April 20, 2008

Sweets and pizza

I'm getting the feeling that South Americans like their dessert treats sweet and decadent, much sweeter than I'm used to. The Coca Cola is sweeter here, the orange juice tastes like sweetener has been added and chocolate shops seem to pop up everywhere.

Bakeries are one of my favorite ways to get to know local food, and we had a chance to visit our first panaderia in El Calafate (Argentina), which had a small assortment of pastries and empanadas. One of the cookies we bought was a real treat -- a light butter cookie sandwich with a filling of rich caramel and coconut. The cookie was only about the size of a quarter, but packed an unbelievable amount of sweetness in the pliable chewy center.

We also tried some home-spun ice cream from Acuarela Heladeria -- cherry mascarpone and a creamy milk caramel. Luxurious, velvety and rich, this was actually some fantastic ice cream... if it were only just a bit less sweet.

We returned to Puerto Natales after an incredible trip to Perito Moreno at an awkward time to find dinner: 10 pm on a Sunday night during the off-season in a small town where most locals eat at home rather than in restaurants. This probably wasn't the best time to go looking for fresh seafood. With a light rain beginning to fall and a brisk wind cutting into us, we sought refuge in the warm confines of Mesita Grande, one of the local pizzerias. Ok, before I get blasted for having pizza in South America, our friend Jim from the day trip said that everyone in Patagonia loves pizza, locals and tourists alike. Some of the most popular dining spots are simple pizza joints that churn out hot, substantial food at low prices; makes sense.

Mesita Grande was an unexpected surprise. As we walked in, I saw a wood-burning brick pizza oven behind the bar glowing with red hot embers, raising my expectations immediately. We ordered a fantastic neapolitan style pizza with a simple tomato sauce, mozzarella, spinach, garlic, mushrooms, and a cracked egg on top, followed by an order of lasagne baked in a clay dish... The pizza was nice chewy, with just a thin veneer of smoky crispness, and the lasagne was piping hot and rich, the texture benefitting from house-made pasta sheets.

Not a bad way to recharge after a 17-hour day...

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