Given tango’s renown throughout the musical world, it is thus surprising to discover that it is not the most popular music genre in its birthplace, Argentina. Instead, it is traditional folkloric music with its earthy gaucho roots that enjoys that status. Northwest Argentina is particularly well-known for its peñas, multi-functional spaces that offer both thumping music and traditional cuisine. In fact, one can find a whole street of peñas on Calle Balcarce in Salta, though those now cater more to tourists, with some of the fancier places offering a full fledged dinner show with a band and tango in the mix. Our hosts at Casa Hernandez recommended Casona del Molino instead for a more authentic experience.
Casona del Molino sits on the site of an old mill, and the rambling estate with many rooms on the edges of the city looks like it would fit right in on an episode of “this old house”. In fact, the proprietors kept the house in its original form, meaning odd shaped rooms and a bathtub standing in the bathroom. The area is a little rough around the edges, though there are men standing outside to keep an eye, for a little tip, on one’s car if one drove. If not, it’s a short cab ride from the city center. We arrived just past 9, early for Argentine standards and were amongst the first diners in the establishment. We didn’t mind it though, as it meant we had the only non-reserved seats in the first room (where Rodrigo the singer would later be seated). The place eventually gets packed by 1030, when the music begins.
Before the show however, we started eating some delicious local dishes. The empanadas were a given, and they’ve got some really good ones at La Casona del Molina, with hand chopped instead of minced meat and a good dose of chili powder and a side of fiery salsa picante for some heat. We ordered hearty stews and a jug of wine to ward of the winter chill. My locro was a thinner soup filled with meat and some tripe, as well as pumpkin cubes and hominy, spiced up with salsa and chopped green onions, savory, earthy and slightly sweet from the addition of the pumpkin. The husband thoroughly enjoyed his thicker baby goat stew, with none of the musty smell and taste associated with mutton or goat.
As we ate, Rodrigo started strumming his acoustic guitar and singing, the locals joining in on an impromptu karaoke session as he belted out traditional tunes in a powerful and melancholic voice. As the night got later, fellow musicians, who came bringing their own guitars and other instruments, joined Rodrigo at his table for an exhilarating jam session, the spectators egging them on with cheers and claps.
We were full after our stews, but the atmosphere was just getting electric a little before midnight, so we extended our stay with dessert. The Torta Saltena is a cross between a turron and meringue, with lots of walnuts and Argentina’s national sweet, dulce de leche. Tasty, but it is not a subtle dessert by any means and sugar hits you straight in the face, so much so that we had to stop after a few bites.
We left around 1230, and I suspect the night was still young for the eclectic crowd (from grandpas to toddlers) at Casona del Molino where the parties are known to go on until 4-5 am. And if you do not believe me, you just have to check out the fiesta yourself!
La Casona del Molino: Luis Burela 1, Salta, Argentina