Getting a Driver's License in Argentina

Sample Argentine Driver's License [photo courtesy of Agencia Nacional de Seguridad Vial]When I moved to Argentina six years ago, what initially kept me from driving was the chaotic mix of stray animals, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians coupled with a flagrant disregard for basic traffic laws on the part of many (most?) drivers. Eventually that chaos became the new norm, yet something else even greater was holding me back. I didn't know how to drive stick shift. My husband gave me lessons, dutifully taking me out to practice on the dusty back roads bordering the fields of sunflowers and soy, but I never quite got the hang of it. So even though I'd been driving since the age of 17, I reluctantly gave up my independence, settling—albeit temporarily—for the passenger seat. Finally, after years of being chauffeured around Necochea by my family and friends, I saved up the money to buy a car with automatic transmission (no easy feat in Argentina, where the overwhelming majority of cars for sale have a manual transmission).

With the keys to my new ride in hand, I set my sights on completing another expat rite of passage: applying for a driver's license. As a tourist, foreign drivers are free to roam the mean streets of Argentina with an international driving permit and a valid foreign license; however, residents must obtain an Argentine driver's license. (Note: Foreigners cannot apply for a driver's license without a DNI.)

The information provided here is valid for those applying for a driver's license in the province of Buenos Aires. Please note that my experience in Necochea may be different from yours. The requirements for residents of the city of Buenos Aires and other provinces vary. If you're looking to obtain your license in Capital Federal, the blog Discover Buenos Aires has a very informative post.

Process for Obtaining an Argentine Driver's License (Province of Buenos Aires)

1. Schedule an appointment. Although some municipalities have an online system for appointments, here in Necochea, you have to do it the old-fashioned way by going in person. I went to the Oficina de Licencias de Conducir, Dirección de Seguridad Pública, and I was given an appointment for almost three weeks later. I was also handed a list of the required items that I would need to present at the time of my appointment.

Requirements for Argentine Driver's License (Province of Buenos Aires)

  • DNI booklet (not card) plus two photocopies of pages 2, 3, and 8
  • Proof of blood type (I used my American Red Cross blood donor card)
  • Two completed medical forms (Declaración Jurada de Salud), available for purchase at a nearby kiosk
  • Municipal fee ($120 in Necochea, price varies by municipality), pay in advance of appointment and bring proof of payment
  • Valid foreign driver's license plus a photocopy of your license

Also, in anticipation of your appointment, take some time to prepare for the written driver's exam (you can purchase a hard copy of the practice questions for a small fee or take a practice test online for free).

2. Check in. On the day of my appointment, I returned to the Oficina de Licencias de Conducir where I waited for my name to be called. I was led back to a desk and asked to present my paperwork, DNI, etc., (all of the items listed above). Next, my photo and fingerprints were taken, and I was asked to provide a digital signature. After reviewing and signing a print-out with my information, I was directed to wait until called for the vision test. I was given my paperwork to take with me.

3. Take vision test. I was asked to identify three letters on an eye chart, and I was given two pieces of paper to add to my collection of forms. The end.

4. Pay provincial fee. Payment of the provincial fee ($173) must be made at Banco Provincia or, in Necochea, at the Cámara de Comercio. I added these receipts to the pile of paperwork and forged ahead.

5. Take written exam. In Necochea, the written exam is given at the Departamento de Tránsito, across town from where my adventure began. Here I was asked to present all of my paperwork and my foreign driver's license. In some municipalities the test is computerized, but not in Necochea. The exam consisted of 56 multiple-choice questions in Spanish about the rules of the road, plus 16 questions, also multiple choice, about street signs. I passed with flying colors and was given a date to pick up my license. I was not required to take a road test, presumably because I was already a licensed driver in another country.

6. Pick up license. My license was available for pick-up at the Oficina de Licencias de Conducir about one week later.

So, now I've officially joined the ranks of the crazies, striking fear in the hearts of pedestrians and stray dogs all over Necochea, and I’ve rediscovered the joy of driving…Argentine style.

[Image credit: Agencia Nacional de Seguridad Vial]

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Recipe File: Rosca de Pascua | Easter Bread Ring

No Easter celebration in Argentina can be considered complete without a rosca de Pascua and some colorful chocolate Easter eggs. Easily the most popular baked good at Easter, the rosca de Pascua, a decorated, ring-shaped loaf of bread, appears in bakeries and corner stores all over the country during Semana Santa (Holy Week).

Rosca de Pascua - Whole by katiemetz, on Flickr

Meant to symbolize eternal life, Easter bread rings form part of the baking tradition of many countries, but the classic toppings of pastry cream, candied cherries and pearl sugar set the Argentine version apart from the rest. Lightly sweet and scented with vanilla, this tender yeast bread pairs perfectly with mate or a cup of coffee.

If the rosca de Pascua strikes a familiar chord with you, I can explain why. The bread ring prepared during Holy Week is virtually identical to the rosca de Reyes that is eaten during the celebration of the Epiphany, just after Christmas. The two breads occasionally differ in terms of their presentation (some bakers insert eggseither chocolate or the real thing in the rosca de Pascua), but for the most part, the recipes are one and the same.

Click here for the recipe for Rosca de Pascua | Easter Bread Ring.

Rosca de Pascua - Before Baking by katiemetz, on Flickr
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Recipe File: Empanadas de Roquefort, Apio y Nuez | Roquefort Cheese, Celery and Walnut Empanadas

I remember the first time I walked into my small-town, neighborhood bakery here in Argentina during the days leading up to Easter. In addition to the usual array of breads, cookies and pastries, there, piled high on a tray on the counter, stood a mound of flaky, golden empanadas topped with a shimmering layer of sugar. "Empanadas de vigilia" read the small, hand-lettered sign, and I was immediately intrigued. The baker's wife explained that she had three varieties of empanadas for saleall meatlessthat they'd prepared especially for Lent.

Batch of Empanadas by katiemetz, on Flickr

In Argentina, where Catholicism holds sway as the dominant religion, many people continue to observe the traditional restrictions on eating meat during the season of Lent. As I later discovered, empanadas de vigilia may include any number of fish, vegetable or cheese fillings with flavors such as tuna, hake (a type of flaky white fish), corn, Swiss chard and cheese making frequent appearances. These empanadas usually feature a flaky style of dough reminiscent of puff pastry, and they're often topped with a sprinkle of sugar, just like the ones I saw at the bakery.

Of course, these empanadas can be enjoyed at any time of year (irrespective of your religious affiliation!), and the Roquefort, celery and walnut empanadas that I'm featuring here top my list of year-round favorites.

If you're a fan of blue cheese, don't hesitate to try these empanadas de roquefort, apio y nuez. The tang of the Roquefort cheese along with the crunchiness of the walnuts and the unmistakable flavor of celery makes for a flavor-packed empanada that you won’t be able to stop eating!

Inside the Empanada by katiemetz, on Flickr

Empanadas de Roquefort, Apio y Nuez | Roquefort Cheese, Celery and Walnut Empanadas
Yields 16 empanadas

1 Tbsp. butter
¾ c. peeled and chopped celery
pinch of salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ c. coarsely shredded mozzarella cheese
1 ½ c. crumbled Roquefort cheese (or your favorite blue cheese)
1/3 c. roughly chopped walnuts, toasted
16 empanada shells, puff pastry type (tipo hojaldre) or homemade empanada dough

For assembly:
a glass of water
1 egg yolk
granulated sugar for sprinkling (optional)

In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the celery, salt and pepper, and cook the celery until it’s completely soft but not brown. Remove the celery from the heat and allow it to cool.

In a medium bowl, add the mozzarella cheese, Roquefort cheese, walnuts and the celery. Mix thoroughly to combine.

Assembling the empanadas:
Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Place a heaping tablespoonful of the cheese mixture in the center of the empanada dough. Resist the urge to overfill the empanadas, as they will be difficult to work with and will likely explode in the oven if you do so. Dip your finger in the glass of water and lightly wet the edge of the dough. Bring the edges of the dough together and press firmly.

There are several methods used to seal the empanadas (the repulgue). The simplest way involves pressing the tines of a fork around the edge of the empanada, but if you're interested in trying your hand at a fancier repulgue, here's a video that demonstrates a traditional twisted edge. 

Place the empanadas on a lightly greased cookie sheet, and brush them with egg yolk. Sprinkle them lightly with sugar, if desired. Poke holes in the top of the empanadas with a fork to vent the steam (cheese empanadas have a greater tendency to explode). Bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.

This recipe was originally published by me on the website Hispanic Kitchen. Read More......

Recipe File: Tarta Pascualina | Savory Easter Pie

Tarta pascualina, a savory spinach pie, enjoys popularity in both Argentina and Uruguay. Italian immigrants who voyaged to South America to gamble on a new life brought with them the recipe for this tasty and filling pie. The tarta pascualina’s origins lie specifically in the region of Liguria, Italy, where the dish can be traced back to the 16th century.

Slice of Tarta Pascualina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Traditionally eaten during Lent, this meatless dish contains a number of eggs, a Christian symbol of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The eggs are cracked directly into the flavorful filling of spinach and ricotta cheese, and after a stint in the oven, they emerge as hard-boiled eggs baked into the pie. Although the pie was originally associated with the period leading up to Easter, tarta pascualina is enjoyed year-round in Argentina.

Note: The tarta pascualina is frequently made with Swiss chard instead of spinach, so feel free to substitute one for the other.

Tarta Pascualina | Savory Easter Pie

1 medium onion, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 (14 oz.) bags frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained or 2 bunches fresh spinach, lightly steamed, drained and chopped (roughly 1 ½ packed cups of cooked spinach)
1 lb. ricotta cheese
1/2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
6 eggs (4 for the top of the pie, one for the filling, and one for the egg wash)
3 roasted red peppers, chopped
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ají molido [substitute crushed red pepper]
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 (2-count) package pascualina shells or 2 pie crusts, either homemade or store-bought

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease a deep tart pan or springform pan with baking spray.

In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sweat the onion and garlic together in the skillet until translucent. Remove from the heat, and allow the onion and garlic to cool.

In a large bowl, stir together the onion, garlic, spinach (make sure it is thoroughly drained), ricotta, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, roasted peppers, nutmeg, ají molido, salt, and pepper. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning as needed. Add 1 egg to the mixture and mix well. Carefully line the bottom of the pan with one of the pascualina shells. Spoon the filling into the tart pan.

Smooth the top of the filling, and make four deep, evenly spaced depressions in the filling. Crack an egg into each hole (hold back a bit of the white if it looks like it will overflow). Cover the filling with the second pascualina shell, and seal the crust using a fork or by making a decorative edge. Vent the crust with a sharp knife, and then brush the crust with a beaten egg for color and shine. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until the pie is golden brown and the filling has set. Allow the pie to cool to room temperature (or just slightly warm) before serving.

This recipe was originally published by me on the website Hispanic Kitchen.

Tarta Pascualina by katiemetz, on Flickr
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Recipe File: Pollo al Disco de Arado

Fearless in the kitchen, my father-in-law Tomás knows a thing or two about good food; however, heand many other Argentinesfavors a freewheeling approach to cooking. Like garlic to a vampire, anything that can be even remotely construed as a recipe repels Tomás. So, I knew that if I wanted the secret behind his flavorful version of pollo al disco, the only way to extract the details was to be his shadow as he prepared the dish for our Sunday family lunch.

Pollo al Disco - Cooking the Vegetables by katiemetz, on Flickr

What Does "Al Disco" Mean?

Food prepared "al disco" or "al disco de arado" doesn’t refer so much to a particular recipe but rather a cooking method using a huge iron disc heated outdoors over a wood fire. Recipes with chicken tend to be the most popular choice for the disco, although other meats or fish occasionally make an appearance. Since discos provide a large surface area for cooking while remaining eminently portable, they are particularly useful for preparing meals when camping or spending the day outside with a group of friends.

Pato Preparing the Pollo al Disco by katiemetz, on Flickr
[Daniel's cousin prepares a lunch of pollo al disco after a morning of horseback riding.]

The Origin of the Disco

Given Argentina’s long agricultural tradition, there's no shortage of farming equipment in these parts. Farmers typically use a piece of machinery known as a disc plough to till the earth and prepare the land for planting. Never short on ingenuity, those same farmers discovered that once the plough's iron discs (discos de arado) had outlived their usefulness as a farming tool, they could be transformed into a cooking implement. Most plough discs that have been modified into cooking discs come with two handles, foldable or removable legs, and, sometimes, a lid.

*    *    *    *    *

The following recipe for pollo al disco offers a starting point; feel free to omit or add ingredients as you see fit or according to what you've got in the pantry. Trust your instincts and your taste budsthat's what most Argentine cooks do!

Note: If you don’t own a disco, you can still prepare this dish in a large, deep skillet or dutch oven on the stovetop.

Pollo al Disco - Finished by katiemetz, on Flickr

Pollo al Disco
Serves 5-6 people

1 (5 lb.) whole chicken, cut up or equivalent in bone-in, skin-on chicken parts
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and sliced in thick rounds
4 stalks scallion, chopped
3 medium red bell peppers, julienned
2 medium onions, julienned
1-2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar [substitute with up to 1 c. wine or beer, if desired—dish will be saucier]
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
3 tsp. capers
2 c. sliced mushrooms
freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ tsp. ají molido [substitute crushed red pepper]
1 c. cream
½ c. fresh parsley, roughly chopped

Prepare the fire and preheat the disc over a moderately high flame. Heat the vegetable oil in the disc. Wash and pat the chicken parts dry. Add the chicken to the disc, skin side downthe pieces should not touch. Cook the chicken, turning as necessary, until brown on all sides.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and boil until just cooked through. Reserve a cup of the cooking water from the potatoes. Drain the potatoes and set aside.

Reduce the flame under the disc. Move the chicken to the outer edge of the disc, creating a space in the center for the vegetables. Add the scallions, bell peppers and onions followed by the vinegar and bouillon cubes. Stirring occasionally, cook until the vegetables soften and the onion turns translucent.

Add the mushrooms and capers. Stir to distribute all of the vegetables among the chicken. After about 5 minutes, add the black pepper, ají molido and cream.

Add the boiled potatoes. Feel free to add some of the reserved cooking liquid from the potatoes if the dish looks dry. Sprinkle the chicken and vegetables with parsley. Stir gently and allow the potatoes to absorb the flavors, approximately 5 to 10 minutes.

Serve with crusty bread and a green salad.

This recipe was originally published by me on the website Hispanic Kitchen. Read More......
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