What are minutas? Think of them as Argentinian fast food. They are a reliable set of dishes that are simple, popular, quick-to-prepare (as quick as a meal in Argentina gets), and often available at all hours.
Forget the US culture of queuing at a counter and taking away paper cups of French fries; these short-order dishes are served as a sit-down meal, with china plates and waiter service.
The tradition of minutas was invented to offer standard, affordable fare to workingmen. Siesta culture may be long dead in Buenos Aires, but, to this day, many workers still take the time out in the middle of the day to go to their local cafés for a hot meal, even on stiflingly humid summer days.
Those that are too busy to leave their place of work will simply order the same hot dishes to be delivered. (One of the great things about Buenos Aires is that all food can be delivered in the local area and for no extra charge.) These days, it is not uncommon to walk into an office and see people tucking into a hearty plate of a milanesa and mash in front of their computer.
Milanesa and Mash – Photograph by Carina Cristiano
The minutas menu varies little, and almost always usually includes these usual suspects:
- The ubiquitous milanesa (beef schnitzel), sometimes served “a la napolitana” (with cheese and ham)
- Bife (steak), churrasco (thin cut of grilled steak) or pollo (chicken), served with a huge pile of mashed potato or chips
- Pasta: ravioles or tallarines (thick spaghetti), with a meat or tomato sauce
If you are lucky, you may also be offered:
- Merluza a la romana (battered hake) – pretty much the only fish dish that is commonly available in this river-side city
- Noquis – especially on the 29th of every month, the so-called Día del Noqui
- Revuelto Gramajo – a pile of thin potato chipsticks, with ribbons of ham and onions, mixed together with eggs (Disclaimer: presentation varies widely.)
Revuelto Gramajo – Photograph by Jesus Gorriti
Artemio Gramajo, who invented Revuelto Gramajo, is perhaps the King of Minutas. Legend has it that this military colonel (1838–1914) was a food lover, bored with standard military fare, and so one day decided to combine all standard ingredients in his own special way. He took his creation straight to the top by serving it to his boss, the twice-president-of-the-nation General Roca, and it went on to become the most Argentinian minuta of all. Spanish speakers can read a version of the story here.
Artemio Gramajo – Image courtesy Wikipedia
As is evident from Artemio’s waistline, the minutas menu does not contain the healthiest of dishes. In fact, even Jamie Oliver is worried about the country’s rising obesity. Perhaps porteños will have to wean themselves off habit of “supersizing” their minutas by having them “a caballo”, i.e. on horseback, i.e. with a fried egg on top. (The first time I visited Argentina, I saw this translated on the menu as “ham to horse”. Oh, how we laughed – before worrying that it might actually be horsemeat.)
These days, business areas, such as Microcentro and Puerto Madero, have an increasing number of sandwich joints, delis and juice bars, which shows a slight shift in culture. Nonetheless, sampling minutas is part of the Argentine experience and a good place to try the classics is at Club Eros in Palermo or at the La Farola chain. You could also order one via BA Delivery or simply take a punt on any down-to-earth café you pass.
I leave you with some words of wisdom from fellow Real Argentina writer Matt Chesterton: “If in doubt, order from the minutas menu. Why? Because these are the most popular dishes the restaurant serves, and so you can be sure the ingredients haven’t been sitting in the fridge for a week or so. Whatever the place is like, you’re almost always safe with a milanesa.”
And there you go, that could always be the nation’s motto: “You’re always safe with a milanesa.”
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