Portions of this blog post appeared previously on Don Day in SMA. I’m republishing the info to answer one of my most frequently asked questions.
Almost every country has them. They’re just a pastry that’s folded in half with a filling inside.
In India they’re called Samosas. In Italy, Calzones. In Scotland, Bridies. In Bolivia, Saltenas. In the Dominion Republic, pastelitos. In Greece, Spanokapita. In Jamaica, patties. In Portugal, empadas. And in the Philippines, Spain, Argentina and Mexico, they’re empanadas.
Argentinians argue that they are the new world originators of empanadas but I’ve found no historical documentation of empanadas in any early cookbooks from Argentina or Mexico. That being said, I will agree that, in central Mexico, the place where one tends to find them most is in Argentinean restaurants.
In Argentina, empanadas are mostly eaten as dinner appetizers and are most often filled with meat or cheese. In Mexico, you’ll most often see them at breakfast or as an after lunch or dinner dessert. Sweet potatoes, pumpkin and bananas are common fillings. The Mexican state of Pueblo is a little different; there, empanadas are more like the Argentinean style and stuffed with chicken or cheese and eaten at dinner. The state of Chiapas is different again and it is there that they make the empanadas that Don Day adores.
There are two parts to an empanada, the inside and the outside. It’s easy to find an empanada with a good inside or filling. It’s not so easy to find an empanada with a good outside or pastry. It’s almost impossible to find an empanada with a good inside and a good outside. Except in Chiapas. A Chiapas empanada is reminscent of a dish from my youth, the Cornish pasty. It’s said that when miners were brought from the southwest of England to work in the mines of Chiapas, they brought the recipe with them. The fillings have adapted to Mexican cuisine but the puff pastry is just like the original. In fact, in Chiapas, you’ll even hear them called pasties, only they pronounce them with a long rather than short “a”, more like those things with tassles that Tempest Storm used to twirl.
So why am I teasing you with tales of Chiapas empanadas when you probably live hundreds of miles away from there in central Mexico or possibly thousands of miles away in some other country. Well, another country I can’t do much about, but if you live in San Miguel de Allende, I can definitely help satisfy your craving.
You probably think I’m going to tell you about a well known San Miguel de Allende restaurant that has a reputation for empanadas. Restaurants like Garufa and Buenos Aires Bistro and the bakery, El Buen Vida, all have good, well respected empanadas. All of them though are Argentinean style with pastry that tends to be heavier, doughier. None of them make them in the Mexican Chiapas tradition. But there is a place in San Miguel, pretty much smack in the middle of San Miguel, that does make them and, sad to say, not too many people know about it.
It’s called Empanadas d Loreto. Now I know that the town of Loreto is in the Baja not Chiapas, so I suspect the name has more to do with the Italian town or the virgin that’s famous in Christianity and is considered historically important in San Miguel de Allende. Or it just may be because it’s very close to a street called Calle Loreto. Anyway a conversation with the woman who serves me with my empanadas there did not seem to indicate any relationship between the name and the origin of the style of Chiapas.
An empanada d Loreto is bigger than most empanadas. For Canadians, it’s about the same size as a Lune Moon, that chocolate or vanilla sponge cake with a creamy filling and no expiry date found almost exclusively in vending machines that, with a cola, was a subsistence diet for many struggling students. For non-Canadians that means it’s the same size as a half moon shaped sugar rush, seven inches in diameter.
I’ve had some good phyllos (or filos) and croissants in my time, but I’ll put the flaky crust on an empanada d Loreto up against any of them, any time. And every single time I’ve had them, they’ve been cooked perfectly which is not always the case with puff pastry. They’ve got this big, fancy, very sophisticated oven at the back of Empanadas d Loreto that probably should get some of that credit.
Though there are a couple of tables and chairs, Empanadas d Loreto is not quite a restaurant, much more a take-out joint, but it does have seating for about 100. It’s on benches, walls and steps that are in the Plaza de la Soledad, San Miguel’s second most popular place to hang out, right out front of the shop.
Today, I sat there as kids used the bench next to me as goalposts for their game of soccer. I had one of my favorite empanadas d Loreto. With the name “ham and cheese”, it sounds the most boring but it is an awesome experience. The empanada is held in your hands in a paper bag and, as you bite, each of the flavors sneaks up on you. First comes the flaky, buttery crust; then the gooey cheese, then the meaty ham, then, wooooohhh, a wonderful hit of jalapenos. After the filling is gone, I would be afraid to let go of the remaining crust as it may not fall to the ground, its lightness might carry it on the breeze like a helium balloon.
In addition to Jamon y queso (ham and cheese), other savory flavors at Empanadas d Loreto include picadillo (ground beef), mole (a brown sauce with tastes of nuts, fruit and chiles), atun (tuna) which is Don Day’s Wife’s favorite, tinga de pollo (chicken in chipotle sauce which is another of Don Day’s Wife’s favorites), chorizo and cheese (regular or spicy), pastor (pork and pineapple), rajas con queso (poblano peppers and cheese that is another of Don Day’s favorites), espinacas con queso (spinach and cheese), peperoni con champiñones (pepperoni with mushrooms and cheese), carnes de frias (cold cuts), Hawaiiana (which I’ve never tried and don’t know what’s inside and don’t really care to know) plus the latest additions, cochinita pibil (pork in an orange sauce) and verduras con queso (mixed vegetables with cheese).
In addition to savory, there are also sweet empanadas at Loreto. I’ve only ever tried a couple as it’s pretty hard to handle a sweetie after two savories. The strawberry (fresa) empanada has a taste almost identical to a jelly doughnut which is OK, I guess, if you like jelly donuts. The blackberry and cheese is less sweet and more enjoyable. Other dessert flavors include caramel, chocolate, pecans, rice pudding, vanilla, pineapple and apple/cinnamon. I’ll stick to the savories, thanks, but I may be in the minority based on what other people have been buying when I’ve been there.
I mentioned that I generally eat two of Loreto’s empanadas if I’m making a meal out of them. Normal people only need one for lunch and one of the easiest things to stomach is the price. Though they’ve gone all the way from 12 to 17 pesos over the last couple of years, they’re still one of the town’s best bargains. There may be a taco stand or two in San Miguel de Allende that can give you a meal that good for that price. But not with Chiapas style empanadas.
Empanadas d Loreto is located at #12 Plaza de la Soledad. It is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, every day but Sunday.