Friday, August 28, 2009
As part of several installments of posts on Buenos Aires, covering a wide range of subjects, from people to urban decay, I felt it was only necessary to pay homage to perhaps what is one of my favorite aspects of this city: the food!
To put it lightly, food, alongside mate, is an Argentine ritual! Constantly fine-tuned and tweaked over the course of Buenos Aires’ development of Buenos Aires, meals have become grand, opulent social gatherings – to the point where light meals pretty much don’t exist at all; going big or going home is the only way it is here. Breakfast here is practically non-existent, aside from a cup of coffee paired with a small pastry…no doubt the result of such a late dinner. On the other hand, dinners are long-winded and are centered on discussion; one favorite pastime of porteños is having extremely long, detailed conversations about the latest political happenings, or more commonly, informing one on the latest in each other’s respective lives.
Ok. Firstly, mate is a precursor to any and every meal. The bitter, unrefined tea is almost sacred to Argentines, hence it is often enjoyed in the presence/company of others, with the participants taking turns “passing” it around in ornately-detailed gourds, only saying “thank you” when they’ve had enough. A typical day doesn’t start without a cup of the twig and dried leave-filled beverage. Words, adjectives or superlatives cannot suffice the love Argentines have for mate – they LITERALLY don’t go or do anything without it!
Now, onto the topic of dinners, which I’m left capable of saying only one thing: they are wildly insane. Dinners here are several courses long, and almost always include, in one way or another, the ubiquitous steak! Parillas, aka Argentine steakhouses are unsurprisingly the ground zero for steak culture, consumption and obsession here. Parillas themselves are authentic, character-laden, old-world style steakhouses known for asado, Argentina bbq. As for asado, it almost always means gigantic, grizzly-sized and portioned meats grilled on a behemoth outdoor grill over fresh wood embers or coal. A popular, quintessential meal (..and one of my favorites )here is bife de chorizo (sirloin steak) served with papas fritas a la provenzal (French fries with garlic and parsley) and chimichurri (an condiment made with olive oil and various dry herbs and spices) – though, the best part is that it’ll only set you back $10.00. Second to only parillas in terms of a sheer presence, visibility and and following in the city has to be the legendary empanaderia! Empanadas are the name for a fried-dough pastry usually containing a meaty filling; carne (beef), pollo (chicken) and jamon y queso (ham and cheese) all seem quite popular from what I’ve seen. Finally, the third component to the holy trinity of Argentine cuisine, and the most visible, lasting legacy of the heavy Italian immigration here: pizza and pastas (including raviolis and spaghetti, amongst other noodle dishes). While they aren’t my favorite, especially the pizzas, as they often lack or are completely devoid of sauce, a post on this city’s food would hardly be accurate without mention of them.
Another specialty here, one that’s actually been the recipient of awards and dedicated press, is Argentine ice cream. Nearly as ubiquitous as parillas or empanaderias, heladerias can be found on every block of the city (literally), and for good reason, too, as Argentines love their ice cream. Ice cream here is light, airy and tasty, just like the stuff back in Italy (myriad, colorful flavors thrive here, too). The treat is, like all things here, enjoyed at any and all hours of the day..and night; one night I stumbled upon a line spilling out of the door at one of the coveted ice cream chains here, Freddo’s – mind you it was 2am Back home, after a certain vaguely-defined hour (9pm?), consumption of just about any food is frowned upon – much less eating ice cream at 2am. Alfajores, mousse-dipped, multi-layered cookies, especially but not limited to those from the chain Havanna are quite popular, too. And of course, while on the dessert topic, DULCE DE LECHE! It’s everywhere! And on everything! Pastries, cakes, cookies, pancakes, ice cream; you name it and chances are it has the sticky, sweet caramel sauce on or in it. My favorite of them all though, has got to be the submarino; literally steamed, frothy milk served with chocolate bars in this Argentine DIY version of hot chocolate. Buenos Aires: a blissful food paradise indeed.