By Elizabeth Zanoni
Panettone is a cylindrical sweetened and candied bread consumed especially during the Christmas holiday season. While originally from Milan, Italian migrants carried their knowledge of and taste for panettone to Argentina, where they were made in Italian-owned bakeries and sweet shops. Like pasta, panettone is a good example of how migrant food entrepreneurs used their baking techniques and food traditions to satisfy a local market of both Italians and Argentines eager to celebrate with family and community.
By the late nineteenth-century, Italian migrants predominated in Argentina’s food sectors, including bakeries and sweet shops in cities like Buenos Aires and Rosario. Among the many breads and pastries made by migrant food entrepreneurs was panettone, the traditional holiday bread enjoyed by Italians over Christmas and New Year’s. Given its short shelf life, panettone was not easily imported from Italy, creating a large market for Italian-style panettone made abroad using wheat flour and other ingredients from Argentina. Furthermore, Argentines, Italians, and other migrant groups consumed panettone because of culinary similarities that made the production and consumption of sweetened bread a long-standing tradition in Italy, Spain, and France. By the early twentieth century, advertisements for panettone (or pan dulce in Spanish), and the Italian-owned bakeries that made them, ran in the Italian-language and Spanish-language press, showing culinary similarities among many groups and a shared market for the holiday specialty.
Newspaper advertisement for pan ducle made by Confitería los dos Chinos, 1905.
Source: Advertisement in Spanish for pan dulce made by Confitería los dos Chinos, La Patria degli Italiani (Buenos Aires), December 20, 1905, 1.
In the twentieth century, bakeries, sweet shops, and cafes owned or operated by Italians continued to make and sell panettone to a multi-ethnic clientele. One of the most famous was the Confitería del Molino, operated by two Italian confectioners who opened an Art Nouveau style coffeehouse in 1916 on Rivadavia and Callao Avenue, next to Argentina’s National Congress in Buenos Aires. By the late 1930s Confitería del Molino ran advertisements in the Italian-language press encouraging migrants to send their panettone to relatives back home in Italy, suggesting the way migrant marketplaces directed foods and eating traditions back and forth across the Atlantic. The Argentine Congress declared the Confitería del Molino a National Historic Monument in 1997 and today guided tours of the building are offered to the public.
Newspaper advertisement for panettone made by Confitería del Molino, 1936.
Source: Advertisement for Confetería del Molino panettone, Il Mattino d’Italia (Buenos Aires), November 7, 1936, 3.
Post card photograph of the Confitería del Molino under construction in 1915.
Source: Confitería del Molino, tarjeta postal, 1915, Wikimedia commons, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7e/Confiter%C3%ADa_del_Molino.jpg.
While retaining its links to Italy, by the interwar years, panettone had been embraced by the wider Argentine food and consumer culture. Even mainstream Argentine companies such as the British-owned department store Gath & Chaves and the elite Jockey Club made their own panettone and advertised them during Christmas in the Italian and Spanish press. What had once begun as a special Italian holiday treat made in Argentina by migrants had been absorbed into Argentina’s national cuisine.
Newspaper advertisement for panettone sold by Gath & Chaves in Buenos Aires, 1925.
Source: Advertisement for Christmas Panettone sold at Gath & Chaves in Buenos Aires in La Patria degli Italiani (Buenos Aires), December 18, 1925, 6.
- Rebekah E. Pite, Creating a Common Table in Twentieth Century Argentina: Doña Petrona, Women, and Food (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013).
- Elizabeth Zanoni, Migrant Marketplaces: Food and Italians in North and South America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2018).