January 15, 2013
"My brother wants to take us to lunch today," Guillermo announced as we were sitting at my in-law's green kitchen table, tearing into a brown paper bag of pastries from Al Pan Pan. "He knows of a farm where the family runs a restaurant out of their house, and they cook all Ukrainian food." That was enough to make me nearly swoon with pleasure.
Paradoxical as it may be, Ukrainian food and traditions are alive and well in the rural area known as La Escandinava that surrounds General Alvear and Bowen (pop. 4, 562). Guillermo's parents live in Bowen now, but he spent his childhood nearby on the family farm where his father grew up, too. The area was settled by Scandinavians, Russians and Ukrainians who dug the irrigation system that made farming there possible and gave it its name.
My hands-down favorite thing about traveling to this area are all these little culinary gems that are founded on a long-standing tradition, and that we only get to do because we have a local with inside information (usually someone in the family). Couple that with the idea that everything is made from scratch and served with pride, well, it's the antithesis of the American food culture and that's where my admiration comes in.
At lunch time, we drove down dirt road after dirt road. Farm after farm blurred together, green alfalfa, plum trees, then grape vines, all surrounded by alamos trees that are the signature 'fence' of the area. Finally, we pulled off and drove down another dirt road, only this time we could see a farmhouse surrounded by trees and a windmill at the end of the drive. We had arrived at El Patio de Babushka, a well-tended farmhouse with a long tiled patio shaded by a grape arbor.
We were welcomed with hugs and kisses all around by Sra. Orlowski, who led us to the table, simply but elegantly set, in the middle of her living room. Out came the wine, the bread, a wooden board of picadita–homemade salami, a marinated carrot and onion salad. Followed by an unending stream of plates, starting with canellones. Shredded carrots and cabbage in vinaigrette. Braised chicken. Ribs. A tomato and onion salad made with tomatoes from the garden. Homemade vareniki. We ate. Talked. Drank. Laughed. Ate again. The afternoon waned.
Dessert was served on the patio under the grape arbor, while we relaxed into deep seats and watched how the afternoon sun filtered through the grapes, heavy with sweetness. The kids ran around the farmyard without a care in the world, looking at all the animals and playing on the swingset.
Dessert came in two courses, a homemade peach and fig compote that acted as a digestif from the heavy lunch, and later, coffee with Russian Honey Cake. Everything was served simply, in a homey way that made us relax completely. That feeling of peace is the hallmark of our trips 'home' to Argentina. For all that we have here, we don't have that feeling most of the time, we're too busy running around to just stop and enjoy something simple.
A day spent at El Patio de Babushka–a rural treasure. Where things are still done the old-fashioned way and guests leave feeling like they're part of the family. (Ok, not totally old-fashioned: they have a website with many more photos and a facebook page, too!) If you find yourself in the area, don't miss having lunch there–you'll feel welcome and get to take part in a wonderful and authentic traditional meal.