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Beautiful, bustling Buenos Aires is a rich blend of European and Latin American cultures. Hints of Italy, Spain, France and of course Argentina can be found in the intricately sculpted edifices, charming cobblestone streets, romantic parks and endless art. My favorite way to explore this colorful mix, however, was by tasting it.
As a California native and resident of Los Angeles, I am accustomed to having access to an endless variety of cuisines and eating exactly what I want, when I want, so it was something of a culture shock when I arrived in Buenos Aires and discovered the local style of eating. Food is much simpler and slower in Buenos Aires and I developed an immense appreciation for the culinary mentality. There are scarcely any exotic spices and the variety of ingredients available is limited at times, but what Buenos Aires does, it does exceptionally well. Food is meant to be enjoyed slowly and in good company, with a glass of wine and without the sense of urgency that we tend to be a slave to here.
Parilla Completada at Las CabrasI will sorely miss how I feasted on a budget in Buenos Aires. For my going away dinner, my friends and I went to Las Cabras restaurant in Palermo. Six of us split a few bottles of locally produced Malbec wine, some appetizers and the Parilla Completada, a sample platter of grilled meats. Featuring several cuts of steak, a couple types of ribs, chicken, chorizo sausages, morcilla (blood sausage, which was my absolute favorite), chinchulines (intestines), kidney and quite possibly more, this massive platter is gluttony and opulence at their finest. There were no sauces and only very minimal seasonings so as not to detract from the pure, simple yet rich flavor of the grill. Everything was incredible and perfectly cooked, and it left us all in a deep meat-induced food coma. To top it off, this fine dining meal fit for a king cost us a measly $15 per person.
Bife de Chorizo at El DesnivelArgentina is known for impeccable beef, and the creme de la creme cut is the bife de chorizo. If there is one meal you need to eat before you die, it is this. Similar to a New York strip, it is the steak of all steaks.
El Desnivel is a casual parilla, or grill, in San Telmo serving up amazing food in a no nonsense, no frills style. When you order a steak, you get a steak; no sides, no distractions - just a hunk of beef on a metal plate that they toss in your general direction as if you were a ravenous lion (or maybe that was just to me because I looked like a ravenous lion that day).
Style and service aside, I have never in my life, before or since then, tasted a steak so perfect. It was melt-in-your-mouth tender, juicy and so full of flavor - beyond adequate adjectives. On the table was a small dish of chimichurri, an herb and garlic sauce, which was delicious with the steak but totally unnecessary. I still pine for that bife de chorizo as if it were a long lost love.
Empanadas at La CatedralLa Catedral is a milonga, or tango club, tucked into a well hidden 19th century warehouse building. Overstuffed couches line its art filled walls where patrons can relax and sip on a glass of wine while taking in the graceful dancers and live tango band playing in the middle. Tango aside, what La Catedral might be best known for are its empanadas. Empanadas, pockets of soft pastry dough filled with meat, vegetables or cheese, are a very traditional Argentine snack. I ate more than my fair share of empanadas while in Buenos Aires and I never had a bad one, but these were hands down the absolute best. They tasted like there was so much care put into making them. The dough was buttery and flakey and the fillings were perfectly executed, and I couldn't help but enjoy them with a silly involuntary smile on my face.
Chinese Food in Barrio de ChinoLittle known fact: Buenos Aires has its very own China Town. Barrio de Chino only spans about three blocks, but there are a plethora of gems to be found. After several weeks of steak and empanadas, I had a craving for something different. A short trip from my neighborhood transported me to this miniature China Town where I could peruse dozens of markets brimming with exotic Chinese ingredients, several tiny food stands selling various fried foods on sticks and real, authentic Chinese restaurants.
Authentic international food of any kind is hard to come by in Argentina as most of it has been heavily influenced by the local style, but Barrio de Chino is the real deal. My friends, one being Taiwanese and the other Argentinean, chatted in a mixture of Mandarin and Spanish with the restaurant owner while we devoured fried rice, stir fry vegetables and a whole fish with sweet and sour sauce, grateful for yet another delicious meal and a unique cultural experience to add to the quickly growing list.
Panchos at Nac & PopOne late night, my roommate and I were on a desperate search for some after-party eats. After passing by closed restaurant after closed restaurant, we finally caught site of Nac & Pop, a shining, fluorescently lit red and white haven, calling us like moths to the light, beckoning us in with its inviting "24 hrs" sign.
My Spanish was not quite up to par at that point and I didn't understand most of the menu, so I rolled the dice and chose a pancho, having no idea what I had just ordered. I was beyond thrilled when I received a good old fashioned hot dog, and exponentially more excited when I got to top it with papas fritas, or tiny shoestring french fries, as well as an overwhelming selection of condiments. This went way beyond the typical ketchup, mustard and mayo trio. There were multiple flavors of all three of those, plus cheese sauces, mystery sauces and my favorite Argentine classic, Salsa Golf (basically ketchup and mayonnaise mixed together). There was even spicy sauce which was a miracle, as Argentina seemed to have a general lack and dislike of anything spicy. The end result was a messy, greasy and delicious guilty pleasure.
Nac & Pop immediately became a late night ritual and one of my favorite meals, right alongside the far more gourmet - and graceful - dishes that I had the joy of tasting throughout my adventure.