[Argentine, Chile] Seaweed. The world’s only village exclusively dedicated to collecting marine algae is in Chubut, a province in Argentina’s Patagonia known for southern right whale spotting, sheep breeding, and omnipresent winds.
The tiny town of Bahía Bustamante, situated more than 100 miles from the nearest city, was founded in 1953 by Don Lorenzo Soriano. The Spanish businessman came to Patagonia in 1953 on a quest for agar, a gelatinous compound used in the production of hair gel (it’s also used as a food thickener).
Soriano picked the area that is now Bustamante for its vast quantities of seaweed. Though both seaweed collection and village population have declined over the years, the village is making a slow yet steady comeback. It’s thanks in large part to the efforts of Soriano’s grandson Matías, who started rebuilding the almost-abandoned village in 2001.
Top-quality seaweed, found in Bustamante’s clean waters or on the beach, was traditionally gathered by algueros (seaweed harvesters)—often ex-cons fresh out of jail. After being boiled and washed, the seaweed was left to dry in the sun, which helped retain nutrients like vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, and iodine. At its peak in the 1960s and ’70s, Bustamante was home to 400 employees who sourced 5,000 tons a year. It takes a whopping 220 pounds of fresh seaweed to produce a little over two pounds of the sought-after agar.
Algueros initially collected algae species native to the Argentine Sea, such as Ulva (a.k.a. sea lettuce), a bright green, edible variety; Gracilaria, which looks like a mane of auburn hair and holds high quantities of agar; and kelp. But the varietals gathered have changed over the years. Japanese species like nori and wakame, which traveled here on the bottoms of foreign fishing boats, now also form part of Argentina’s repertoire.
Seaweed and its extracts go into making everything from sushi wraps and soups to dessert gelatin and chocolate milk. But La Proveeduría, Bustamante’s single restaurant, goes a step beyond, incorporating unprocessed ulva, nori, and wakame into all of its dishes.
Chef Juan Pablo Aloisi rehydrates dried seaweed flakes with water, then mixes it into meringue, biscuits, and soups. Tiny pieces of sea lettuce go into crusty farmhouse loaves, for example, while larger strips are sautéed in extra virgin olive oil to replace pasta, a perfect substitute for gluten abstainers. One particularly tasty dish rethinks the tamale: The classic cornhusk is replaced with dark brown wakame, which is then stuffed with shrimp and scallops, and served in a bowl of miso soup.
What to expect: It’s reservations-only at La Proveeduría, where all the tables have uninterrupted views of the sea. Set three-course lunches and dinners are served daily.
How to pay: La Proveeduría takes both cash and cards, and a ten percent tip is standard in Argentina.
Local tip: It’s your lucky day if surf and turf meet on the same plate; estate-reared lamb and seaweed make for an unlikely yet delectable culinary coupling.
DO’S AND DON’TS:
Do: Brush up on your edible-seaweed knowledge. All seaweed is algae, but not all algae is seaweed.
Don’t: Say you prefer the flavor of invasive nori over native Argentine varietals such as ulva.
Photo by Vladimir Weiss/Getty Images
View original article at: The One Dish to Eat in Argentine Patagonia Is…Seaweed