Touching down in Buenos Aires (all that time ago now!), all I could think about was all the Argentinian food I was going to eat. This was the part of my trip where I planned on rewarding myself for the long, gruelling hikes across Peru by stuffing myself silly, and washing it all down with some hearty Malbec. I was in for more of a treat than I thought though – while I did expect the steak and red wine, I didn’t expect the breadth of amazing meals I had there. From the most spectacular Mexican/Korean fusion food, to the creamiest gelato and the most amazing range of pastries on every corner, I could have easily spent a second week exploring this beautiful city.
Arriving mid morning from steamy Iguazu Falls, I was pretty happy that Buenos Aires was a good few degrees cooler without any humidity to be felt. Our first move was to get our walking shoes on and go for a wander around Recoleta. We opted for one of the local buses to avoid the long walk there, somehow managing to navigate the complicated public transport system – buy a card on in one place, put credit on it in another, neither of which were connected to the bus station! I do love the feeling of accomplishment after working out a public transport system in a foreign country though, and the grumpy, unhelpful bus drivers made it feel like even more of an achievement.
Once we got down to Recoleta, we first checked out El Ateneo Grand Splendid, an old theatre that has been converted into the most beautiful bookshop with a cafe on the stage. No purchases for me as there was nothing in English and my Spanish had not improved at all despite 8 weeks of exposure to the language, but fun to wander around for a while. Then we dropped by Milion for some cocktails (good) and food (ok), before stopping for some rich and creamy dark chocolate and mint gelato at a small gelato store across the road called Vanshelato (great!).
The next day we wandered around trying to find the stop where we could get on the big red tacky tourist bus to do all the touristy things. While I really I like taking the local buses in new cities, Buenos Aires is a sprawling city and the tourist bus seemed like the easiest way to see the main sights. That is, until we spent about an hour trying to actually find the stop! We did finally spot it and jump on, sitting upstairs in the open air section. The highlight was being up close to all the amazing architecture – the city is full of beautiful buildings. I wont try and pretend I know anything about architecture but it reminded of being in Paris.
The one place we did get off the bus and spend a while was La Boca – a neighbourhood painted blue and gold in honour of the football team that is so near and dear to the hearts of the people who live there. I had my first Argentinian steak here – for a touristy restaurant I was pretty pleased with it, although I did have to dig through a few mushroooms to get to it! I love mushrooms though, and was pretty starved for vegetables at that point so I was willing to take what I could get, cooked in cream or otherwise. The neighbourhood was alive and colourful, and we enjoyed interacting with the street artists, watching the local kids playing football (soccer) and buying a few touristy trinkets before hopping back on the bus.
On the way back we hopped off the bus at Plaza del Congreso, where we just stopped for a nice nap in the park after eating some pastries we stumbled upon on a nearby corner. We had planned to go to the top of Palacio Barolo, a nearby building which was once the tallest building in South America, but it was pretty expensive and sometimes you just need a nap in the afternoon sun, ya know? We also at some more gelato, and that night we found a local neighbourhood bar (Grifo Divino) in Palermo where we feasted on onion rings, loaded fries, onion rings and local craft beer. So all in all, a pretty stressful day.
The next day, my friend Marissa was off home and I was left to my own devices. Given it was Sunday, I decided to visit the San Telmo markets where I was hoping to catch some street tango shows. As I popped up out of the subway near San Telmo though, I was quickly distracted by a Brazilian festival that was taking up the entire street. There was coxinha (Brazilian croquettes) as far as the eye could see, and a huge stage pumping out Brazilian music with dancers who looked like they definitely had not overindulged on coxinha like I was about to.
Once I had my fill of the food and the dancing, I wandered down the road to San Telmo, where market stalls lined a busy street leading down to Plaza Dorrego. There was street performers at every corner, and so many opportunities to be entertained. As always though, I had food on my mind, despite the coxinha, and wanted to make it to La Brigada before they closed at 3pm (yes, I had gotten up pretty late!). I had done my research on steak restaurants in Buenos Aires, and this place was famed for steak that was so tender you could cut it with a spoon. While this was quite aptly demonstrated by my waiter and I enjoyed the steak overall, I think it was a little hyped up in my mind and I didn’t find it as stand-out as I thought it might be. But, given the smallest sized quantity I could buy wine in was 500ml (and who am I to eat steak without red wine in Argentina!) I left feeling pretty merry.
After that, it was back out onto the street for more entertainment, although I didn’t manage to find any late afternoon tango – I definitely should have gotten up earlier! There was an colourful, flamboyant marching band though, and a cool little street bar with lots of people dancing to live acoustic music. I ogled over more chorizo that I couldn’t possibly fit in my already bulging stomach, and all the beautiful artwork that I couldn’t possibly fit in my already bulging suitcase. It was definitely a really interesting day out, and an area worth visiting if you ever find yourself in Buenos Aires.
The next morning, I yet again found myself in a similar dilemma – too much food, too little time. I really wanted to visit Full City Coffee House, a little coffee shop in Palermo that I had walked past a few times, but I also wanted to eat at Kyopo, a Korean joint in the somewhat sketchy garment district that I had been told wasn’t particularly safe for gringos after sunset. I got myself up a little earlier to try and fit all this in before the sun went down, and set out for Full City Coffee House for breakfast. I had one of the best coffees I had in South America, and some tasty arepas.
After this I found my way to the bus stop that would take me to seven kilometres or so out of the touristy part of Buenos Aires to Flores. It’s an interesting part of the city where cheap knock-off clothing stores and fashion wholesalers line the streets, and predominantly middle age men and women crowd the sidewalk with oversized bags, presumably hoping to snap up some bargains to sell in their respective stores throughout the city and beyond. I found my way through the hustle and bustle to relatively quiet oasis of Kyopo, a sort of Korean fusion type restaurant with trendy kimchi burgers and bulgogi tacos. Here I ordered some Jeyuk loaded fries (a sort of Korean spicy pork) which came with pancetta and fried onions. It was delicious but very rich and absolutely massive, so I ate a lot of the topping and left a lot of fries behind. I also had a fried avocado taco (heaven!), chicken bahn mi taco and a Korean BBQ (bulgogi beef) taco. I washed it all down with a stolen negroni, which provided a nice sharp contrast to the rich flavours in the the food. It was definitely one of the top 5 meals I have had in my life, and I would go back in a heartbeat if I ever found myself in Buenos Aires again.
You may have thought that after all that, my food adventures would be over for the day. You would be wrong though. Later that night, because no one in Buenos Aires eats before 8pm, I walked myself over to a restaurant in Palermo called Proper. Housed in what used to be a mechanics workshop, it specialises in a share plates in an industrial setting overlooking the bustling kitchen. When I sat down at a table on my own and a local couple sitting next to me invited me to join them, I accepted their offer – hey, it meant I could try more things right? Unfortunately for me, the night went downhill quite quickly – it became quite apparent their friendliness was more chemical than natural, and whatever drugs they had taken soon had them slurring their words, asking me my name over and over and making some seriously intense eye contact. I didn’t have much of a chance for photos as they were into the food as soon as it was set down, but I had some a beautiful, tender char grilled calamari and a delightfully rich dulce de leche flan. After we paid though I actually had to hide in the toilets until the other two left, as they wanted me to come out clubbing and all I wanted to do was never lay eyes on them again! Plus, after all the food I had eaten that day I was in serious need of a lie down. The staff were lovely helping me out though, and their behaviour didn’t seem typical of the restaurant, so I would definitely go back given the chance.
The next morning I walked over to Salvaje, a bakery in Palermo Hollywood where they do extravagant brunches, probably meant for more than one person. I got a ‘bread basket’ with a choice of 3 side dishes, and I must say I didn’t quite expect how big each side dish would be. I got roast beef, baba ganoush and sunflower ‘cheese’, and (foolishly) ordered a side of scrambled eggs, because #breakfast. Luckily it was a nice place to people watch for a while, because I definitely sat there for a while and took my time getting through as much of that food as I could.
Phew – are you feeling full yet? I sure was, but I wasn’t quite through my food oddesey yet. Tonight, the best was yet to come. I had a booking at La Carniceria, a small and permanently packed steakhouse that hadn’t appeared on any google searches for ‘best steak in Buenos Aires’ but was impossible to walk past without drooling. Its name means (something like) the butcher shop in English, and it sure did look like Mecca for meat lovers. Dining solo, I was seated at the bar, in the perfect spot to watch the huge slabs of meat being grilled to perfection before being hauled off to hungry diners. For starters, I decided to get a little bit adventurous and order the sweetbreads – as much as I love to seek out good food, I can be a bit squeamish when it comes to offal. It’s a mental barrier that I occasionally try and push myself past, and man am I glad I did on this occasion! Crispy honey flavours on the outside and tender and smooth on the inside – I couldn’t believe I had spent this long not eating sweetbreads! Sadly I had to pass on the smoked provoleta to save some tummy space for the main act.
Although I don’t mind dining solo, it does present some challenges when you’re the kind of person who wants to try everything on the menu. I had my heart set on the parilla steak with squash and chimichurri, and wasn’t going to be deterred by the wait staff letting me know it was meant for two people. I could see the massive slabs of meat on the bone being loaded on to the grill in front of me and I was ready to commit to the meat sweats. It was everything I had hoped it would be and more – a charred outside, pink on the inside, just the right amount of chimichurri and about 20 different kinds of delicious.
The next day was my last day in beautiful Buenos Aires, much to my disappointment! Although it wasn’t all bad as I was heading off to Mendoza, the home of Malbec, where the good food and wine wasn’t going to stop. I decided to celebrate my last day by getting icecream at Lucciano’s, a super cute gelateria with minion themed icecreams that I had walked past a couple of times in Palermo. I bypassed the minions in favour of my most favourite flavours ever – mint choc chip and salted caramel. As with most of the gelato I had in Buenos Aires it was top notch, although I did find it a bit strange that they insisted on sticking an upside down cone in the cup I requested! Can’t say I ate any of it but it made for a cute picture.
For my final meal, I wandered around the corner to Chori, which I knew was owned by the same people who were response for La Carneceria, so I had pretty high hopes. A choripan is a traditional Argentinian street food – basically a chorizo sausage in bred. Your Argentinian equivalent of a Saturday morning sausage sizzle at Bunnings if you will. With bright yellow walls covered in cartoon characters it’s a pretty fun vibe, and the bunches of chorizo hanging behind the glass counter are enough to get your tastebuds watering. From the classic pork to Indian, veggie and Morcilla flavours, there is something to suit every palate. I ate two while I was there which is rather shameful – I told myself it was just so I wouldn’t get hungry on the plane but the reality is that after I just couldn’t decide when a classic or lamb Chori and decided I could fit in both! All washed down with a local craft beer I was feeling pretty pleased as I made my way back to my apartment to pick up my bags and head to the airport.