Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Ice Cream, Empanadas, and the Pandemic

It’s been more than three weeks since I “escaped” from Argentina and Chile, but I never stop thinking about them. I have many relatives in Argentina, and friends in both countries, who’ve been in touch in the coronavirus “aftermath” (obviously, it’s not over yet), but we express concern about each other and the future (short- and medium-term especially). The public health crisis seems to have hit Chile harder than Argentina, although the latter’s statistics seem incomplete according to the regional live data update at NCOV2019 (disclaimer: this site often seems to be overwhelmed with traffic).
A recent screenshot of Coronavirus stats in South America
Last week, I did receive an email from my friend Gabriel Famá, owner of the landmark ice creamery Heladería Cadore in Buenos Aires, and he’s feeling the pinch of Argentina’s near total lockdown. Though food providers such as himself can remain open for delivery, he was in hard-hit Italy when the crisis began, returning at the end of January “with no restrictions or controls, and look what. A lot of people underestimated the situation.” He comes to work “by car, with one of my sons, to avoid contact on public transportation and we operate with as few employees as possible.”
In non-virus times, Cadore can get really crowded.
Another friend, Marcelo Ferrante of Periko’s Hostel in Bariloche (where I spent a night before crossing back into Chile on my odyssey home), found himself on an RV vacation in Spain, another country devastated by the virus—“With luck I was able to get back to Bariloche, it was difficult but I managed it.” On April 8th, he wrote me, “We had to close on March 20th when the last guests left” (I had departed on the 16th). Then, he added, “I don’t think we’ll be able to open before before June 1st,” which would coincide roughly with ski season, but even that sounds optimistic to me.

That said, Argentina appears to be relaxing its strict quarantine restrictions, though the details are not yet clear. It's not been so draconian under California's "shelter-in-place" measures but, on an early Saturday supermarket run, I stocked up on Three Twins ice cream which, sadly, has folded under sustained economic pressure exacerbated by the plague.

Empanada Time!
On the bright side, here in the East Bay we have multiple options for Argentine-style empanadas, which are my favorites. There are four places within 2.1 miles (3.4 km) from our home in Oakland’s Temescal district.
9 de Julio Empanadas at the annual Temescal Street Fair on Telegraph Avenue
Unfortunately the one within easiest walking distance, the 9 de Julio Empanada Kitchen, hasn’t yet opened its new physical location in Rockridge, though it appears to be doing catering. Taking its name from the date Argentina’s independence day, it’s the creation of Erica Sanders, an Afro-American woman who moved to Buenos Aires to learn the art of the empanada. In past years, I’ve tasted her product—which features empanada styles from throughout the Americas—at street fairs in Montclair and Temescal, but the public health crisis appears to have delayed the opening.
Windows at the Wooden Table Café have fileteado flourishes.
The next closest is Uptown Oakland’s Wooden Table Café, which I’ve only sampled erratically because I usually pass it after taxiing my wife to work (she’s now telecommuting). Parking is scarce, though, so stopping is a matter of opportunity on my way back home. It’s very specifically Argentine, to the point of offering yerba mate drinks (the current crisis makes me wonder whether Argentines—and Uruguayans—will give up the custom of passing around the mate gourd, with a shared bombilla, among friends and family). It also offers a variety of sickly sweet alfajoresdulce de leche concoctions which are not to my taste. I do like the decorative fileteado on the windows, though.
Javi's Cooking is the empanadería I've most often patronized.
Nearly as close is Javi’s Cooking, in the Hoover-Foster district, whose products I first saw in the frozen food section at Berkeley Bowl West, and later sampled in Javier Sandes’s food truck during an event at Lake Merritt. It’s a place that I’ll make an occasional escapadita to when food in the fridge is scarce, and it also offers facturas (pastries) including my personal favorite medialunas (croissants, of a sort).
With its sidewalk seating, Café Buenos Aires feel more like a spot in the Argentine capital.
The most distant of the bunch is South Berkeley’s Café Buenos Aires (2.1 miles or 3.4 km), which I stumbled upon while taxiing an Argentine political scientist to a downtown event there. It has a wider menu than the others, especially with regard to pastries, but it’s not quite so convenient as the others. It’s a bit more spacious as well but, under current conditions it—like all the rest—is for takeout or delivery only.
María Laura's homemade empanadas - chard in this case - are our default choice these days.
In any event, we’ve not bought empanadas recently. The local price of roughly $5 each would appall most Argentines but, fortunately, my Argentine wife is capable of making them much more cheaply with no sacrifice in quality. Still, I look forward to revisiting all these others, so nearby, in person when our shelter-in-place restrictions relax.

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