Hey Mama, Nice Empanada

December 30, 2005 | By | COMMENTS

“What is an empanada?”

This question lingered over Lisa and I like a thought bubble in a New Yorker cartoon. “I think it’s like a doughy packet,” I said. “Stuffed with stuff.” “Like an eggroll?” Lisa queried. “Yes, sort of like an eggroll.”

This was the talk on the way to Empanada Mama, just a few blocks away from where Lisa lives in Hell’s Kitchen:

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On the flight to Paris, I read the Wednesday Food Section (like I usually do) and studied with interest this review by Peter Meehan because the place in question was so close to Lisa…

Meehan writes:

“EMPANADAS are many things to many people. They are a savory-sweet knife-and-fork food in Bolivia and a corn-flour-crusted snack in Venezuela. In Chile, empanadas are often stuffed with seafood, which would be an unlikely filling at an empanaderia in Argentina, the country most Americans associate them with. At Empanada Mama, a tender young shoot in the thicket of restaurants on Ninth Avenue in the 40′s and 50′s, they are something else still: empty canvases, ready to be rendered in a thousand new and fanciful ways.”

Using the article as a guide, Lisa and I plowed our way through the menu. The empanadas are all around $3 each so we ordered a bunch of those and one arepa. Here’s Lisa with the empanadas when they arrived:

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Since she don’t eat no meat, Lisa’s were all veggie-friendly empanadas. Mine, in turn, were quite meaty. Here are the little bags mine came in:

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As you can see, I ordered a meat one, a Polish one and then a chicken arepa:

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As Meehan warns, this thing is huge: “an arepa is practically a full meal and an empanada is unequivocally a snack.” I liked the corny crustiness of the arepa and the chicken was fine and saucy, but I only ate half. I wanted to save room for my empanadas.

Lisa cut into her pizza empanada:

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For my money, a pizza empanada teeters dangerously close to a pizza hotpocket. But Lisa was happy with it. “This is really good,” she said.

She was less enthused with her spinach and cheese empanada (also on her plate). “This tates funny,” she said.

I cut into my Polish empanada, a crazy idea: stuffed with sausage and kraut. In an empanada!

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Everything here is executed extremely well, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was eating hot dogs and sauerkraut inside an eggroll.

I was much happier with my carne (beef) empanada: it was basic and delicious. Plus it was a perfect vehicle for the sauces they give you: cilantro sauce and hot sauce. Sometimes the simplest things are the best.

The empanada I was secretly craving the most was the one Lisa ordered last: the Elvis, stuffed with bananas and peanut butter. Lisa had a mixed reaction at first:

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“The texture’s weird,” she said. “But I think I like it.”

I took a bite and loved it.

“I love it!” I informed her.

“Ya,” she said. “It is really good.”

And it is my theory that it tasted so good because it’s basically a dessert. But Lisa insisted that the peanut butter gave it meal-like credibility and that we should order a dessert empanada. I didn’t fight her on that one. We ordered a fig, caramel, cheese dessert empanada:

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I liked everything about this except the cheese: it was a little too gooey and greasy, but the caramel and figs were awesome.

“I’m just eating the caramel and figs,” said Lisa. “And they’re great.”

Later in the night Lisa and I were back at her apartment with her roommate Aaron. Lisa suddenly announced that she really liked “Empanada Mama.”

“What’s an empanada?” asked Aaron.

We stared blankly back. After eating six of them, I’m still not sure we know.

Categories: Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan, New York, Restaurant Reviews

  • Rebecca

    I love that place! If you go there again, you should try the mushroom appetizer thing that comes on bread, and the plain cheese corn flour empanada (also very good with the sauces). My favorite dessert one is the guava and cheese, though I agree the cheese can be weird. My dad loved the USA one (apples and cinnamon).

  • teddy

    I went to Argentina this past August. There are empanada take out places on every street and even bicycle empanada delivery boys. At every party or social event, someone is trying to stuff you with another empanada. Just one may be a snack but three is definitely a meal. Incidently, yours looked deep fried, the baked ones I had tasted even better to me.

  • http://fragmentsofself.com Heather

    AAAH! Empanadas! My all time favorite food.

    There is an insanely awesome Colombian place on Long Island that makes the best empanadas in the whole universe. Seriously. I have dreams about them.

  • http://thehungryrose.blogspot.com Rose

    I discovered ‘Mamas on a walk home one day in late october–I’m a hell’s kitchen babe just like Lisa :-)

    To me it’s the latin version of a knish–well, sort of.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed their beef and chicken empanadas–packed with right amount of meat and spiced lightly.

    I, too, tried the fig/caramel/cheese dessert empanada and had a pretty similiar reaction–what the heck is the cheese doing in there? It oozed out and the slight salty flavor didn’t blend with the sweet caramel quite well.

    The time I was over there someone next to me had one of their salads–topped with meat. It looked really good. I’ll have to pop over there again and try it myself.

  • Diana

    Try Caracas Arepa Bar, they serve authentic Venezuelan arepas (and empanadas too). There’s a NYTimes review of the place: http://events.nytimes.com/mem/nycreview.html?res=9E0CE4D71E3EF935A3575BC0A9659C8B63

    The “reina pepiada” (chicken and avocado) is a classic!

    Address: 91 East Seventh Street near First Avenue, East Village.

  • Sil (Bs As)

    Those empanadas seem too weird…here in Argentina the most common fillings are meat(hot or not), chicken, and ham & cheese; and may be fried or cooked in the oven.They’re one of our national foods so every province has its own specialty and recipe and they are all so good!!!

  • Iza

    In Malaysia, we have a similar snack called karipap or currypuff. Curried savoury fillings of meat/chicken and potatoes, dried shrimp and sweet potatoes and even canned sardines. We have it for breakfast or tea.

    There is a bigger vesion made in a particular state and the filling is usually eggs, dried shrimp and onions.

  • Marta (Asturias-Spain)

    I think that empanadas are originally from Spain, the North West (Asturias and Galicia) and from those regions was exported to American by gallegos to all South America. Then each country gave them their own taste.

    The most delicious ones are with tuna and tomato souce and meat with peppers and onions.

  • ciela morena

    You empanada lovers are hilarious!

    Thanks for the tangent….I’m searching for authentic empanada recipes right now.

  • NYCGourmand

    When I received the bill, I noticed that I had been overcharged for one of the items on the computer printed receipt. I showed this mistake to the manager and showed him the correct price visible on the large board. He REFUSED to correct the price and was low class enough to suggest I take the difference out of the poor waiter’s tip!!! I have never met a more dishonest and unsavory restaurant manager. The management here obivously does not care about their customers or their waitstaff.

  • Muerta

    I’m going to make some + do a report… thank’s for the info. Makes me want to expirement with the fillings. I’m going to put fruit + jelly in some- it sounds good.

  • Janet

    I just came from Empanada Mama and have to say, I really LOVED the fig, cheese & caramel one the best. Spicy Chicken is really good too.