The History of Empanadas, The South American Snack

Empanadas are pastries stuffed with savoury fillings. The name ‘empanada’ comes from the verb ‘empanar’, which means to wrap with bread. The treats are made by folding dough around a stuffing of meat or vegetables. 

Empanadas originated in Spain and Portugal. They were carried to Latin America by Spanish colonists, and first came to be known in Medieval Iberia during the Moorish invasions. A cookbook published in Catalan in 1520 mentions empanadas filled with seafood. 

Food historians believe that both empanadas and calzones were derived from the Arabic meat-filled pies, sambousek. In Spain and Portugal, an empanada is prepared like a large pie, which is cut into pieces, making it an easy to carry, wholesome meal. Fillings include tuna, sardines or chorizo, but can also contain pork loin or cod. The minced meat or fish filling is usually mixed with a tomato and garlic sauce. The large number of Galician immigrants in Latin America have popularised the empanada. 

Once the empanada reached South America, it evolved from a pie made with dough to individual parcels of pastry crust, often using animal fat since Argentina loves its beef. The pies were baked or fried after being stuffed with ingredients that were locally available. 

In Buenos Aires, empanadas are commonly filled with minced beef, ham and cheese or chicken. Restaurants dedicated to empanadas serve even more varieties. Further North, in Jujuy, empanadas are filled with goat or llama meat. In Cordoba, the fillings often include raisins. 

Both the Argentinians and the Spanish take pride in their empanadas. The parcels stuffed with minced meat work as tasty appetisers with soup, or even a full meal if had in generous quantities. Empanadas have even jumped onto the gluten-free bandwagon. In Misiones, they are made with mandioca or cassava flour, which is made from the root of the yucca plant. Be it food trends or culinary heritage, empanadas have an unparalleled place in South American culture.