There is SO much talk in the US about eating natural, picking products that have less preservatives, etc. To be honest, I always kind of just ignored all this talk… I think this is a big mistake.
No, I’m not on some kind of crazy health food craze or anything like that. But I have encountered some totally unpredicted “conocimientos” (bits of knowledge) while living abroad this year. Being in Argentina has 1) forced me to make a lot of foods from scratch, 2) made me realize how insanely horrible a lot of the food in the US is, and 3) made me appreciate the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables all over the city.
1. Making foods from scratch
A. Hummus: This is just plain lazy, but before coming to Argentina I never made my own hummus. I know, pathetic. It’s just to easy to go to the store and get a tub of it in a number of different flavors. I’ve made it a few times since being here now and it’s not hard to do, you can add any ingredients you want to mix up the flavor, and you can’t really mess it up. Delish.
B. Pita chips: This is 150% thanks to my friend Elijah. Thanks, Elijah! He cooks wonderful meals for me and my friends a lot and the other day we had hummus and pita chips. Just take some pan árabe (what pitas are called here) from the bakery down the street , cut them up, mix together some olive oil, garlic, black pepper, and kosher salt, brush it on the pitas, and put them in the oven for a bit. Delish. And you know what all the ingredients are. I always used to buy Athenos pita chips from Pick ‘N Save which I guess only have “Wheat Flour, Sunflower Oil, Salt, Sugar, Yeast, with Ascorbic Acid, Rosemary Extract and Citric Acid to Preserve Freshness” (I just checked). Not bad, but I like making them myself even better 🙂
C. Good tomato sauce: I don’t think I’ve ever made my own pasta sauce before coming here. It’s really easy to just dump out of a jar of Prego or whatever. But lately I’ve just been heating up onions and garlic in olive oil, adding diced tomatoes, oregano, and garlic powder, and letting it simmer for awhile. So good! Why did I never do this sooner?
D. Flavored oatmeal: Do you know how easy it is to grab one of those Quaker packets of oatmeal, add some milk or water, throw it in the microwave and just walk away and come back a few minutes later? I do. But that doesn’t exist here. So I’ve started making my own oatmeal with 2% milk, oats, and other things like brown sugar, raisins, cinnamon, coffee (coffee cake oatmeal is sooo good!). It’s not hard, it doesn’t take long, you can do it the night before and just warm it up in the morning… why did I never do this before?
E. Pizza: Disclaimer: I know that pizza still is not healthy. But at least when I make it I know where all the ingredients come from. La pre-pizza (the dough) is so common here and sold at the bakery 2 blocks from my apartment (see map below). I looked at some of the ingredients recently and it had nothing un-natural at all! So I’ve been making my own pizzas a lot lately with puré de tomate (from tomatoes), cheese that I shred myself, and random other ingredients. So much better than store-bought or delivery, and I know exactly what went into it.
F. Baked goods: It’s really easy to walk into Pick ‘N Save, grab some kind of cake/cookie/brownie/muffin mix and call it a day. Admittedly I miss the days of being able to do that. But it’s really not that much harder to make any of that stuff from scratch. They do have brownie mix here but I bought it in like March and it’s still sitting in my cupboard…
G. Trail mix: Do you know how tempting it is to go to Target and get Monster Mix? Wait, you don’t know what Monster Mix is?
Anyways, here I’ve started making my own trail mixes with almonds, raisins, pretzels, and sometimes little candies that would be comparable to mini m&ms. Not as good as monster mix but at least I know exactly what I am putting into it. I never made my own trail mix at home.
H. Orange juice: Since fresh fruit is so cheap here, I have made my own OJ from scratch too many times to count. I have literally never done that in the United States.
2. Made me realize how horrible a lot of food in the US is
This part is FUN! Prepare yourself.
Disclaimer: This is NOT intended to be all “USA sucks we are horrible.” There are lot of the same foods here that we have in the states – frosted flakes, fruit loops, hard candies, chocolate bars, pre-made coffee drinks like cappuccinos, etc. They exist. But as you will see below, a lot of the comparable things between the 2 countries tend to be made with less “scary” ingredients here.
A. Frozen entrees:
USA: I picked Lean Cuisine “Spa Collection.” Why they have a line of frozen meals called the “Spa Collection” I will probably never know. But here we go. My other pressing question is I would be eating POTASSIUM CHLORIDE. I’m fairly sure we worked with good ‘ol K and Cl in high school chemistry.
Argentina: Ready frozen, microwavable entrees literally do not exist in any supermarket in Salta that I have been to… and I’ve been to all major chains. I picked the closest thing that exists, which is a bag of frozen vegetables and chicken to make stir fry.
B. Canned sauces
USA: America, you surprised me this round. You also made me forget how cheap US food products are in US supermarkets. I went with Prego Tomato Basil & Garlic. This costs about $3 in US grocery stores.
Argentina: I went with Knorr Pomarola sauce with Basil to try to be somewhat comparable to Prego. The ingredients were listed nowhere on the website but I have it at my apartment (for those REALLY lazy days). Side note: Prego above costs 76 pesos at the grocery store… about $10. Not kidding. Wish I was.
USA: Minute Maid Premium Original Orange Juice. Good job, Minute Maid. I was pretty surprised by this one.
Argentina: Citric OJ. (Also comes in lemonade and grapefruit)
USA: Kashi Honey Sesame Crackers. Ironically, Kashi is supposed to be known as an “all natural” brand…. woah this is a long ingredient list. (I know these are honey sesame, I could’t find any regular sesame ones from a well-known brand with a quick google search)
Argentina: Hogareñas Sésamo (Sesame crackers):
USA: I picked Oreo Fudge Cremes because they’re kind of similar to Alfajores… but alfajores have dulce de leche in the middle and not oreo creme.
Argentina: (These are still bad but not as bad as the US). Alfajores from the brand Jorgito.
F. Restaurant portions
USA: Honestly this kind of goes without saying if you’ve been to the US, but our portions are REALLY big compared to what I generally see here. There are exceptions, of course. But just think about the size of dishes you get at Cheesecake Factory, Olive Garden, etc. That kind of stuff just does not exist here.
Argentina: There are some places with huge portions. This is from Chirimoya, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant in Salta that uses all fresh ingredients and is super socially-conscious as well. They have more or less the biggest portions I’ve seen here.
It’s obvious that Argentina isn’t like god’s gift to fresh and healthy food, but I still think it’s a step up above the USA.
3. Made me appreciate the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables all over the city
In case you have very limited Spanish, the yellow house is where I live. The green is a verdulería, or a little vegetable/fruit stand. Purple is a bakery. Blue is a supermarket. And maroon is the central market. This isn’t counting the dozens of guys who walk around my area with fruit/vegetable carts or park on a given corner or side of any street and sell things all day long. This map basically shows that within about 9 blocks of my apartment, I have access to 3 supermarkets, 3 fruit/vegetable stands, the central market, and a bakery. This isn’t counting all of the “kioskos” or convenience stores that stock things like fresh eggs, butter, milk, cheeses, dry goods, snacks, drinks, and alcohol, OR the “carnicerías” or “pollerías” that sell meat and/or chicken.
This is pretty self-explanatory. I am really lucky to live somewhere where I can walk and get any food I want more or less. That’s something else I should point out – I probably walk 2-3 miles a day here without even trying. This city is so accessible on foot and I really enjoy walking around, especially now that Spring has arrived. So… in conclusion, Salta is great, I think I’ve eaten less chemicals this year, and that’s awesome. The end!