Of the Argentine empanada (and its semiotic system)

Ohhhh, the empanada. It is a culinary mainstay in this country and these little pockets of foodie fun can be found anywhere in the city. Ideally, the encasing is just crisp enough on the outside to offer some buttery resistance to your bite and, on the inside, just soft enough to begin to integrate with the cheesy or meaty or veggie center. Every once in a while they’re deep fried, but the common porteña empanada is baked, a kind of pocket calzone.

I enjoyed a veritable panoply of empanadas at a late Tuesday lunch. Jamon y queso, cebollo y queso, napolitano, roquefort, carne picante and an emanada de pollo were among the special little treats we ordered at a well-known Argentine joint near my apartment, El Sanjuanino.

Visitors to this country often sample empanadas all over the place, but few know of the signifying capacity of the doughy outsides. The way you fold an empanada indicates what lies within. I know of only a few indicators–ham and cheese empanadas are like little hearts, empanadas de carne have ruffled, twisted-rope edges like those pictured above, veggie empanadas have edges pressed down with a fork. Sometimes small marks are made in the center of the empanada as well. I’ve discovered this handy chart which will give you some idea of the complexity of the signifying system of the fold.

The point is this: even eating the local food requires a certain amount of semiotic acrobatics. Just one more reason why Buenos Aires is a little linguistic (and delicious) wonderland.

2 Comments on “Of the Argentine empanada (and its semiotic system)”

  1. anna says:

    can you please get me a good empanada recipe while you’re there? i love making pocket foods!

  2. bev says:

    Central Market Grocery made pork and tuna empanada this weekend. We snacked on them. Tasty.

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