The Unlikely Sauce that Defines Argentina (No, its not chimichurri)

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Mar del Plata, the city where salsa golf was invented

Pretty much everyone knows that Argentina is famous for its beef, and even if you haven’t traveled to the country you’ve probably heard about mate, the herbal infusion sipped from a gourd. But there is one Argentine culinary invention that stands out in my mind more than any other during my time here: salsa golf.

Salsa golf in all its glory

What is salsa golf, you ask? Well, on the surface it’s not much more than mayonnaise and ketchup mixed together (something that I and millions of people the world over have inadvertently created when adding condiments to our hamburgers); however, in Argentina, it apparently took a Noble Laureate to discover the formula.

Noble Laureate and salsa golf inventor Luis Federico Leloir
The golf club in Mar del Plata where he magic took place

According to legend, in 1925, a young Luis Federico Leloir was having a plate of shrimp with some friends at the exclusive Mar del Plata Golf Club.  As usual, the club had brought out the same tired sauce as an accompaniment, which prompted the bored future scientist to play with his food. He asked the kitchen to provide him with whatever they had on hand and, after some experimenting, settled on a mixture of equal parts mayonnaise and ketchup, with a few drops of cognac and Tabasco thrown in for good measure. Not really molecular gastronomy, but sometimes the simplest methods are the best.

Thus, salsa golf was born, named after the site of its birth.  Within a few years, the concoction had become popular throughout Argentina. By the 1960s, salsa golf had been internationalized by multinational corporations. And while Leloir would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1970 for his work on metabolic pathways in lactose, he would never see a penny from arguably his more famous contribution; something that he would later lament due to the difficulties in funding his research.

Salsa golf today

Today, salsa golf takes up the better part of condiment sections in any local Argentine grocery store, with everyone from Heinz to Hellmann’s getting in on the action. It is a staple dressing, indispensable for French fries, hot dogs, burgers, salad, pizza (yuck!), and, of course, shrimp. As there is no standardized recipe, the taste can vary from brand to brand with some including lemon or mustard. But the two base ingredients, mayonnaise and ketchup, are always present, although the 50/50 ratio has been altered in favor of the mayonnaise.

So if you are in Argentina, and you have a hankering for a pancho (hot dog), don’t forget to try it with salsa golf.  It may not be the sexiest of sauces, but at least it’s one less bottle you have to squeeze.

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2 thoughts on “The Unlikely Sauce that Defines Argentina (No, its not chimichurri)”

  1. Great insight. You have one of the best blogs on the Internet. Keep up the good work looking forward to more interesting minutia

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