When we visited Buenos Aires recently, the city was celebrating an international festival of tango. The former Harrod's department store directly across from our hotel was full of dancers, musicians and vendors selling traditional shoes, stockings, dresses, hats and suspenders to tango enthusiasts. The mood was festive and the action spilled out to the street, with throngs of people gathering to watch couples young and old, professional and amateur, perform the classic dance of Argentina. Tango was born on the streets of Buenos Aires, in the port district of La Boca, where immigrants developed the dance in the late 19th century. Derived from a blend of Spanish, African, Slavic and Cuban dance forms, the tango is a stylized portrayal of seduction, with male and female engaged in a game of stealth, enticement, teasing, rejection, acceptance and embrace. While the passionate sensuality of the tango is obvious to any spectator, there is also a darker undercurrent that propels the dance. Contrasting the smooth, almost feline walking movements are the adornos that involve sharp, staccato thrusts of the feet that mimic a knife blade. The famous Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges noted the presence of opposing forces in the dance and explained its uniquely beautiful combination of violence and grace. "The tango is a direct expression of something that poets have often tried to state in words: the belief that a fight may be a celebration."
A chef could create a career based on that belief. Dishes combining opposite flavours and textures excite the palate. The eater is intrigued as ingredients fight for dominance, play back and forth, tease the tastebuds and finally join forces in a delicious seduction of the senses. A good example is our favourite summer appetizer made from slices of honeydew melon wrapped in jamon crudo. Similar to Italian prosciutto, jamon crudo is made locally by salting a leg of pork, washing it and hanging it on a hook to cure in the open air. It has a dry, chewy texture and a fatty, salty flavour which is the very opposite of the sweet, juicy, melt-in-the-mouth ripe melon. The two foods are perfect partners.
We pair the appetizer with 2 x4 Tango Torrontes, an excellent summer wine made by Bodega Fantelli in Santa Rosa, Mendoza. (2x4 refers to the rhythm of the tango, not the specification for lumber which North Americans are familiar with!) This wine intrigues the nose with aromas of pear and flowers, dances in the mouth with citrus and green apple, and finishes with a flourish of herbal potpourri. A bottle sells for 12.50 pesos at Vea supermarket. Honeydew melons, purchased from roadside vendors, are 10 pesos each and jamon crudo, thinly sliced, can be purchased at the delicatessen for about 14 pesos for 200 grams.