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300 Years of Folklore, Crafts and 'Manjares' in Simoca, Tucumán

By Carolina Martino
Epoch Times Argentina Staff
Feb 05, 2007

A typical "Sulky" in Simoca, Tucumán. (Wikimedia Commons)

Like few other cities in modern times, Simoca, located in the northern province of Tucumán, Argentina, has maintained a firm grip on its traditional culture, having always kept the local folklore deep in its bones and running through its blood. This is apparent not only in the gaiety and vibrancy of its local market—but also in its public transportation par excellence: "The Sulky." Simoca is well-known as the national, and maybe only, capital of the "Sulky."

The name Sulky almost gives away its meaning: "very solitary." The name cleverly derives from the ingenious design of this light-weight vehicular wonder; no more than a single cart pulled by a single horse.

The widespread use of the sulky goes back to old days, when only with these could man travel across the barren and muddy parts of the earth surrounding the city of Simoca. This humble artefact's long and dependable history is cause for the city of Simoca to have awarded it the highest of accolades—a dazzling and colorful monument. This homage to the sulky is now prominently displayed at the town's main entrance.

It is usually considered obligatory to visit the popular sulky factories that operate in the city of Simoca. This generally includes a pleasant chat with some of the many enthusiastic members of the present, rather enterprising, government municipality, who are actively pursuing export deals of spare parts of this local treasure to Spain.

For any tourist not accustomed to life in Simoca it is a great surprise, when strolling through the town on a Sunday afternoon, to observe the impressive and memorable scene of countless sulkies, all milling about, literally filling the streets of this small and charming town.

Traditional meats and tamales in Simoca. (Wikimedia Commons)

Another spectacular event in Simoca is the Saturday market. I was assured that this is a just a sample of the area's excellent, both in variety and quality, regional crafts—of course replete with every variety of local character, dedicating themselves tirelessly to this trade every weekend. With more than 300 years of history, these markets are some of the oldest in the country. It is held in the old train-station estate, and offers a variety of merchandise: from vegetables of all kinds, to wood, leather crafts, ceramics and basketworks, all sourced locally and made with locally available trees—the totora (a local plant), the palm tree, and the hollow cane are all favourite building materials.

The Flavor of Tradition

But of course, what survey of Simoca and its unique culture would be complete without an investigation of its famous victuals? The first, most well-known and voluminous is the empanadilla, which is sold only in the choicest of locations: at the old Simoca railway station. This is considered "a true manjar" (manjar is a word to signify a REALLY delicious food) and consists of carefully layered puff-pastry stuffed with pieces of candied cayote (a local melon-type fruit) or sweet potato, which is then bathed in syrup on one side. Another traditional manjar is the "Pie of the Bride," a pie in the commonly understood sense, though in this case it is made with nectarines and freshly herbed meat!

Map of Argentina with province of Tucuman highlighted. (Wikimedia Commons)

Among some of the other deservedly renowned traditional fares, there is the Locro (local word for the equivalent of "stew" or "casserole") which combines the indigenous peoples' ancestral knowledge of cookery and flavour with the traditional Creole repertoire (Creole is the name given to immigrants born in Spanish colonies)—making it of course, like all things in Simoca, irresistible. Another is the Tamale (name for a kind of spicy Mexican dish), which is made with soaked corn, later ground in a mortar and mixed with cooked, crushed pumpkin and minced beef jerky, fried eggs, sultanas, scallions and spices—all wrapped in the leaves of corn ears; delicious is a total understatement.

Not to Be Missed

Finally, it is highly recommended to visit some of the local saddle-makers and take the time to admire their stunning works of leather. There are also the locally produced sweets, usually derived of caramel, sugarcane and honey. Finally, there is the house where the famous and well-known composer and folklorist Virgilio Carmona lived.

So enamoured was he with this area that he wrote several famous songs for the Zamba (an important Argentine form of music and dance): the most well known are "Underneath the Morera" and "To the garden of the Republic." It is generally agreed upon that the unprecedented, runaway success of these two tunes is what first made this humble city of Simoca, in the small province of Tucumán, northern Argentina, famous throughout the entire world.

For information:
Municipality of Simoca, telephone 03863-481633
email: vivasimoca@hotmail.com