BUENOS AIRES - Steak sushi (a sushi roll filled with cooked steak), served with grape leaves, quinoa and Malbec barbecue sauce.
From the very first pages, the new authority on Argentine cuisine, entitled New Argentine Cooking, is provocative, to say the least.
In this book of 224 recipes from 31 Argentine chefs, mountain empanadas made with filo dough, trout ceviche and tomato risotto co-exist with more standard stews, potato cakes and grilled tip roasts.
“Today we can talk about a new cuisine -- it’s a new model that has to be strengthened. Above all we have to break out of our paradigms. I was able to jump outside of the box that most Argentine chefs are working in,” explains Pietro Sorba, a food critic and the author of the new book of recipes.
But what’s new here? Sorba says that for the first time there is a new generation of cooks who study in Argentina and then go perfect their skills outside of the country. These new chefs return to their homeland and apply everything they have learned overseas to the local products found in Argentina. The final result includes things like basil tempura, caper gel, olive air or yogurt foam, dishes that could well have been created by Spanish chef Ferran Adria, a leader in molecular cooking, in which nothing is what it appears to be.
This new culinary guide does not feature grilling secrets or tips for making pizza, but you will find tamales, liver sandwiches and grandma’s pudding elevated to the level of haute cuisine. One of Sorba’s best calls in this new recipe book was to rescue these traditional dishes, prepared with quasi-surgical precision. And as a counter-attack on those who criticize his decision to include fusion recipes, he included a truly national assortment of cooks: in addition to chefs from Buenos Aires there are many other chefs from other cities around the country.
Guillermo Calabrese, head of the Gato Dumas culinary school, is more cautious. “We are toeing a thin line. If I make something classic, I’m accused of being rustic, but if I change the ingredients too much, it totally changes the recipe. You end up with a bife de chorizo (a traditional Argentine cut of beef) with sesame seeds and wasabi chimichurri (sauce used for grilled meat). It’s a tough balance. Sometimes you are trying to make an impact with the way the food is presented but in reality you are just updating a traditional recipe,” Calabrese said.
Conquistadors and immigration waves
Argentine cuisine doesn’t have much of a history, because in contrast to other Latin American countries, the conquistadors erased everything they found, including the cuisine, which couldn’t compete with the Spanish influences. The land was filled with cows and barbecue became the national food. As the centuries passed, there were successive waves of immigration and pizza and pasta became a permanent fixture on the Argentine menu.
Sorba says that all of those things explain why Argentine cuisine today is not well known compared with the powerful gastronomic cultures in Peru and Mexico. “It’s not only the professional cooks, it’s the regular people who are more open to trying new things, to eating less red meat and more fish, to incorporating more vegetables,” the book’s author says.
But cuisine is more than just a product of history; it is also affected by the economic crisis. When the foie gras, Russian caviar and Spanish saffron were gone, cooks had no choice but to see what else was left in the cupboard. That’s when they discovered that the salt from Chubut, a province in southern Argentina, or the new potatoes from the north could be just as refined as the foreign products.
“It was a shock, but we realized that the real star was raw materials, and we have really good products here,” says Juan Pedro Rastellino, a member of a collective of Argentine chefs under 40 called Gastronomía Joven Argentina, who all spend hours and hours in the kitchen every day -- in contrast to some chefs who spend most of their time in a TV studio. These chefs feel that they are the flag bearers for this new national cuisine.
“We share a new concept of cuisine, but everyone makes it his or her own,” says Martin Baquero, another young Argentine chef, who supports the idea that chefs should search out the best raw materials. “We make a huge effort to find good products but we think that the most important thing to cultivate is the clients, because our cuisine can only evolve if we have a culture of gastronomy,” Baquero explained.
So the new Argentine cuisine features new techniques and unique combinations but follows the international trends towards high-quality, local ingredients combined with a few carefully selected exotic flavors. It might not be exactly comfort food for Argentines, but the country’s culinary elite is not making any apologies.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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