The Argentinean delicacy par excellence: alfajores (pastries)

Authored By:

CIEE Buenos Aires

 One of the first experiences students immerse themselves in when they arrive in Buenos Aires is the food. Some are pleasantly surprised, others find it a little more difficult to adapt. However, one thing that no one fails to do is to try everything: sweet, savory, on foot, in a long after-dinner conversation. Food is a central part of Argentine culture. And if we talk about sweets, the famous alfajor is a must. Now, when newcomers ask us what is an alafajor? The answer is not so easy.   


There is an essence of the alfajor, but we do not know what it is, and we refer to the definition of dictionaries such as the Royal Academy ("Candy composed of two thin slices of dough attached to each other with sweet and sometimes coated with chocolate, meringue, etc.. ") or that of the Food Code ("It is understood by alfajor the product constituted by two or more cookies, cookies or baked dough, adhered to each other by products, such as, jams, jellies, candies or other substances or mixtures of food substances of permitted use"), far from shedding light on the issue, it obscures our purpose. One thing we can all agree on is that alfajor is a culturally dense product, loaded with a history that goes back at least seven or eight centuries (if it does not include the history of civilization itself). 

We have no choice but to admit that the origin of the mutable condition of the alfajor is much older than we thought. As if pursued by the shadow of a gastronomic Darwinism, at one point in history (if not at several) the alfajor had to face the dilemma: evolve or die. It is clear that in the areas of colonial America where it did not mutate (mainly Central America), the price to pay was a rapid extinction. Here, on the other hand, in Latin America, it underwent a violent process of change that seems to have lasted until the present day. The process is most palpable in Argentina. It is also the country where it enjoys the greatest vitality. It could be said that variation is at the base of the alfajor. That is, that its essence is to vary: that its essence is to have no essence. That would be a beautiful conclusion.  


And it is not only loaded with history but also with regionalisms. To travel around Argentina is to know dozens of variants of this classic of our pastries. There is the alfajor santafesino, made with a completely identifiable dough and coating; the alfajor cordobés, whose case is a little more problematic, but which is characterized at least by its glazed syrup and its slightly convex cookie; the colación, with a rigid recipe but uneven geographical distribution; the alfajor de miel de caña (similar to the previous one), the alfajor de maicena, the capias, the tablets and, of course, the alfajor marplatense. 

Could it be that there is, after all, an essence of the alfajor, made of all the things it once was, of all the things it is, of all the things it will ever be? A memorial essence, which instead of abolishing history, perpetuating itself in an eternal present, accumulates it, fragmenting chronological linearity into a thousand coexisting appearances (the archaic, the modern, all of them, in their own way, unique), and summarized in a single name, alfajor: tentacular monster, irresolvable problem.