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Do you know the surprising origin of empanadas?

October 29, 2021

The Creole empanada is a wrapper of corn dough with a filling that can be of any edible ingredient and whose cooking is the result of frying in oil.

It is assumed that the antiquity of the empanada is as remote as bread, that the origin is located in Mesopotamia as supported by the oldest known recipe book dating from 1700 BC.

One of the preparations of that time can be seen as an antecedent of the empanada, since it consisted of baking two layers of wheat dough between which they placed a stew of birds.

It is likely that the stuffed dough wrappers spread throughout the Arab world, north africa, to Moroccan coasts, and to southern Spain. It can also be attributed to the Hebrews, who following a similar route, took these recipes to Andalusia, since they prepared dumplings that they consumed in routine meals (2).

Since medieval times it is possible to suppose then, that the consumption of dough wrappers, stuffed with stews that depended on the imagination of the cook and as part of the food customs of Arabs and Hebrews, had a geographical diffusion from Mesopotamia, tracing a route through North Africa, to reach Spain.

The Hispanic Arab and Hispanic Jewish gastronomic culture records the preparation of the empanada as a small fried cake in the Andalusian region as it is clear from some cookbooks of the thirteenth century.

Since time immemorial it is considered that Andalusia has been the land of frying, for example, in the second decade of the sixteenth century, the fried empanada was considered one of the dishes that every married woman had to learn to find a husband or at least to earn an honest livelihood (3).

The Spanish conquistadors brought empanadas to the New World: in Mexico, the Spaniards served empanadas at the banquet offered by Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza, with the assistance of Hernán Cortés, in 1538 (4).

In the case of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina it is assumed that empanadas were brought by Spanish colonizers to the eastern coasts since the mid-sixteenth century and from there they spread throughout the Spanish empire.

In the nineteenth century the consumption of empanadas was part of the gastronomic culture of the Venezuelan. For example, in Caracas, empanadas were a highly appreciated offer by the customers of a busy bar called "El gato negro" (5). Also among the street vendors of the capital it was very common to find the one that offered fried arepitas and empanadas (6).

At that time the empanadas margariteñas were famous and later, around 1940, in addition to eating them in the house, families put small ventorrillos in the zaguanes and the sidewalks to sell them to neighbors and interns (7).

I remind you that…

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Today the consumption of empanadas has spread throughout the territory, reaching its distribution to the most remote places, it is a food that is a significant part of the daily diet of the Latin American person, a part of the European community and different areas of the Asian continent.

The empanadas, in addition to being part of the culinary preparations in the bosom of the home, are acquired by countless diners in cafes, restaurants, wineries and kiosks, in the squares of hamlets and villages, in the doors of the churches, in the tarantines on the beaches, in stadiums and bus and taxi terminals, in the airports, in the patron saint festivities, in the neighborhoods adjacent to the big cities, in the shopping centers and on the roads, since any place is good to put together a sale of empanadas, being the Creole empanada a basic element in the diet.

2) Sternberg R. The Sephardic cuisine. The cultural richness of the healthy cuisine of mediterranean Jews. Barcelona-Spain, Editorial Zendrera Zariquiey, 1998.

3) Suarez M M. The Creole empanada in history and tradition. Ediciones IVIC, 2010 (in press).

4) Diaz del Castillo B. True story of the conquest of New [1632] Spain. México, Editorial Nuevo Mundo, volume II, 1943.

5) Sales Perez F. Venezuelan customs. Collection of articles, New York, Printing and Bookstore of N. Ponce de León, 1877. See "The Black Cat", 1871.

6) Espinoza J A. Regional. Paris, Garnier, 1898. 7 Gómez Á F. The empanada margariteña. Porlamar, Farmamigos Drugstore, 2003.

7) National Institute of Nutrition (INN). Food Composition Table for practical use. Revision 1999. Publication No. 52. Blue Notebooks Series. Caracas, 1999.

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