Day 250 – National Empanada Day

Wow. This has been my 250th day on this quest. For the last 250 days I have taken part in some type of celebration in honor of some random item. I don’t know if I’ve ever done anything for 250 days in a row except breathing and waking up. Eating too, I suppose. What a strange little journey this has been and as always when I hit these milestone days, I just want to say thanks to everyone who has put up with my antics and continual posts. Thanks for cheering me along too – it keeps me going. Thanks especially to Lola without whom this whole journey would not be half as fun. I’m in the home stretch now – I just have 115 days to go, and all I have to do today is just choke down a meat pie.

Yes today was National Empanada Day. If you are not familiar with an empanada, it is simply a stuffed pastry that is usually stuffed with a savory filling like beef or chicken but can be stuffed with sweet fillings too. The word itself comes from the Spanish verb empanar which means to wrap in bread and that would make sense because they’re believed to have originated in Spain in the 15th century. They are often credited as a creation from the Moors (or the Moops to Seinfeld fans) who were occupying Spain about that time. When the Spaniards came to the Americas in search of new lands, they brought the empanadas with them and they rose to popularity over the years in the Caribbean and in Latin America. Those are the areas where we often associate empanadas with today.*

On recent occasions when we have been in New York City (excepting times when we were drinking whiskey in karaoke bars), we keep landing in a Cuban restaurant in the Times Square area called the Havana Central Restaurant. It’s kind of right in the heart of the touristy area of Time Square, so I was skeptical the first time we went in there, but it ended up being a pretty fun place. The first time I was there with folks from work and we were looking for a place to go that wasn’t too far off the beaten path. It had a bright neon palm tree outside that acted like a beacon for us, so we went inside. The place was busy and there was about a ten piece Cuban band playing in the front, but we were able to snake in through the salsa dancers and find a spot at the bar. They make one of the best mojitos that I have ever tasted outside of Mexico and in a bunch of different varieties too. We had a few of them and then we decided to order food. They had a chalkboard above the bar that listed their specialty food item which was empanadas. We ordered up a variety (I think they were pretty cheap too – like $1 a piece) and we had a little feast at the bar. Wonderfully seasoned beef or pork all wrapped inside this warm flaky dough. It was kind of perfect, especially with the mojitos. The next time I was in the city, I was with Lola along with her sister Cherie and husband Pete, and we ended up there too. Same great tastes of mojitos and empanadas. I’ve been back a couple of other times too. I’m a fan and that was my first real experience with empanadas.

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Lola enjoying the fresh cane sugar in the mojitos at Havana Central. The empanadas were ordered and on their way. 

I was working for most of the day today so a trip to NYC was not a possibility. For that matter, neither was making my own empanadas. They don’t seem that hard to make, you just need to make your own dough and that was what I didn’t have time to do. Once you have that dough mastered you can pretty much stuff it with anything and then you can be an empanada champion. But as I have mentioned before, I have a tough time with dough so with limited time, it was not something I wanted to squeeze in. No I was going to have to find my empanadas elsewhere. I did a quick search online and realized that the local Mexican restaurant features them. It was an easy place to swing by after work, so that would be my plan. I left work at about 6:30 and drove over to Tito’s Cantina in Middletown. I placed my order and then even got to enjoy a nice cold Sol (a Mexican beer) at the bar. Sol is one of my favorites and not a beer you can find everywhere, so I was kind of excited to have one, especially after having worked and craving a nice cold one.

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This was actually the first time I think I had been in a Mexican restaurant in almost nine months and to be honest, it felt a little weird. Everything was vaguely familiar from the menu, the drinks, the smells and even the staff. It was a Bizarro world. But the beer was cold and the staff was super friendly plus the chips were nice and toasty. It was kind of comfortable. Tito’s is kind of a famous spot out here in the island and it delivers that fresh Mexican restaurant experience for anyone that walks through the door. They also sell their chips and salsa at the grocery store too, so you see their stuff everywhere. I ordered their Flaky Empanada Trio to go which was a dinner that came with three empanadas – a chicken, a beef and a pork. Perfect for today. I sipped my beer and waited. It was ready in no time and then I was on my way home.

When I got home, Lola was in the shower so I kicked off my monkey suit (that’s what I call my work clothes even when my work clothes are actually pretty casual), and just chilled for a few minutes. We were both a little tired today especially following our Beer Day antics from the night before, so we were looking forward to a chill night ahead of us. We took out the food and set ourselves up in the family room where we would watch our current television show that we are binging on: Justified. We watched this show for a few seasons when it was originally on, but lost our way. We have since revisited it and we are well on our way through the tales of Raylan Givens versus Boyd Crowder. It pairs nicely with empanadas.

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We probably waited too long to dig in to these. Mexican food is always best when you dig right in and these had taken the 15 minute ride down West Main Road with me and than sat on our kitchen table for another 25 minutes or so. They weren’t at their peak best when we ate them. They weren’t bad but the time affected their taste. The chicken and pork kind of dried out in transit, plus there was temperature issues of being too cold. Still, you have to expect that in take out. The dough was nice and flaky however and tasty. The fresh salsa fresca on top along with the melted cheese made for a nice addition and it gave you that cool fresh vegetable taste that mixes well with the savory fried dough taste. I really liked the beef empanada which just had good ground beef flavor with subtle seasoning. Lola wasn’t a big fan of any of it, but she has a low tolerance for any food that’s not mostly great. If I were to do it again, I would have stayed at the bar and had a few fresh beef empanadas right from the kitchen and sipped another icy Sol with it. They would have been great that way.

Even though I didn’t have the best empanadas I’ve ever had today, I’m still a fan. I’m a fan of any type of product that takes meat and wraps it in dough. That’s the simplicity of an empanada and why they have been around for over 500 years. It’s an ideal delivery system that fits in the palm of your hands. I’ll still always think about the empanadas at Havana Central and that whole experience. Fresh mojitos flowing, Cuban music making your feet move and fresh little pockets of meat filled dough in front of me. Doesn’t get much better than that. I am also kind of glad that I got to try Tito’s version too. All in all, they weren’t too bad. I just learned a lesson about take out versions of empanadas. Yes the general rule of empanadas must be to eat them fresh when they just come out of the kitchen. I guess that’s a great rule to follow for anything you are eating. That’s one of the many things I have learned over the last 250 days.  Cheers!

Next Up: National Chinese Almond Cookie Day 

*Info from TheSpruce.com

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