana (with tomato and herb sauce) or a la Pizza (as Napolitana but with melted cheese). This little lot followed by the Pizza section itself which will feature a bewildering selection, none of them really resembling what we know as pizza, Argentine pizza being more of a slice of bread with melted cheese and cold ham and pickled red peppers.
Now, don’t get me wrong, with the possible exception of the pizza, none of the above is bad and I have eaten the length and breadth of this menu many a time, but that’s kind of the point – all places have the same choice of food. Given the heritage and the culinary possibilities that heritage could entail (I’m not sure I dare do a post on what passes as cheese in this country – I would get far too angry), it’s kind of a letdown.