Buenos Aires

Argy Bargy

[ahr-gee-bahr-gee] –noun, plural -gies. Chiefly British .

a vigorous discussion or dispute.

(www.dictionalry.com)


I would like to suggest that Argy Bhaji could be the pseudo-Indian name for Empanadas, but seeing how porteños take their stuffed pies so seriously, it could be blasphemous. Oh, damn it, let’s do it anyway!

Although a carnivore, I have never been a big fan of steaks, and as thousands of pages are written about parillas (Argentinian grill houses), I will hunt out a different variety of food!

Buenos Aires is full of restaurants and a large number are crowded every night. This is only surprising because although the country has been suffering from unemployment and low wages, the food and wine (though less costly when compared to Western European prices) are not so cheap! When I asked about this to an expat who has lived in BA for over a year, he said that this is one of those anomalies which many do not understand. When digging a little deeper and doing a little research into the economy, I read that the tax system in Argentina is not straight-forward at all. Many people get paid a bulk of their salary in cash and do not pay tax for it. This raises another question of how the government maintains the country’s infrastructure with so little tax? I think I have only just begun to scratch the surface of this question, however for now, I will remain schtum about taxation and enjoy the overflowing restaurants!

So here go some ramblings about food in BA….

….


FAVOURITE RESTAURANTS IN BUENOS AIRES

Argentine Parillas

Don Julio – Guatemala 4691, Palermo Viejo

El Primo – Baez, Las Canitas

Armenian

Sarkis – Thames, Villa Crespo

Chinese

French

La Maison – Honduras 5774, Palermo Hollywood

Indian

Mumbai – Honduras, 5684, Palermo Hollywood.

Peruvian

Chan Chan – Hipolito Yrigoyen 1390, Congreso

Pizza

8 January 2011

PIZZA

The Italian influence here in Buenos Aires is evident everywhere you look – in the language, history and temperament of porteños – but most of all in the food. Each neighbourhood and each street will have at least one pizzeria. There are Italian restaurants catering to all tastes and wallet sizes from a corner pizza shed (where you can order to take away, stand on the side of the road or get one of the pizza delivery guys to bring to your apartment) to ‘table by reservation only’ exclusive restaurants which some times do not have prices on their menus.

Everyone in Buenos Aires eats pizza.  Unfortunately however, despite the abundance of  of Italian culture here, porteños eat their pizza deep pan. I shudder just using that term. Fortunately for me, there are places which cater for the European preference of thin crust, or a la piedra.

Just as with everything else, porteños like to add their own mark on all the influences they have borrowed from the old world, with pizza it’s the same. As well as  the usual variety of crust and toppings, in Buenos Aires you will find special local pizzas which you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Fugazza is an open pie sized pizza made with fresh dough which is covered in sweet spanish white onions. Fugazetta is a chick pea bread which can be eaten on it’s own or make like porteños and top your Fugazza with this and have it as a sandwich. Needless to say, this is unbelievably filling and you will need to sit down fo half an hour before you attempt to walk away!

29 December 2010

INDIAN

'Mumbai' on Honduras y Bondpland

Every city, even every decent sized town in te world has at least one Indian restaurant, usually called The Delhi, The Taj Mahal or like my local in Palermo The Mumbai.

Having eaten Italian food each meal time (including steak every lunch and dinner – see Grande Francia Journey notes on the Home page), as soon as we reached BA, we wanted something different. I hadn’t expected it to be India bt it was close by, looked great and had a number of diners already eating. Though I did not see any Indian staff (the waitresses were Argentine wearing Indian salwar kameez), the muzak was much better than the usual sitar/Bollywood toons I am used to hearing in London tandoori restaurants. This was good news as it meant that there was a serious possibility that the chef/management were Indian/Pakistani. If I am honest I hoped for Pakistani because in England certainly, the non-vegetarian ‘Indian’ food is cooked best by Pakistani chefs/restaurants.

We weren’t disappointed and the chicken tikka starter was delicate and tender with just a hint of spice and melted in the mouth. Just before we were served the starter, the waitress brought around the ubiquitous foursome of sauces with a less traditional basket of chapatis. Perhaps poppadums are difficult to source/cook in Argentina! Two of the sauces – the coriander and mint chutrney and tamarind sauce – were outstanding. The raita was good but could have done with a little more seasoning. The fourth was an attempt by someone to create a fresh lime pickle. This to me is an oxymoron. Fresh lime is tart enough that you don’t need to add vinegar to it!

For the main course we had chicken jalfrezi and lamb dopiaza. Chicken dish had a little too many vegetables for my liking however after the the meals on the Grande Francia where we were served no vegetables, this was a welcome change! Lamb was beautifully cooked and soft. The garlic naan was good if somewhat thick and doughy.

The second time we went to Mumbai was a couple of days ago and having realised how large the portions are (we got doggy bags the previous time!) ordered appropriately. We ordered the lamb tikka to start but the waitress came back to say they could not get that ready so we skipped starters and instead ordered saag gosht (lamb with spinach) and a jheenga biryani (rice with prawn) and a garlic naan. Last time the wine we had ordered (a sauvingnon blanc) had been out of stock and this time was the same. As with last time, we accepted the offer of another sauvignon blanc (La Linda) at 25% more expensive.

I hope you’ll allow me a short detour from this meal, on the subject of wines in restaurants. Though affordable when compared to London wine lists, the restaurants put a mark-up of 400% – 500% on the retail price of the bottles. Often a wine I could pick up for ARG$12 (yes, only about £2!) will be on the menu for ARG$50 (still under £10). This is all fine and transparent however what I have found in a number of restaurants is that  you will order a wine from the cheaper section (after all we are on a budget!) and they will almost certainly come back and tell you they don’t have it and recommend a wine from the mid price range. This practice confirms the theories of foreign authors describing the Argentine viveza cruella personality.

Back to Mumbai – and after the usual chapati with the trio of sauces (see a couple of paragraphs above the first visit to Mumbai) all of our dishes arrived all at the same time.

The lamb in the curried spinach sauce was beautifully tender. The spinach, although puried gave the cubed lamb a depth which otherwise a non fatty cut of lamb might not have. The heat in the spices used was just right without overpowering the spinach. The naan this time around was less doughy and perfectly crispy on the outside with a little elasticity when torn.

The biryani was tasty, the prawns were not overcooked and I was pleasantly surprised that the chef had taken the time to devein them before cooking. My only gripe with the biryani was that it wasn’t cooked in the traditional style. It looked very much like the chef had cooked a prawn curry and boiled rice separately before mixing them together to serve. Never mind, it tasted good, but I would prefer if he didn’t call it a Biryani.

EMPANADAS

Empanadas are the the king of street food in Buenos Aires, similar to samosas in India, Bourek in Algeria and Cornish pasties in, well, Cornwall! One can find these delicious parcels everywhere – on the street corner stalls, in bars, restaurants, bakeries and even train stations! Even the 5 star parillas stock these. At lunch and dinner times, I saw people having empanadas for starters! GIven these are followed by a huge steak, I wonder how porteños manage with such a huge appetite and such small waistlines! I assume they don’t eat like this everyday!

Back to empanadas – and like cornish pasties, they have a variety of fillings. Like cornish pasty the traditional filling is beef and potatoes. But the Empanada is a king of variety if nothing else. Stuffed with either carne, carne piccante, pollo, pollo piccante, cerdo, jamon y queso, verduras or mondongo – my favourite! Mondongo or tripe (beef stomach lining) is a typical stuffing for empanadas in the nearby province of Tucumán, where each year the National Empanada Festival takes place.

Unlike the humble Cornish Pasty however, empanadas even come in the sweet variety stuffed with dulche de leche (a caramel sort of filling which is very popular in Buenos Aires).

CHINESE

Buenos Aires has a number of Chinese restaurants of varied quality. As yet, I have eaten in only one of these and as I sample more, I shall add to this post. However, the one I did eat in was bang in the centre of Buenos Aires’ little Chinatown. Off the busy artery of Juramento  in the well-to-do neighbourhood of Belgrano, north-east of BA lie a couple of streets full of Chinese shops, supermarkets, travel agents and of course restaurants.

A Chinese Supermarket in Belgrano

I had initially ventured to chinatown to try and hunt down some cardamoms which I like drinking in my tea and reserves of which (brought from London) were running dangerously low. I visited two of the largest chinese supermarkets and ended up coming back to my apartment with bags full of shopping!

Other than cardamoms which I found in the second supermarket I visited, the shops also sold every other kind imaginable of dry spices and herbs. Literally hundreds and hundreds of packeted as well as loose variety. Also there was a fantastic variety of tea.

As I had been cooking for a couple of weeks and found the rice I bought from the local supermarket lacking in flavour as well as texture, I also picked up a kilo of basmati rice at the chinese supermarket. Having sampled it already, I can vouch for the quality. In fact it was far superior than the usual basmati variety found in supermarkets in England.

But I digressed from the Chinese meal I had at this restaurant – I am afraid I have forgotten the name and as soon as I visit the area again I will update this. The restaurant was on Calle Mendoza off Arribenos (the main chinatown street), next door to a large supermarket called Asia Oriental. You have to go upstairs above a chinese shop selling chicken satay sticks etc – street food.

The restaurant is nothing to look at and has sparse tables and chairs with soy sauce and napkins in a little wooden box. We were served with both chopsticks and fork & knives. The menu is in Spanish and Chinese with plenty of dim sum choices too. Interestingly, all the dumplings were translated as empanadas! We ordered the traditional pork dumplings to start with a chicken chow mein and pork in spicy sauce to follow. The chow mein and spicy pork arrived first so we dug in. The food was tasty but we could detect the usual suspect – MSG. The servings were quite large and even though we were very hungry, the chow mein and pork dishes filled us up.

At the end of the main course, our starter arrived. Not three, not five but ten dumplings larger than ones served in London Chinatown! As we were full, we asked for these to be wrapped for us to take away. Later, when hunger panged up again, we tried these dumplings, and even cold they were delicious!

Rioplatense

Rioplatense Spanish or River Plate Spanish (Spanish: español rioplatense, although locally known ascastellano rioplatense) is a dialectal variant (or simply, “a dialect”) of the Spanish language spoken mainly in the areas in and around the Río de la Plata basin (or River Plate region) of Argentina and Uruguay, and also in Paraguay.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rioplatense_Spanish)

24 January 2011 Hindustani, Hindoostani [ˌhɪndʊˈstɑːnɪ], Hindostani [ˌhɪndəʊˈstɑːnɪ]

1. (Linguistics / Languages) the dialect of Hindi spoken in Delhi: used as a lingua franca throughout India
2. (Linguistics / Languages) a group of languages or dialects consisting of all spoken forms of Hindi and Urdu considered together.

Whilst completing homework from my Spanish class this morning, I decided to look up the use of infinitives in other languages and read a few articles including one on Wikipedia on Indo-European languages. It seems that Spanish and Hindi are more closely related than I had realised. Not only that but of world’s top 20 languages Spanish and Hindi are in the top three (English is the other)!

Whilst sailing to Argentina on the cargo ship, I spent some time listening to Spanish podcasts and learned a little vocabulary. Also I heard a lot of Italian spoken on the ship (it being an Italian flag carrier). And it got me thinking about the similarities of a number of words between Hindi and Spanish/Italian. Some examples:

Spanish/Latin Hindustani English
Caju Caju Cashew
Camara Kamra Room
Camisa Kameez Shirt
Deo Dev God
Jabon Sabun Soap
Mesa Mez Table
Nave Nav Boat

On my list of books to buy is the Hobson Jobson – a dictionary of Anglo-Indian words. Some words from everyday vocabulary are avatar, bandana, bungalow, cot, cumerbund, gym, jungle, karma, loot, pukka, pyjamas, veranda.

6 January 2011 I spent the last few weeks dabbling in Spanish podcasts. And since reaching Buenos Aires we have been gesticulating wildly whilst trying out the miniscule Spanish I did manage to learn. On one occasion when ordering a slab of beef Craig wanted to ask for it to be done rare and not knowing the word in Spanish, he ended up mooing at all the waitresses in the parilla. Needless to say, the Argentine waitresses found this amusing and decided to spend a lot of time talking to Craig. Since then El Primo became Craig’s number 1 parilla in Buenos Aires. But I digress.

Vamos Spanish Academy

It was time to be taught Spanish by a professional. After reading a number of online reviews by backpackers and expats, we decided to head to Vamos Spanish Academy right between the barrios of Palermo and Recoleta on Colonel Diaz. The Australian administrator was helpful and patiently answered all our questions (including stupid ones like which dialect will we be taught – Castillian or Rioplatense. The answer of course was the latter!).

She showed us around the lovely old building which once belonged to a church, the spire of which can be seen from the tiny courtyard at the back. The front and back gates of the place look original and the administrator mentioned that the stunning back gate which is covered in stained glass is an original feature. The place is quite small with the reception at the entrance after the front gates and all classes taking place upstairs. On the first floor, there are 4 classrooms, all with a feel-good old charm and the ones facing the front have beautiful tall french windows leading out onto their own balconies.

Vamos Academy only allows 6 people per class so it’s intimate and intense but after nearly a week at school it feel just the right size. Any larger and you would’t receive the individual attention of the teacher. Any fewer and you would lose the benefit of people from different backgrounds and varied ability asking questions you may not have thought of.

Four hours a day Monday to Friday with only a 15 minute break in between and with homework each day, it’s like being back at school. And like at school there is the opportunity to meet other people, make friends and learn about general things. There are numerous activities organised by the school, from language related (for instance, pronunciation workshops) to general Buenos Aires (for instance orientation guidance for BA’s complicated labyrinthian collectivo or bus network; cooking classes; bike hire; trips to the beach/football games; information on accommodation etc etc).

On the first day we arrived an hour too early (excitement of starting getting the best of us!) and were directed to a cafe around the corner on Charcas y Coronel Diaz. We ordered some coffee and tea and ate a couple of medialunas (literally means half moon and is Argentina’s answer to croissants) andtortas con dulche de leche. Of course with dulche de leche! Porteños will slather this stuff on their pizzas if nobody was looking.

When we got back to the academy, we were greeted by our teacher who guided us to a classroom at the front where three other students sat waiting. Once the last student arrived, it made half a dozen northern Europeans. Oops, apart from me! Two Dutch , 2 Norwegians and us. All of us considered ourselves absolute beginners and this showed once our teacher started speaking. The policy, as with most language schools is for the teacher to speak in the taught language as much as possible. We all looked like fresh-faced 6 year olds on their first day at school!

I am thoroughly impressed by the the school, the teacher and the materials. I haven’t experienced another school in BA but wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Vamos!

26 October 2010 The portenos speak a local dialect of Spanishcalled Rioplatense (literally from the Rio Plate area). Rioplatense is really based on castillian but influenced heavily by all sorts of Europeans, mainly Italians. This dialect is unlike any other in the Spanish speaking world because the intonation used is distinctly Italian. The only reason Italian is not the Argentine national language despite mass immigration of Italians in the late 19thcentury, is because at that time Italians spoke their own local dialects. It’s only more recently that Italians speak in what we now know the language to be – unified Italian. Rioplatense also borrowed words from the native Indians and the word gaucho is a good example!

 

 

Tango

 

13 October 2010 When people think of Argentina, they think of Tango (though many think of steak!). When I get to Buenos Aires, I want to learn to dance the tango, so I did some research and it came as a surprise to me that the dance form was only born just over a 100 years ago. I thought of it as a more ancient form. Here is an interesting excerpt from a great book I am currently reading called Bad Times in Buenos Aires by Miranda France.

The tango started life as a symptom of a city with growing pains. A hybrid of sailor’s song and Italian dance tune played on a German accordion, the genre was born in the ports of Buenos Aires around 1880 when the city was still a frontier town and more than half its inhabitants were new arrivals from the poorest parts of Europe…..Tango became the anthem of a generation of homesick and sometimes desperate immigrants. Usually set in Buenos Aires, the songs always yearned for a happier past. Many of them were addressed to the singer’s mother or an ex-lover. Often the sentiment was desperate, suicidal…….

Soon after the haunting music was invented, it was accompanied by a strange dance which in view of the shortage of women at the time, men danced with each other – hence the wary physicality of some movements. By the turn of the century, the city’s brothels had started hiring out their women as dance-partners by the hour, but tango’s popularity was still restricted to sailors, low-lifers and small-time assassins…… ‘Perhaps tango’s real purpose is to give Argentina the certainly of having once been valiant’ Borges wrote.


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  1. December 30, 2010 at 07:07

    It is amazing how one can always find a Chinese takeaway or restaurant in any part of the world. Holds true for an Indian eatery named Masala or Italian joint named Little Italy.

    Glad you are enjoying.

    Nice blog didi. Cheers.

    • December 30, 2010 at 08:07

      Hey Anu – glad you like it! I love looking at all your news on FB! Head over to BA some time – after all we are both on the same hemisphere! Didi. xxx

  2. Agustin
    July 23, 2013 at 00:51

    Hey there Shelley!… My name is Agustin, and i’m from Buenos Aires. I’m living in PALERMO, in Soler street. I think you’ve lived here, cause i found this page annotated in a Novel called RACHMAN. Well.. it’s so rare this.. but, nice to meet you! haha!

  3. July 23, 2013 at 08:16

    Hi Agustin. Sounds like you are staying in the flat where I lived from nov 2010 to April 2011 – crossing of Soler with Arevalo. And from the little balcony you van look down at the convenience story and the coffee shop. Glad to hear you’ve found the book and the blog. I loved Palermo Hollywood. Hope you’re enjoying it. This is rare and very exciting!

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