From Ancient Persia to the Andes: The Long Journey of the Empanada

The star of popular Argentinian cuisine

Gustar

Empanadas (2021-01-05/2021-01-08) by Emmanuel Rodriguez VillegasGustar

An unknown origin

Its origins date back to the practice of filling bread with vegetables, which shepherds and travelers would take to eat in the field. The earliest references are found in ancient Persia, centuries before Christ. 

Harina (2021-01-05) by Juan Pablo LanciottiGustar

When the East was conquered by Alexander the Great, it extended to other regions, covering all of Asia Minor and northern Africa. In doing so, the pastry developed, with different fillings, shapes, and names depending on the region, for example: sfiha, fatayer, samosas, and piroshki.

Pizzeria (2021-02-03/2021-02-03) by Pablo ValdaGustar

In the Middle Ages, when the Moors invaded Spain, they introduced these pastries along with syrup, puff pastry, and alfajors (sandwich cookies). Empanadas are eaten in almost all regions of Spain, although perhaps the most famous are those from Galicia, Asturias, El Berzo, and Cantabria.

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Empanadas arrived in the Americas from Spain, brought by the conquistadors and colonizers. There, different variants were adopted according to the region, depending on the produce, preferences, traditions, and condiments of each place.

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American pride

The Spanish introduced empanadas to America, and each region adapted them for their own typical produce. All these versions share the basic characteristic of being a filled pastry, and are all popular. Empanadas are an American institution, and above all they represent the enormous cultural variety.

Pulpería (2021-02-05/2021-02-05) by Juan Pablo LanciottiGustar

They fast became popular in the Andean region.  Different versions can be found all along the length of the Latin American mountains: some are juicy, others less so; some are spicy while others are not; they can be baked in a regular oven or kiln, or fried; and they can be braided at the top or along the side.

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Argentinian empanadas

Empanadas were brought to Argentina by the Spanish, and each region adapted them according to their own typical produce and the preferences of their inhabitants. In fact, there is no one, single, unique recipe. They can always be found on Argentinian tables on national holidays.

Corralito, Cafayate (2021-01-11) by Humberto MartinezGustar

Argentinians are so proud of their empanadas that they were declared Argentinian Gastronomic and Food Cultural Heritage by the National Secretariat of Culture. They hold the key to identity, memory, and the daily experience.

Empanadas de copetín (2021-01-20/2021-01-20) by Juan Pablo LanciottiGustar

What are they like?

Argentinian empanadas are usually shaped in a semi-circle, no more than 20 cm (8 inches) in diameter, and sealed with a braid or twist. They are generally shaped distinctly to identify the flavor of the filing, and each region and cook has their own recipe.

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 The fillings vary from province to province, although the most common are beef, chicken, humita (corn), ham and cheese, and vegetables. Tuna empanadas are eaten during the Easter Vigil. There are also sweet versions, filled with caramel, quince, or sweet potato.

Pulpería (2021-02-05/2021-02-05) by Juan Pablo LanciottiGustar

Meat empanadas are the most popular. The filling usually also contains onion, chopped boiled egg, olives, and in some provinces raisins, potato, or peas. They are seasoned with cumin, sweet paprika, and chili powder, and animal fat is added.

Corralito, Cafayate (2021-01-11) by Humberto MartinezGustar

The earliest recipes

Empanadas feature in the earliest cookery books which began circulating in Argentina from the 1880s. These books were compiled by a number of women, and in some cases they worked on them together. 

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The Perfect Argentinian Cook (La Perfecta Cocinera Argentina), written by Susana Torres de Castex, is one of the earliest cookery books to reference this dish. In her recipe for Santiago-style empanadas, the filling contains chopped meat and onions, fried in a lot of oil.

Corralito, Cafayate (2021-01-11) by Humberto MartinezGustar

To fill the empanadas, boiled egg, raisins, and olives are added, and then they are sealed at the top with water, and pinched tight. They are baked in an oven, and the author recommends using a brick or country oven, with flames at the top and bottom, for best results.

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The empanada festival

The National Empanada Festival is held in the city of Famaillá in Tucumán. Famaillá is located on the Tucumán hillside, 22 miles (35 km) from the regional capital. Together with Yerba Buena, San Miguel de Tucumán, and Simoca they make up the empanada route.

Corralito, Cafayate (2021-01-11) by Humberto MartinezGustar

This national festival is a food and music festival that has been held since 1979. It is held every year in September, and during the celebration there is a national empanada championship which culminates in the selection of the national champion. 

Corralito, Cafayate (2021-01-11) by Humberto MartinezGustar

During the event, different cooks compete to see who can win the prize for best empanada of the year, using their secret recipes for the pastry, fillings, condiments, and twists. Visitors enjoy tasting them all.

Credits: Story

Content created by Juliana Zannelli / Audiovisual material by Agencia Oido (https://www.instagram.com/agenciaoido/) – Japo Yamasato (https://www.behance.net/japox24) – Manuel Soifer / Editing by Agustin Mario Gimenez for Las Empanadas AR (https://lasempanadas.com.ar/ www.instagram.com/lasempanadasar/)

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