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The city of Buenos Aires is well known for steak and Malbec wine. While they’re both good, and sometimes great, here’s what you should add to that list of things to eat in the Argentinian capital.
Tightly twisted in an embrace, they hold the pose long enough for a photograph. In La Boca close to the docks, home to the famous football club and the colorful zinc tenement houses in El Caminito, we watch tango performers entice passersby to dance with them for a small fee. The smooth movements of their limbs, the intense eye contact between partners and the sensual rhythm of the music intrigues me. But not enough, to put my empanada, a rich pastry stuffed with tender beef and potato, down. I continue munching as they dance.
My favorite empanadas, moist fillings in a buttery pastry are from a small restaurant in Recoleta, El Sanjuanino that specializes in just this. While the area is upmarket, the restaurant is unassuming, but filled to the brim with patrons. We have to wait a while for a table, which turns out to be a good decision. We order empanadas with spicy beef, blue cheese and walnuts, spinach, and corn, paired with a crisp and slightly acidic Torrontés wine. The empanadas here are served with the spiciest chimichurri, the ubiquitous condiment made from garlic, oregano, parsley, chilli, vinegar and oil, that we’ve encountered in the entire city. And the chimichurri too is something you must try – no two versions are ever the same.
Posadas 1515, Recoleta
When we leave, walking along the derelict promenade, a group of young mothers push their toddlers in prams while passing a flask around. “They’re drinking yerba mate, the local tea. It’s such a popular social activity, you’ll see it everywhere,” says Ceri, my guide and new local friend. The women pour tea from a flask into a small gourd shaped metal cup with a metal straw called a bombilla, and they pass this cup around. I don’t leave Buenos Aires without ordering a number of cups of mate, and buying both the tealeaves and tea bags to take home. Because it is meant to be a social drink (served with a thermos of water, cup and bombilla to pass around) you won’t find it served in every bar or restaurant. Buy: purchase yerba mate from any supermarket in the city.
Las Cabras Restaurant
Fitz Roy 1795, Palermo Hollywood
Like many other countries in the Southern hemisphere, grilled meat, or carne asada is very popular across Argentina. The portions here though, are intimidating. The grilled meat platter arrives with an array of cuts, including flank, sirloin, ribs, intestines and tripe, sometimes. Sauces such as chimichurri accompany the meal, and unless you order salad or vegetables, don’t expect to see it. There is no need to rush though, Argentinians, even when they arrive for dinner at ten thirty, take their time.
Carlos Calvo 375, San Telmo
I arrived here quite by accident one night and returned three times. It’s packed with locals, no frills and excellent value. Also, they serve good salads.
A JUICY STEAK, WINE AND CHEESE
Your options here vary from bife de lomo (tenderloin) to a fat bife de chorizo (sirloin), and everyone you meet will want to recommend their favorite parilla or grill house. While many of the better restaurants make a show of the cutting of your steak with a spoon to show how tender it is, I found the standards to be inconsistent. Try ordering a steak medium and you’ll get anything from blue to well done. But, that’s why the chimichurri is there! Naturally, a Malbec (as if you’d be drinking anything else in the country) is a perfect fit for steak. I enjoyed the El Enemigo (The Enemy), a versatile and affordable Malbec. While you’re at a parilla, share a provoleta, a grilled round of provolone cheese that makes for a popular starter. Like halloumi, it gets rubbery fast, so get to it while it’s warm and oozing.
J.A Cabrera 5099, Palmero
Estados Unidos 465, San Telmo
Argentinians are largely the sons and daughters of Italian immigrants. As a result, the city is brimming with old-school Italian restaurants serving simple plates of pasta and unadorned chicken and veal dishes. Pizza is also extremely popular in the city, but somehow the thin Neapolitan base hasn’t gained the popularity of the thick-based pie. The closest to authentic Italian pizza is probably at Siamo Nel Forno. The fugazza, while technically not pizza, is similar in that it is focaccia-style bread with melting cheese. A fugazetta or stuffed pizza, is a fugazza gone wild – a stuffed fugazza with rich cheese and other fillings with onions on top. Anthony Bourdain once referred to it as so over the top that it has to be considered “hangover food”. I think, he may be right.
Siamo Nel Forno
Costa RIca 5886, Buenos Aires
DULCE DE LECHE
Popular in South America, dulce de leche or “milk jam” is a boiled and thickened condensed milk, similar to caramel. It can be found in confectionary, bakeries and in gelato shops all over Buenos Aires. Don’t leave without trying it in a gelato, spread on toast or smothered between the favorite local cookie called an alfajore, often covered in chocolate. You can find plastic tubs of dulce de leche in supermarkets and Havana make wonderful boxes of alfajores to take home as gifts.
DON'T MISS ALSO THESE
A choripan or grilled chorizo sausage on a white roll from small hole-in-the-wall grill eateries.
Parrilla de Freddy
Carlos Calvo 471, San Telmo
A medialuna is a crescent-shaped pastry similar to a croissant. The locals usually order two with afternoon coffee.
Avenida de Mayo 825
An Old School Bar Known as a ‘bare notable’, there are around 70 official bars around the city that exude an old-world charm and have survived despite the proliferation of chain coffee shops. Inside, they can be considered museums to eating and drinking and some older Argentines have been frequenting their local bars for their entire adult life. Order a fernet and Coke or a gin and tonic at
El Hipoptamo (est 1909)
Brasil 410, Esquina Defensa, San Telmo