I couldn’t figure out when the best time would be to post about food because there’s a continuous influx of more and more delicious stuff. This usually goes for any city we travel to or live in, but particularly here with all our free time, we’re constantly mapping out our next meal, geeking out to other people about what we’ve been eating and/or passing out in bliss from said meal. Alas, I finally decided to put down the fork and share a bit about our culinary adventures here in Buenos Aires.
Everywhere else in Central and South America, you’ll find rice, beans, plantains and other traditional Latin foods. But Buenos Aires is more European than Latin, and so it’s a cosmopolitan hodgepodge of goodies. The best way to explain those goodies is to break it down by the seven Argentine food groups:
Steak. Clearly the most important element of a portenos’ meal plan is the world-famous steak. Asado, vacio, bife de chorizo (Eaman’s new favorite) — they love it all. Eaman’s main mission upon arriving in BA was to eat as much steak as humanly possible. As a flexitarian, my mission was to eat enough to get by, and fill up on bread and dessert the rest of the time. Both missions accomplished. Though, considering I usually never eat red meat in the U.S. — save for Shake Shack burgers in New York City — I have to say — I actually liked the carne in BA. Not only is the meat better quality than that faux corn-filled crap we get in the States, but it’s also one of the most significant aspects of porteno culture. They’re as passionate about their steak as they are about their futbol! (Fun fact: Argentines use only salt to season steak. But obviously with our spice-craving palettes we also piled on chimichurri.)
Eaman, not in a garage, but in La Leyenda, a totally off-the-map parrilla in Palermo that we visited on our first night. We’ve since had better quality steak, but there’s definitely no better ambiance:
Massive steak dinner after the Argentina vs. Bolivia futbol match:
Bread. True, the bread isn’t as great as those found in European bakeries, but it’s still better than most of the pan found in the U.S. Even the baguettes, now a staple in our apartment, at the grocery store are a fine choice. At restaurants, I tell myself, “just two rolls,” and I somehow down four. I’m on vacation, right?
Also in the bread category are fries — plain and garlic versions. Argentines haven’t yet mastered the art of the perfect fry, but I’ll take it. You kind of just have to when you order steak. It’s like ordering pizza and not ordering a soda…and now you understand why we joined a gym.
Pizza and Italian food. We’ve tried a lot of pizza in this city and initially were rather disappointed, considering how big a role Italian immigrants have played in shaping culture and cuisine in BA. (Mind you, we’re tough pizza critics; we’re from New York.) That is, until we tried Pekin, a suggestion from the porteno who drove us to this estanica. The crust is crispy in all the right spots, and their fugazzetta — a local type of pizza filled with mozzarella and topped with roasted onions — is the best we’ve had. (Sorry, no pictures. You’ll have to trust us.) And though we haven’t eaten Italian food out as much, there’s a reason. There’s a fantastic pasta shop that sells homemade pasta just a few blocks from our apartment. Their pesto is major.
Pasta dinner at home:
Mate. It may be a drink, but at the frequency that portenos knock back strong cups of this herbal tea, it deserves a spot on this list. In its most traditional sense, it consists of dried yerba mate leaves, hot but not boiling water (too hot and you’ll singe the leaves), a steel metal straw and the actual cup, which is made of a dried squash vegetable. It’s not just a drink; it’s a social ritual. All over the city, you’ll see friends and family passing around one cup of mate with a thermos of hot water at their side. Our local friends warned us that it’s an acquired taste, and they were right. It’s too strong for me, but Eaman loves it. I mean with his love for steak, wine, futbol and mate, he was definitely a porteno in a former life.
Desserts. Walking around this city is like an exercise in will power. Every block has at least one panaderia filled with beautiful cakes, glazed medialunas and dulce de leche wonders. Every other block has a helado (ice cream) or gelateria shop, and let me tell you, Italy has nothing on BA’s gelato. It’s the BEST.
Banana-chocolate torta at my favorite bakery, Pani:
Freddo is, hands down, the best gelato in the city:
Empanadas. Not so much particular to Argentina but popular all over Latin America, these pockets of warm goodness are everywhere in BA. We had our favorite at a bustling restaurant in San Telmo, but even the ones at fast food chain Cumen-Cumen are fantastic.
San Telmo delicousness: (dripping grease, I now realize, is the mark of a fantastic empanada)
Hippie restaurants. It’s not as hard to be vegetarian in meat-loving BA as you’d think. That’s partly because of the prevalence of Italian food and partly because of what I dub “hippie restaurants.” They focus on fresh, often organic ingredients and serve up veggie-friendly menus dotted with New Age ambiances. There’s a vegetarian spot called Krishna, which is, I think, run by Hare Krishnas, a pricey organic restaurant called Bio, and a couple of healthy lunch places (bBlue and Baraka), which, unlike the first two, actually taste good.
We loved Baraka’s sandwiches and smoothies. And check out the menu:
Ethnic fare. To be honest, we haven’t ventured far from steak and pizza. Why try Vietnamese food when we’re going to Vietnam next year? Why try Armenian food when we’re…OK, we don’t have a good excuse for that one. But I did have Indian food last week — my Desi blood needed it! — and in the city that hates flavor, it was surprisingly and deliciously flavorful.
And there are, of course, meals we’ve had that don’t quite fit into any one category. Here’s the best of the rest.
Breakfast waffle at Pani:
The freshest fish I’ve ever eaten, at Social Paraiso, which features a well-priced, elegant lunch menu:
Though I usually hate salads, I’m enjoying them as much as possible before we move onto other regions and countries where raw food will be an issue. This uber-cheap caprese salad at a grungy local spot is one of my favorites:
And of course I’m cooking, too, but the meals are relatively unremarkable. Think roasted vegetables and baguette sandwiches. Still, it’s a great way to save money and keep our sodium levels in check.
Tomorrow, a special focus on my favorite Argentine food tradition — the merienda!