Friday, April 9, 2010

Eating in Buenos Aires

I just may think about food a bit too much.  I will often be wandering around a new city in the morning and find myself more focused on what to eat for lunch, what succulent morsel or guilty pleasure to indulge in, than the 800 year-old cathedral or world-renowned museum I am in, or the charming shop facades passing by.

Well that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but food is often on my mind, so what would this blog be if it didn't include a paean to foods of the world, in this case Argentine cuisine?

First and foremost, of course, is the asado.  From the verb asar, to roast or grill, the asado is basically the Argentine version of the barbecue.  But it is so much more.   While Americans and Brits fire up their portable grills in the summertime, Argentines have asados year-round, come rain or shine, snow or hail.  Thus they not only have a term for their grill--parrilla, but also for the hut/area in which it is housed in anticipation of inclement weather--quincho.  And it's no wonder--if you have tasted Argentine beef from its fertile pampas, expertly seasoned (although often salt is all that is needed and used) and grilled to succulent perfection--you will know just why they eat it year-round and never get tired of it.  Whether it's chorizo (a type of sausage), asado, or vacio (both different cuts), or what's more common, a large helping of all--the asado is something not be missed if you ever travel to Argentina.  I didn't experience as many as I would have wished for, but some notable ones were spent on the terraced rooftop of our apartment with my roommates, not to mention a memorable one at Ezeiza park with a friend, Fabian, and his family.  Below is my humble attempt to evoke an evening on the rooftop with good food and good friends.

Ode to the Asado
Beneath the fading sun of southern skies,
Parrillas coaxed to life on terrace tiles,
Chorizo and vacio hiss and fry,
As sultry tango floats, porteño guile,
Across the rooftops.  In reply--the scent
Of charcoal, meat, and sizzling fat, and sweat
And tears and blood and thirty years' dissent
And football hopes and laughter, no regrets.
     The meat is off the grill, the sun is gone,
     And wine and jokes flow till the break of dawn.

 With Diego, roommate/the best asador (griller) I know!

Argentina, but specifically Buenos Aires, owes its incredible and unmissable pizza and pasta prowess to its Italian heritage, which accounted at peak times of immigration during the 20th century for almost as much as its numbers of Spanish immigrants.  Pizza is a funny thing, you know.  When I first arrived in Buenos Aires I couldn't get enough of this new style; it is different from American pizza, both the fast food and gourmet varieties, although both thin-crust and deep-dish styles exist there.  But by the end of my year (actually well before), I was craving p-p-pepperoni, which is nowhere to be found there!  American and Argentine pizzas both have their charms, though.

Food can be incredibly cheap down there, too; my regular local haunt was a place by the name of Fabrica de Pizzas, which offered medium-sized cheese pizzas (definitely better than your average fast-food cheese pizza this side of the Panama Canal) for anywhere from--depending on inflation--5 to 7 pesos ($1.29-$1.80).  Aaah!  A staple for me during my time at Calle P.I.Rivera 3720 B.  Another favourite--though slightly more expensive at 10 pesos a pizza--was Ugi's, very popular among the masses (trans-lingual pun, some of you out there will get it).

Sing, muse!  Enough cannot be said about the joys of empanadas.  Whether it's carne picada, carne suave, jamon y queso, roquefort, or pollo; whether it's cooked al horno (baked) or frito (fried); whether it's an empanada salteña (from Salta) or an empanada porteña (from Buenos Aires).  One of my regrets (the other being only taking one class of tango) is not learning to make empanadas while I was there.  It is basically a semi-circular pastry with a filling inside, either baked or fried, and muy cheap.  Normally 2 pesos a pop, occasionally 1.50, four easily made for a nice little meal, though of course if my finances were in good shape 5 or 6 never failed to hit the spot!  "Barriga llena, corazón contento" (gracias, Carlitos!)

Ice cream
Though asado remains my favourite staple among Argentina's cuisine, its ice cream surely comes a close second.  Another throwback to its large Italian immigrant population, helado finds its roots in the semi-fluid gelato, and Buenos Aires' barrios have refined the art to a perfection.  It may be a case of natural bias, but I honestly found nowhere in all my rambling and roaming of the capital that had as delicious ice cream as the ice cream parlour across the street from my apartment, Lucca.  People will try telling you Freddo, Persicco or Jauja.  Believe me, they don't come close.  Some standout flavours were Tiramisu, Pear, and Sambayón.
If you ever find yourself in Buenos Aires of a warm afternoon, hop on the Bartolomé Mitre train from Retiro, and get off at the station Coghlan.  Incidentally, the barrio (neighbourhood) of Coghlan was named after the station, rather than vice-versa, as one might expect.  Crossing a little bridge over the tracks and going down the stairs on the other side, you pass through a leafy little plaza where some kids will be playing football and some men who have seen better days will be boludeando at the stone tables or day-dreaming on the benches there.  Continuing through the plazoleta, half a block up on the left you will find Lucca: Helados Artesanales.  You never spent a better 6 pesos in Buenos Aires.

Just to the Southwest of Lucca (down and to the left) is the train station, along with its leafy little plaza.

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Pattybutterflies said...

You forgot to mention Jasmine flavored ice cream! :) Ok, so it wasn't the best, but it was definitely original, and pretty darn good! :)

Oh, and hit me up on email for a recipe for empanadas... they're easy to make (although it takes a while) and come out delicious!! :)

Robert said...

Good writing, son.

Kirsty said...

Wow, bro, wow! And to think I came this close (imagine me holding two fingers very close together) to tasting those very dishes...

Anonymous said...

Im looking for some Buenos Aires apartments to rent, and after reading this, i´ve decided where!!..definitely "Coghlan", near that place "Lucca"..I love Buenos Aires´ ice cream!