Tag Archives: food

Rainy Day Activities in Buenos Aires

It’s a rainy Monday in Buenos Aires. Luckily, there’s still plenty to do. Here’s our list of “Rainy Day Activities.” Many of these activities are the sort of luxuries I don’t usually allow myself when traveling since I’m on a budget. But a little treat on a rainy day is always welcome. Some of the others are free or cheap, for those counting their pesos.

  1. Catch a Movie
    I love watching movies in other countries. Moviegoers around the world have different customs. For one thing, you can order your popcorn (popchocle) either sweet (dulce) or salty (salado) and you can also have a beer with it. But the main reason I like seeing movies in other countries is because our culture determines how we react, or don’t react, to different parts of the story.  I’ve often found myself laughing out loud when everyone else is silent and scratching my head when the people next to me are cracking up. You can find a list of cinemas in Buenos Aires at Time Out Buenos Aires.Another reason to go to the movies is that it’s a great way to practice your Spanish (castellano). If the movie is in English, it’s typically subtitled in Spanish. It’s two hours of entertainment and a language lesson all in one. And if you really want to test your language skills, check out a local film.
  2. Visit the MALBA
    Museums sometimes make me sleepy. I think the maximum amount of time I can spend looking at art is about two hours. This is why I love the MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires). The collection is just the right size for me. After wandering through the rooms, I could have still seen another room or tow. I wanted more because I got to see works from artists I’ve long admired like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and because I’d never even heard of some of the other artists like Antonio Berni, Jorge de la Vega, Joaquin Torres-Garcia (from Uruguay). The size of the collection meant that I had the time to stay, observe, take in, and enjoy the works without rushing to the next room because my niece was going to run out of steam. Even my 15-year-old niece loved the art.

    The MALBA Museum in Buenos Aires

    The MALBA Museum in Buenos Aires

    She did run out of steam before the rest of us. So, she went to the cafe to catch up on her summer reading. We found her there pretending to be a local and sipping hot chocolate. She couldn’t stop talking about how it was the best hot chocolate she’d ever had in her life. Then she begged us to stay there for lunch.

    Lunch at Cafe des Arts

    Lunch at Cafe des Arts

    I was skeptical because museum food is often touristy and, well, bad. Not the Cafe des Arts. The chef, Jean Paul Bondoux, is from Bourgogne in France. Not suprisingly, every plate was fantastic. From the sandwiches with fresh salad and crisp french fries to the plate of pasta with mushrooms. It was all delicious.

    Arab Lamb Sandwich

    Arab Lamb Sandwich

    Croque Monsieur at Cafe des Arts

    Croque Monsieur at Cafe des Arts

    Penne con Funghi

    Penne con Funghi

    The museum is open from noon to 8PM, Thursday to Sunday and from noon to 9PM on Wednesdays when entrance to the museum is free (they ask for a 5 peso donation). Otherwise, it costs 15 pesos to enter. MALBA is closed on Tuesdays. From Thursday to Sunday, MALBAcine shows artsy films starting at 2PM until midnight most days.

  3. Hit the Mall
    I’m not much of a shopper, but shopping in Buenos Aires is a cultural experience and I’m all for cultural experiences. If it’s raining outside, you’ll probably want to take shelter in one of the many shopping centers. Here are the two I’d go to because you could spend the whole day there even if you don’t like to shop.
    I’d probably start at Galerias Pacifico because the turn-of-the-century building is gorgeous. The frescoes on the ceiling were painted by five Argentinean muralists.

    Fountain at Galerias Pacifico, by lrargerich on Flickr

    Fountain at Galerias Pacifico, by lrargerich on Flickr

    You can sit in the cafe down near the fountain and people-watch all afternoon, but the main reason I’d choose this shopping center is because on the top floor you’ll find the Centro Cultural Borges. There are art exhibits, live performances of music and dance, and showings of independent films. It’s open from 10AM to 9PM, Monday to Saturday and from noon to 9PM on Sundays. Tickets cost 10 pesos.

    The second shopping center I want to mention is Abasto. While I would prefer to go on a sunny day so that I could wander the streets of nearby Once, if you’re short on time and it’s raining, Abasto is a great option. I like Once, the nearby barrio, because it reminds me of the huge market in Cairo, although it looks nothing like it. But there are blocks devoted to textiles, others devoted to electronics, or to houseware, or to handbags. It’s lively haggling and full of energy. And there are some great Jewish delis in the neighborhood (try the empanadas arabes). Ok, so now that I’ve sold you on Once, let me sell you on Abasto.

    Abasto at Night, by Concepciones Relativistas on Flickr

    Abasto at Night, by Concepciones Relativistas on Flickr

    First off, you’d likely be the only tourist in the mall. Secondly, the building is amazing. Abasto is in the old tango district of Buenos Aires and the shopping center is housed in the old market, El Mercado de Abasto. It’s a very creative way to preserve old buildings whose purpose needs to be reinvented.

    Abasto, by puroticoricoon Flickr

    Abasto, by puroticoricoon Flickr

    Years ago you’d find produce, meats, and flowers. Today, in this beautiful example of Art Deco architecture from the 1930s, you can find Nike, Puma, and many other brands. There are over 200 stores, likely the most diverse shopping center in the city, so there’s something for everyone. For more on the history of the area and the building, read the Buenos Aires Argentina Guide.

  4. Get Pampered
    Well, why not? I’m the kind of person who puts off pampering myself. I say I’ll go, but I really only treat myself when someone else gifts it to me. That said, the only massage I’ve had in Buenos Aires was at Valle Tierra (it was a gift from my swamp sister, Natalia). The massage was excellent. I also liked the decor. It was calming, but not sterile. The furniture, rugs, and pieces of art come from the northern regions of Argentina (think Santa Fe, New Mexico). Lots of earthy tones.

    A couple the stayed with us a few weeks ago on their honeymoon spent a day at AquaVita. After months of planning the wedding and a weekend of serious celebration, a spa was what they needed. They had very good things to say about AquaVita. But I found a review from the Times Online where a commenter had a less favorable opinion. Since the complaint was about the customer service, and since I know that the idea of customer service here in Argentina is very different from the US and the UK, I’d take that complaint with a grain of salt. Or better. If you’re going to a spa, focus on the facilities and the quality of the massages. Ignore the service because you may not be able to relax unless you do.

  5. Have a Tea Party
    Indulge yourself at the Alvear Palace Hotel, one of Buenos Aires’ most beautiful hotels, for afternoon tea. this is a seriously decadent, albeit hoity-toity, experience. L’Orangerie is the restaurant in the hotel that serves high tea. Rule #1: ignore the snobby socialites looking at you because you are clearly nobody they recognize as important (besides, you are important, they just don’t know it). However, if fitting in matters to you, get dressed up and be sure to wear your pearls. Rule #2: only order one full tea for three or fewer people. One is plenty for three people.

    The Spread

    The Spread

    Rule #3: take your time. Just when you think they’ve brought all the goodies to the table and you’ve stuffed yourself full, out comes another plate.

    And then theres the cake

    And then there's the cake

  6. Browse Bookshelves
    I love books. My sister’s attic is full of boxes of books I just can’t part with. One day she’s going to make me decide. To keep my book collection manageable, I now check the book out thoroughly before buying it.  I can spend hours browsing the bookshelves, flipping the pages, asking myself if I can live without this book. My favorite bookstores for a rainy afternoon are El Ateneo, in Barrio Norte/Recoleta, and Boutique del Libro, in Palermo. They offer very different experiences.
    El Ateneo is the most beautiful bookstore in the world. I’m not exaggerating. They took an old theater where tango was once danced and turned it into a massive bookstore, leaving the balconies, the stage, the lighting for the most part, and the magic.

    El Ateneo Bookstore in Recoleta, by longhorndave on Flickr

    El Ateneo Bookstore in Recoleta, by longhorndave on Flickr

    You can have a coffee or tea at the cafe on the stage. I don’t recommend ordering food though. It’s mediocre, and that’s being kind. Check out Argentina’s Travel Guide’s write up on El Ateneo (by the way, Argentina’s Travel Guide also has a pocket guide BA’s bookstores in .pdf format which you can download here).

    If you’re in a more chill mood and if you’re hungry, I’d recommend el Boutique del Libro. The food is much better and it has a grab-a-book-and-a-cup-of-coffee atmosphere.

    Boutique del Libro on Thames in Palermo

    Boutique del Libro on Thames in Palermo

    Plus, they’re usually playing great music. In fact, if you hear something you like, just ask the cashier in the music department what’s playing. The music selection isn’t large, but it is good. I could spend all afternoon here.

So, what are your favorite rainy day activities in Buenos Aires? Did we miss something? I’m sure we did.

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Filed under argentina, buenos aires, cafes, culture, food, language, palermo soho, recoleta, recreation, restaurants, shopping, tourism, travel

Colonia del Sacramento for the Day

Colorful
Most expats living in Buenos Aires have to leave the country every three months. The easiest trip to make is across the Río de la Plata to Colonia in Uruguay. It’s also a really nice way to spend a day. And the views of Buenos Aires from the ferry are amazing.

Buenos Aires from the Ferry

If you want those views though, take the slow ferry that has an outdoor deck. It’s three hours instead of one hour, but it’s nice to be able to sit outside as you cross the Rio de la Plata and if you want photos, you won’t be able to take good shots from the faster ferry (the windows aren’t spotless).

Lighthouse

Colonia is, well, colonial. It’s colorful and quiet. The architecture is beautiful and spending the day walking along its cobblestone streets and checking out the views of the river is a fantastic change from Buenos Aires’ fast life. 

 Diagonals

Getting thereBuquebus has a fast ferry (one hour) and a slow one (three hours). The fast ferry leaves at 8:45 am and returns at 8:00 pm. It costs 190 pesos ($65 USD) roundtrip. The slower ferry leaves at 9:00 am with a return at 6:45. This roundtrip option costs 180 pesos ($60 USD). One thing we discovered though is that if you call to book your ticket, you get better rates. There’s a discount for going and returning on the same day that doesn’t get calculated if you are booking online. Another thing is that the first person we spoke to didn’t tell us about this discount, and we didn’t know to ask about it. There are also promotional tariffs on the website, so check those out. The promotion for the slow ferry, return trip on the same day, is 119 pesos ($40 USD).

The New Buquebus Terminal
Buquebus has a new fancy terminal at the northern end of Puerto Madero. There’s a nice description of the ticket-buying process here.

Upside – Colonia is stunning so if you’re into photography, take your camera.

Abandoned, Yet Beautiful

Some of the buildings are left abandoned (they’re still pretty cool architecturally speaking), but those that have been maintained are flawless. There are flowers everywhere.

Bougainvillaea

And another trademark of Colonia is all the old-fashioned cars that make you feel like you’re in Havana, Cuba.

Typical Colonia
There’s hardly any traffic. The people are friendly and they accept Uruguayan pesos, Argentinean pesos, and U.S. dollars, so there’s no need to exchange money.

Downside – It’s more expensive than Buenos Aires. As with most tourist destinations, good food is hard to come by. Considering most people go there for one day and either arrive around 10:00 am or noon, I’ve always found it amazing that there aren’t more cafes or tea rooms. Finding a nice place for coffee and medialunas (croissants in this part of the world) is really hard. You’ll probably end up having breakfast in a place with zero charm and decent coffee at best. Then you spend the day walking the streets, eat lunch at around 1:00 or so, and start walking some more. By 4:00 or 5:00 it’d be nice to sit down, watch people walk by, have a cup of tea and a pastry or a beer and some snacks. Places like this hardly exist there, so if you’re interested in opening a business in a quiet, lovely town with lots of foot tourists, Colonia needs a tea room. 

Where to eat – I haven’t been to Colonia so many times that I know all of the restaurants, but the only place I’d go back to again is El Torreon. The view is beautiful (especially at sunset).
Sunset from El Torreon
The food is expensive for Buenos Aires standards, but at least it’s good. The chowder was fantastic, but the calamari were a bit overbreaded.
Chowder and Calamari, El Torreon
I would have never chosen to eat at El Torreon, but I read a review from the food critic I must respect in Buenos Aires, Dan over at SaltShaker. If he recommended it, it had to be pretty good. 

El Torreon

Where not to eat – We chose this little restaurant, Gibellini, because it had such charm.

Restaurant

We’d passed it in the morning (too early to sit down for lunch) and heard jazzy bossa nova coming from inside. Two people were setting things up. It felt very authentic. A man and woman running a restaurant, cooking dishes they like, and listening to excellent music. My kind of place.
Reflected Place Setting
But it’s wildly expensive. And while the food wasn’t bad, it wasn’t worth the cost. The first few items we ordered weren’t in stock. We shared an appetizer, an entree of swordfish and a bottle of wine. The swordfish was a bit soggy and the shrimp weren’t fresh.
Swordfish
The bill was $60 USD. Either Buenos Aires has spoiled us and we are completely out of touch, or this guy is gauging tourists. Too bad because the place really is charming. 

 Gibellini Restaurant

Here’s my Flickr album on Colonia. I’m still adding photos, so come back to it later for a better idea of what Colonia looks like. 

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Argentinean Asado 102: How do you like your steak?

In May, we posted on the art of the Argentinean asado. Today we’ll look at how you can get your steak cooked to your liking. One would think that here in the land of exquisite meat, a simple medium, medium rare, or well done would do the trick. If only that were the case.

I find that Argentines typically overcook meat. Most people order their steak a punto (which should mean medium), but it comes out bien cocida (medium well). 

Image Courtesy of Asado Argentina

Image Courtesy of Asado Argentina

 

I like my steak medium rare. Argentine friends have told me to ask for it jugoso (literally meaning juicy which sounds so much better than medium rare). The problem is that there is really no consensus here in Argentina about what the terms mean. When ordering jugoso, I’ve been served anything from rare to well done. 

Image Courtesy of Asado ArgentinaImage Courtesy of Asado Argentina

A few months back, I went to a little-known restaurant I’d been to before with a group of friends. The first time I ate there (back in October when it first opened), I had an amazing risotto with rabbit and vanilla. Strange combination. That’s why I ordered it and it was delicious. Everyone else I was with also raved about what they ordered. So when I had visitors of the sort that want to experience the food and wine here more than anything else, I thought this place would impress them. Wrong.

Three of us ordered medium-rare tenderloins. The waiter and I had this discussion (below), which truthfully should have told me that we shouldn’t order steaks.

     Spanish version:

     “¿Y que coccíon querés?”
     “Jugoso, por favor.”
     “Sangrante entonces.”
     “No, jugoso. Entre sangrante y a punto.”

     English version:

     “And how would you like it cooked?”
     “Medium rare, please.”
     “Bloody.”
     “No, medium rare. Between bloody and well done.”

One steak came out medium rare. The other two were medium well to well. Imagine, one chef prepares three steaks all ordered jugoso in three different levels of doneness.

The meat here really is amazing, so if you’re like me, you will want it cooked the way you like. 

Image Courtesy of Asado Argentina

Image Courtesy of Asado Argentina

If your Spanish is strong enough, you might want to try describing how you want it prepared instead of using the terms for doneness. Here are some suggestions.

  1. rarerojo intenso y sangrante en el centro
  2. medium rarerosado con y bien jugoso
  3. mediuma punto pero todavia jugoso
  4. well donebien cocida

We’d like to thank Asado Argentina for giving us permission to use these beautiful photos. Buen Provecho!

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Chef Taryn’s Culinary Adventures in South America

A Canadian chef, Taryn Wa, stayed in our loft in March. She wrote a post, “Eating Out, Porteño Style,”  on her blog, Buen Provecho, about the culinary treats she found while traveling in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. Food is definitely one of the reasons to come to Buenos Aires. I love how Taryn describes the porteño approach to dining.

(Thanks for linking to our blog Taryn. Hope you’ll come back to BA soon!)

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Argentinean Asado 101

The strike has ended for now, so it’s time to beef up again. For tourists, that’s a very good thing since eating Argentinean beef should be at the top of all non-vegetarians’ list of “What not to Miss.”

 

The Lomo

You can opt for an upscale restaurant and order a lomo (tenderloin) with a dijon-béchamel sauce and fancy potatoes or you can go native. Going native, however, requires a quick Asado 101 course. So here goes.

Basic Terms:
asado – barbecue (comes from asar, which means to roast, so asado means roasted)
achuras – offals or entrails and internal organs of a animal used as food
parilla – grill or open fire
asador – person doing the grilling (typically a man)

Asador

Should you be invited to someone’s house for an asado, prepare for hours of gorging. My first asado lasted 12 hours and I left before several other guests. The word asado is actually used to describe the entire meal, the event, the feast. There can be confusion between how Argentines use the words asado and parilla

Say you’re talking with some friends about where to get dinner. If what you want is meat, you’d probably say “Let’s have asado.” But once you’re in the restaurant, you’d order the parilla and they’ll bring out a small grill with coals keeping the meat warm. 

Parilla Argentinean Style

 Starters:
Typically, an asado begins with achuras (which actually comes from the Quechua language and means “sharing” or “distributing”). But here we’re talking about the various internal organs that whet your appetite before the upper-end cuts come out. You can decline the achuras if they make you queasy, but you’d be missing out on one of the best parts of the asado experience. 

Because different cuts require more or less time on the fire, the asador will bring out a wooden plate of achuras one type at a time. The plate gets passed around for you to either snag your piece or pass it on. Here are the most common achuras listed in order of my preference (in case you want to try only a few) and their definitions.
 
Common Achuras:
mollejas – sweetbreads (actually thymus and pancreas glands… and very very yummy)
chorizo – sausage 
morcilla – blood sausage (I can only eat this one spread on a piece of bread, but it’s delicious that way)
chinchulin – lower intestines
rinones – kidneys
tripa gorda – tripe (stomach)

Cooking the Meat

The last three are achuras I’ve never gotten used to eating. Higado (liver) and lengua (tongue) other entrails that Argentines eat but aren’t typically part of an asado.

Main Course:
The preparation of the cuts of meat is incredibly simple here. There’s no marinating, just a bit of salt to bring out the flavor. Most tourists are surprised that it’s so simple. But the complexity comes in the actual cooking of the meat. This is a true art form.

Argentines are serious about their beef. Beef consumption here is approximately 68 kg a year per capita.

The meat is cooked slowly. So a good asador knows how much distance to keep between the meat and the coals. Argentinean asadors use wood as opposed to charcoal which also gives the meat a better flavor. 

Parilla

The parilla, or grill, here in Argentina has a chain and hand crank to raise or lower the grill and keep the distance between the embers and the meat just right depending on the cut of meat. They’re also designed to keep the grease from dropping on the coals or embers and creating smoke, which would adversely affect the flavor of the meat.

Because various cuts require longer or shorter cooking times, an asador will likely bring out the meat cut by cut as the guests shout out “un aplausa para el asador!” to thank the cook.

Asador

Cuts of Meat:
costillas – rib roast
tira de asado – rack of ribs
colita de cuadril – rump steak
vacio – flank steak
matambre – thin flank steak (my favorite)
pollo – chicken 
chivito – kid (baby goat)

The meat is usually served with sides dishes such as salad, grilled vegetables, and bread. And there is always enough red wine (vino tinto) for Caesar and his entire entourage. 

Other cuts of meat that aren’t often part of an asado, but are the cuts you’ll want to order in a restaurant if you’ve decided not to go the parilla route are bife de lomo (tenderloin) and bife de chorizo (sirloin) and osso buco (shank or osso bucco). 

Courtesy of the American Angus Association
 
The above image from the American Angus Association and shows which part of the cow’s body each cut comes from. Study up and impress your Argentinean friends. Oh, and it’s customary to bring something with you to an asado. I say bring wine (Malbec goes especially well with meat), but you could bring flowers or a dessert if you prefer.

Wine Bottles

Once you’re back home and have had enough time to recuperate from beef overdoses, the blog Asado Argentina is written by an expat living in Tierra del Fuego. Asado Argentina will show you hot to recreate your Argentinean asado back home. Enjoy!

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San Telmo or Palermo Soho: Traditional vs. Modern

I’m often asked which neighborhood (barrio) is better, San Telmo or Palermo Soho.  Here’s a brief description of the two barrios from an insider/outsider point of view to help you decide.

El Federal

San Telmo (above) is tango and the past; Palermo Soho (below) is hip and modern.  Choosing between the two is really a matter of what you most want to experience here in Buenos Aires. San Telmo is New Orleans; Palermo is Miami. Or something like that.     

 Cluny from Above  

 San Telmo is walking distance to most sights; Palermo requires a taxi ride or a walk to the subway. Sights Nearby: Within walking distance from San Telmo are the Plaza de Mayo, la Casa Rosada, the cabildo, Cafe Tortoni,  Avenida Florida (the famous pedestrian street for shopping), Avenida Corrientes (loaded with theaters…. BA’s Broadway) with its obelisk, and Teatro Colon (although it’s currently being remodeled). 

  Blue and White  

In the area of Palermo, you’ll find: the Botanical Gardens, the zoo, the hippodrome, the polo field, major shopping centers on Avenida Santa Fe, the Evita Museum, MALBA (the museum of Latin American Fine Arts), and many gorgeous parks.  

Polo Field 

Prices and Restaurants: San Telmo is cheaper than Palermo in part because it has more variety. You’ll find more inexpensive traditional parillas, pizza joints, choripan stands on the road, rustic eateries with wooden tables that have been there for ages, more Italian restaurants, a fantastic market for buying fresh produce, more bars and milongas (tango dance halls), and more traditional cafes.

Antique Market  

In Palermo, you’ll find some of the best restaurants in Buenos Aires where the menus are more modern and innovative. Cafes and restaurants are trendy and pricey. There are more outdoor cafes in Palermo Soho than in San Telmo. It’s more difficult to get a traditional parilla (Argentinean barbeque) in Palermo. Some of the hottest nightspots are in Palermo, but there aren’t as many bars where one can stop in for a drink and a game of pool.

 El Ultimo Beso  

The Streets and Shopping: Palermo is cleaner and has less riffraff than San Telmo. San Telmo is more crowded and more bohemian than Palermo. Both areas are very active on weekends.  The antique fair in San Telmo brings in hordes of locals and tourists. Streets are filled with live performances that are out of this world. Palermo’s weekend fair is for designers. The square is filled with stands where you can buy jewelry, shirts, etc. 

 Tango in the Street  

Shopping is better in Palermo than in San Telmo, but it comes with a higher price tag. San Telmo is changing though. A few stores that are in Palermo are opening in San Telmo, too. But for clothes, shoes, jewelry, and art, Palermo has more to offer.

Designer Interiors 

So, do you want a filet with a dijon sauce and fancy table settings or some empanadas, pizza, and  steak served on wooden plates? Answer this question and you’ll know where to stay. 

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No Beef

Butcher shops are empty. The beef aisles in the supermarkets are bare. If restaurants are serving beef, it’s likely from frozen stashes. The two-week farmer’s strike which threatens to leave the markets not just without beef, but without dairy and other staples doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. Farmers have blocked the roads and stopped shipping goods to protest sliding export duties which sometimes reach 41% (soybeans). 

Argentinean Parilla

  For the past hour, the city has been filled with honking horns meant to tell the government that the people (and not just the farmers) want to see a change in the fiscal policy. When Boca or River win, the city is filled with honking horns, but nothing compared to tonight’s. 

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez refused to lower the tax hikes today. And the farmers vowed to continue the strike as long as is necessary.

 At least 9,000 cattle typically enter the city’s stockyardsfor slaughter. This week, not one animal arrived.

If you’re here in Argentina this week, I think you’ll be eating a lot of ham and cheese. Or try some of the amazing vegetarian restaurants I wrote about earlier here

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