Many are missing Nuchas’ physical locations to grab tasty Argentine-style empanadas, but in an effort to limit potential Covid exposure, the company decided to temporarily halt IRL operations and shift its attention to a delivery model instead. “We’re not focusing on growth, we’re focusing on safety. We need to be alive as a business and as humans,” Ariel Barbouth told me over the phone last week. He and his wife, Leni, founded Nuchas back in 2009. (You may recognize their products from Shark Tank S10E18, no big deal!)
I can still remember the first (JOYOUS, TBH) encounter I had with Nuchas’ empanadas, which fortunately occurred fairly early into my now decade-long stay in Brooklyn; before that, I’d spent a good chunk of time in Buenos Aires, Argentina to visit friends I’d made during study abroad in college, but since returning to the US (much to my chagrin) I’d yet to find a solid stateside rendition of the classic Argentine snack.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar, an empanada is essentially a baked or fried handheld pastry; it exists in many iterations around the world, but also takes loads of different forms across the 2,766,890 sq km of Argentina.
The style Nuchas has opted to honor is the salteña, which hails from the northern Argentina, and gets its name from the Salta province.
“I had this idea in 2006 when two friends of mine came for a month; the last day we ordered empanadas from this place called La Tucumanita, which I used to order two or three times a week. When we opened the box, we realized that was exactly what we wanted to do,” Barbouth said. “The reason I chose Salta was because I’d done some online research, and the one person that stood out was this fellow by the name of Topeto Díaz. While Tucuman is really famous, most people there didn’t even have phones. So this guy who was very iconic in Salta had his own website, worked with Francis Mallman, so I called him and he said, ‘Sure, come up!’ We drove 1500km up north, and it was beautiful.”
He also added that during the trip he discovered you can, indeed, OD on empanadas; after eating boatloads of them along the way, he literally ended up in the hospital. “I ate like a hundred empanadas in three days; everywhere I went I said we wanted to start an empanada business, so they all wanted us to try the product, but at some point, I just couldn’t eat anymore. A lot of empanadas are fried up north, and at some point it was just too much. There’s a limit to how many you can eat if they’re not baked.”
(Fortunately the Nuchas variety are the baked sort, which just so happens to be my personal preference as well.)
While the visual style will undoubtedly be recognizable to anyone who’s familiar with Argentine culture, many of the filling options are less traditional.
“When we came it was about bringing Argentinian culture here, but then realized that what we loved, and the reason why we came to New York, was because it had everything. As much as I love Argentinian food, whenever I’d go back home I missed good sushi, good Indian food…all those flavors, aromas and textures. That’s what brought us back here, and eventually we went from doing something really authentic to bringing the world together with handheld foods.”
Sure, you can order classics like the Argentine beef empanada or ham and cheese, but the expansive and innovative menu also features strong fusion vibes with options including shiitake curry, chipotle chicken, and even seitan al pastor. I asked Barbouth about the latter, specifically, because while I love seitan, it feels like it potentially crosses over into cardinal sin territory as far as famously carnivorous Argentine food culture goes.
“I would agree with that statement; it’s a little out there, but it’s probably my favorite these days. We’re actually working on a whole vegan line! I can’t disclose details just yet, but we’re going to come up with a whole line of vegan products on our website. There are so many amazing flavors, you just need to know how to combine them.”
And although they’re not vegan, the medialunas are unmissable, too. “My wife said, ‘I could leave everything behind, but we’re bringing medialunas with us or I’m not moving to the US.’ We didn’t actually add them to the menu initially because the process is so different; while they’re easy to make in some ways (flour, butter), it does require more finesse at the end, meaning you can’t really pre-make them. We bake them at the stores.”
Now you can bake them right at home, because Nuchas is offering boxes of 8. (Highly recommended with a coffee or tea during the upcoming chillier months.)
Overall a great go-to for home delivery boxes; Nuchas has a wide array of tasty (not to mention quick ‘n easy) options to spice up your quarantine freezer situation, so don’t sleep on it!
Check out the full menu of empanadas and medialunas here; NJ, NY, CT, DE, MD, MA, PA, RI, VT and DC customers all enjoy free shipping on their orders // BONUS!
All images via Nuchas’ Instagram