How is an empanada different from a meat pie? Standing in front of La Empanada’s glass counter and looking at the rows of the half-moon pastries, you can’t help but wonder.
I ask owners André and Andrea.
“Well, the concept is the same: food wrapped up in pastry,” André says. “And in Ecuador you can get empanadas everywhere, in service stations and supermarkets, just like you can get pies here. But the pastry is different. Sixty per cent of our empanada’s success is down to the pastry.”
André says another difference is that empanada fillings are sautéed rather than cooked in gravy. As we chat, a recent empanada convert comes over. He says he so enjoyed his first two empanadas, he’s asked André and Andrea to choose the next five flavours for him.
“Our customers grow by word of mouth,” André says, after sending the customer off with a box of goodies. “They trust us, so when they come in, they get their regular order and then ask us what to try next.”
He and Andrea originally came to Canberra in 2013 to study. They met here, fell in love and are now proud Canberrans. Andrea is a chef with a passion and extensive knowledge of Ecuadorian cooking. The two embarked on their empanada adventure with a humble table at the Old Bus Depot Markets, selling refrigerated empanadas for people to heat up at home.
“It was a place to start,” says André. “From there, we began offering samples, customers began coming back, and then people began phoning to see if we catered for events. And now, we are trying to flood the market with empanadas!”
So, what can you expect to find inside an Ecuadorian empanada?
“Traditionally in Ecuador, you will find fillings of beef or cheese, sometimes chicken. At La Empanada, we started with just four flavours and now we are up to twenty-one. We have developed some fillings for the modern palate. Only three of our empanadas are what you would call spicy. We have families whose kids love the empanadas because the flavour is delicious without spicy heat. And we have parents who say that their kids are eating spinach for the first time, they love our popular spinach and cheese empanada.”
André points out the empanadas that customers come back for the most: the traditional beef, the spicy chorizo, and the spinach and cheese.
They have just launched their newest taste sensation: guava with cheese. I make a face at the thought, but André insists “it is a good match”.
“Guava is a fruit that is not too sweet. When you mix it with soft white cheese, it is delicious,” he insists.
He and Andrea were concerned when lockdown laws came in, but they have always been a takeaway first and foremost, a quick grab-and-go option. They are very grateful that people are still coming in regularly to get their empanada fix.
I buy a mixed box of empanadas and can attest to the fact that La Empanada’s pastry is special. It somehow absorbs the moisture of its filling without becoming soggy.
Here is what we ate:
The Lomo Saltado packs all the scrumptiousness of one of South America’s traditional dishes inside a pastry. Marinated sirloin strips sauteed with fried potatoes, capsicum, tomato, onion, this empanada is flavourFULL without spicy heat. It was our very favourite empanada. Spoon on as much of the fabulous housemade chimichurri and red aji sauces as you can handle.
The Pulled Pork is subtle bursts of tang and smoke. Slow cooked pulled pork with Boston-baked beans and toothsome bacon bits. The tender meat is a family pleaser.
The Chicken & Jalapeño adds the sharp tang of fresh jalapeños with an exotically spiced chicken capsicum and onion filling. Absolute mouthfuls of yum.
The Cheeseburger infuses so much deliciousness into its simple filling, combining the luxurious smoothness of cheese and the zing of chopped pickles.
The biggest surprise, though, is La Empanadas newest flavour. André is right. The exotically scented guava melded with soft white cheese is the perfect mix.
La Empanada also has a fun and tasty breakfast menu featuring several themed waffles and some brekky staples with a South American twist.
Their desserts are sumptuous, and they have wonderful freshly baked alfajores, addictive cookies sandwiched together with dulce de leche.
“Come past and try a new cuisine to Canberra!” André encourages Canberrans. “We love to provide a taste of beautiful Ecuador and we are a fun bunch.”
La Empanada is located at 109 Hibberson St, Gungahlin.
Open weekdays from 6:30 am until 4:00 pm, weekends from 7:00 am until 4:00 pm.
You can now buy blast-frozen empanadas from La Empanada in 11 local supermarkets.