Merendar. Over the past four months not only has this word woven itself into my vocabulary, but also changed my lifestyle and allowed me to get to know one of my best friends. Merendar is a verb similar to comer (to eat), almorzar (to eat lunch) or desayudar (to eat breakfast), as it describes a meal or time for eating. To understand the beauty of the Argentine meriendas I first must explain the structure of meals here.
Breakfast, early in the morning, consists of little. Most portenos (citizen of Buenos Aires) breakfasts with tostadas (toast) and coffee or tea, others grab mediaslunas (small crescent shaped croissants) with a ‘café con leche’ in one of the many cafes. I’m unsure how they run on so little all morning, but it’s the way things work. Lunch is larger. Many porteños come home from work and children have an hour during school to return home to eat with their family. My host mother bustles in between 12:00pm and 1:00pm everyday to eat lunch with my host father. It’s a family affair. However, there are those who stay out, meeting up for empanadas (a staple here), sandwiches or a tipical milanesa from a kiosko, café or one of the many restaurants. The streets of Buenos Aires contain a plethora of delicious foods. La cena (dinner), which is eaten between 8:00pm-11:00pm, is definitely for family; the meal does not just provide sustenance in food, but also fills the table with conversation. Every night we sit down for an hour of my host mother’s delicious cooking (she has adapted wonderfully to my vegetarian needs!) and the sobremesa (dinner talk) of the day’s events, politics, economics, futbol, life, more futbol and, because I’m there, lots of travel. I cherish the fulfillment each night brings in body and mind.
Now, how does this all relate to that mysterious first word: Merendar? You may have noted that although Argentinians eat the typical three meals a days that we do in the U.S.A., the schedule is a little off. All is well with breakfast and lunch, but when you get to dinner, and it does take some getting to!, the ‘horario’ (timing) is quite different. Eating at 10:00pm? What? Though at first my family’s consistent 9:00pm dinnertime felt very strange to me, I now love the later dinner and cannot image eating at 5-6 o’clock. The main problem with such a late dinnertime is that my stomach doesn’t agree with the 8 hour gap between the two later meals of the day. For the first few weeks I could not understand the mysteries of how the porteños lasted all the way until dinnertime without eating… did they have magical metabolisms? Then I discover the merienda!
This wonderful creation fills the meal gap with a blend of teatime and snack. The Merienda is taken around 4 or 5 or 6 ‘de la tarde’ (in the afternoon) helps tie one over until dinner while also providing an excuse to chat with friends or spend more time with family. Many Sunday’s the merienda is taken in my host family’s home with tea, coffee, mediaslunas, torta (cake), scones and tostadas. For many the merienda consist of galletitas (cookies) with the everpresent mate, a shared tea which prevails between friends, in classrooms, in the workplace, at home and in the plazas. The Merienda varies on the person and the place.
I discovered the merienda with my friend Mica. Our friendship has developed with the flavors of the ‘dulces’ (sweets) of Buenos Aires. We met up in the afternoons to experience new dances of our taste buds as we chatter on in Spanish about travel, language and life. Chocotorta moose in Belgrano, deep chocolate torta with banana ice cream, apple tarts, quinoa brownies, rich icecream, seedy breads with dulce de leche and marmelada, along with salads, limonadas, teas and more have given us excuses to adventure through savory conversations constructing friendship as deep as the flavors we savor.
Thus I have fallen in love with the Merienda of Argentina! Although my wasteline has tightened, my life is full of zest. If ever in Buenos Aires, taking a good merienda is essential!
- Combating Homesickness in Buenos Aires (isastudentblog.wordpress.com)