Horseradish, Kielbasa, and Sauerkraut in Argentina

Today was a good day… no, a great day.  I had a roast beef sandwich with horseradish.  That may not sound like a big deal to most people, and it really isn’t, but it was huge for me.  I love horseradish on a roast beef sandwich, but I have not been able to find it in Argentina.  I have been to Jewish delis, specialty food markets, Chinatown, etc, etc.  If you put all the hours together that I have spent looking for horseradish, it would probably add up to several days worth of fruitless shopping.  I have spent many more hours looking for other things…  BTW, horseradish in Argentina is called “Rabano Picante”.  Rabano is radish, and picante is spicy or “hot”.

Here’s how it went down…

Yesterday there were two things happening.  The first was the 210th anniversary of the neighborhood where we live: San Telmo.  There was a big party planned, with music, dancing, food, and everything else that goes into a big party!  There was also the Buenos Aires celebrates Poland festival.  The festival was on Avenida de Mayo which is about 7 blocks north of our house, and the neighborhood party was 9 blocks south.  So, about 16 blocks apart…

We had invited our neighbors, Lee and Daisy, to go with us to the San Telmo festival, leaving about 1pm, but Sunday morning, almost like the night before Christmas, I had visions of Kielbasa in my head.  I woke up Sunday morning and told my lovely wife that I wanted to go to the Polish festival and get some kielbasa with sauerkraut.  She told me I was wasting my time.  “Remember the German festival we went to?  The sausage was NOT german, and the sauerkraut was sweet!”

Truthfully she was right.  When we went to the German festival (on Avenida de Mayo and Bolivar where they all are), the “German Sausage” we bought was an Argentine version that was distinctly unpleasant (soft like pate, no bite, no flavor), with sauerkraut that was distinctly not “sauer”.  And to top it off… no mustard!  How do you serve a bratwurst without mustard???!!!  You don’t!  Now, there were quite a few tents serving German sausage, and we may have chosen the worst one, but we were afraid to try any others after that!  It was soooo bad.

It was a giant disappointment.

Since then, I have made my own sauerkraut, tried to make my own sausage, both American and German.  The sausages were both epic failures (I won’t go into why), but the sauerkraut was delicious and better than the sauerkraut I used to buy at Safeway, Walmart, King Soopers, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, the jars of sauerkraut that the grocery store in America can be quite good (good enough for me to eat out of the jar with a fork when no one was looking don’t tell my wife), but my home-made version had a leg up.  The cabbage wasn’t as crisp (no preservatives or chemicals to keep it crispy), but the taste was fantastic.  Making sauerkraut requires time and effort, but is well worth it.

Anyway… I left the house about 11:30am to go to the Polish festival while my wife got ready for the real party in San Telmo.  I promised I’d be back by 1pm so we could meet our friends and go the San Telmo festival.

When I got to the Polish festival, it was pretty small, and I was kind of disappointed.  There were only about a dozen tents, 2 or 3 with cakes and sweets, and four or five with food.  The there were also several  selling Polish decorative items, aprons, calendars, etc.  All in all it was less than a block long, and not impressive, but as I got there right when it started, I got to watch the parade and the Polish in Argentina marching up the street and doing traditional dances.  The costumes were very colorful and cool, and I started smelling sauerkraut.  The pungent, “sour” sauerkraut cooking smell.  My mouth started watering so I headed over to check out the tents.  “Pancho con Chucrut” said one (Hotdog with sauerkraut), and another, and another….

Health warning… don’t buy a hotdog in Argentina.  They are really bad… like worse than the worst American hotdog that costs less than a dollar for 8.  I am not sure if they are even meat.  That being said, my wife loves them.

I’m an all-beef, Hebrew National, type of hotdog guy.  Otherwise forget about it.  Call me a snob if you will…

Are you kidding?! We’re talking about hotdogs here!  You can’t call anyone a snob over a hotdog preference!

Anywho…  so as I am wandering around, I see a stand with a darker sausage that looks suspiciously like real Kielbasa!  They are also cooking a giant pot of sauerkraut that smells delicious.  I ask the old man who is cooking “what type of sausage is that?”  He says “Polish.”

Umm, ok…. I am not about to be tricked again am I?

“What type of Polish sausage?”

And he says the magic words…

“It is called Kielbasa”


“Where do I pay? Get it ready!”

So I paid my 45 pesos ($3USD) and go back to him with the ticket (another story).  He takes a slice off the grill, puts it on a home made bun and hands it to me.

“Um, por favor, can you put some sauerkraut on it?”

“No, you have to pay for that separately.”

“Oh, how much?”

“45 pesos”

“That’s what I just paid for the sausage!”

“Yes, but you get a whole little plastic throwaway “bowl” filled with sauerkraut if you buy it”

“But I just want a little on my sausage, not a whole bowl”

He shrugs and help the next in line who is obviously a little perturbed at me.

Also…no MUSTARD!!!!  Fragglerock!

I decide I am going to eat it plain, and the first bite I took burned the crap out of my mouth.  It was so hot.  I thought I would need reconstructive surgery, but after a minute or two, the pain had subsided, and gluttony kicked in and I took the second bite.

Angels sang.

It was REAL Kielbasa.  The casing had that “snap”, it burst with flavor, and was absolutely delicious.  Maybe it was “great” since it has been so long since I had good Polish sausage, but it was fantastic.

I am making a short story long!

I ate my Kielbasa, and then bought another one to take home to my lovely wife, and this time I also payed for the bowl of sauerkraut.  I got home just in time for us to snack down (she loved it), and then we headed to the San Telmo fair with our friends.

TOTAL BUST.  It wasn’t even happening.

Alright kids…Math time.  I walked 7 block to the Polish fair, 7 blocks back. 9 blocks in the opposite direction, just to find out the fair wasn’t happening!

So,we have a “conversation”…

“Bummer! well what do you guys want to do?”

“Yeah, bummer, I don’t know. ”

Me: “Well, I went to the Polish festival earlier and they had good Kielbasa, want to go there? It’s only 15 blocks away”

“OK, might as well!”

OK, so now it is 1:30pm and I have already walked 5 miles according to my Fitbit (didn’t include walking the dog and store trips), and I am going to walk another mile and a half at least.  For some more Kielbasa, I will gladly suffer.

We had a good time watching the dancers, but as we were leaving, I asked my wife if she wanted a piece of cake.  I had seen it earlier and it looked delicious so I wanted to point it out to her.  As I was showing her, she pointed to something about 5 feet away on the table.  It was a little jar filled with something white.

“That looks like horseradish” she said.

Sure enough it did!  OMG, I thought, can it be?  I ran over (there was only one jar) and asked…

“What is this”

“Rabano Picante” she sang out in her best opera voice (making that up but it almost sounded like that to me)

“I’ll buy it!!!!”  How much?”

“90 pesos!”

“Done! bag it!”

The other girl handed me the bag, and I handed her a 100 pesos bill.

She looks at me…

I raise my eyebrows…

She says “120 pesos”

I lower my eyebrows and glare at her, but she is not giving an inch… she knows it is the last jar and she knows I want it.

I fork over another 20 dear pesos and walk away triumphant.

And tonight, we had a wonderful roast beef sandwich with Au Jus and horseradish.

I think that no matter where you go, you miss those particular flavors of home and when you find them it can be bliss.

If you want to buy horseradish and other Polish goodies, they have a store at J.L. Borges 2076 Entrepiso in Palermo.  The stores name is Kawiarenka.

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