February 28, 2009

Eating and Drinking in Argentina

Bar El Federal in San Telmo was my very first and very last meal in Argentina - and both times it was picada for lunch. Picadas are plates of charcuterie, cheese, olives, and other snacks like peanuts and chips.

When we ordered picada, the waiter first brought just out a small platter of peanuts and chips and I thought, Oh god, this is it, this is all we're getting for lunch for 20 pesos. I guess sometimes picadas are really light snacks and Jesse and I feared for our hungry stomachs.

Until, a few minutes later, he also brought out a bowl of bread and another plate piled high with ham, salami, and other meats and cheeses. It was an amazing turnaround. By the time we had finished after lingering over this giant array of food, we delighted with how quality, filling, and cheap our lunch was!

The bar itself seems like a quintissential corner cafe-bar where people relax inside and outside all throughout the day and night, complete with beautiful wood architecture.

Meag and Guille took us to El Cuartito in Retiro, BA's downtown, for cheap, filling, delicious pizza. They have some other snacks too, like empanadas, and faina (chickpea fritters) that Argentians eat on top of their pizza for some reason (I tried it and still don't really get it). Apparently Anthony Bourdain ate there on an episode of No Reservations, it's that good.

In Rosario, our hosts took us to the "Vomiteria," so called not because the food is bad but because the portions are so large you'll feel so full you want to vomit later. It's true! I ordered pollo milanese, and it was the hugest plate-sized breaded and fried chicken I'd ever seen coated in provolone cheese and tomato sauce. There was no possible way I could finish it. Jesse and I also tried tongue (okay) and intestines (ugh) at that restaurant. Update: Meag has more about our dinner and other yummy places in Rosario here.

Quilmes is the ubiquitous national beer of choice, brewed in Argentina - in fact we passed the brewery on our drive between Rosario and BA. Crisp, refreshing lager - perfect for the height of summer.

After Quilmes, the most popular beers available were Budweiser and Heineken. Because it was so hot that a cool beer almost always sounded better than a glass of wine, I ended up drinking Bud and Heineken way more often than I normally do. Hence I didn't learn too much about the native wines, just that Malbec is the best red wine to drink in Argentina. And that they put ice cubes in their wine during the summer - not something I could come around to.

Milion in BA's ritzy Recoleta neighborhood. A gorgeous old mansion-turned bar with a backyard perfect for afternoon drinks. I hear it's quite hopping at night too.

Home Hotel has a bar with the loveliest backyard that feels like an oasis of green and quiet in bustling urban Buenos Aires. Located in the posh neighborhood Palermo, we were smitten with the looks of this modern boutique Swedish-style hotel, but unfortunately the bar service wasn't as good when we returned with Meag and Guille. Their staff speak English though, which is a plus.

Of course, we brought back some yerba mate (pronounced sherba mah-tay in Argentina), a kind of tea that perks you up with a non-caffeinated stimulant, that we've only drank once so far. The mate cup, which is made out of a hollowed gourd, looks pretty in our living room though.

Other notable metions from our trip:
La Brigada, for traditional parilla (grilled meats) - the best steak of the trip (order the Lomo, a tender medallion of sirloin steak), but also the most expensive by far to my chagrin. We wanted to try El Desnivel, a cheaper parilla nearby in San Telmo, but the electricity was out that night in that neighborhood, and La Brigada was the first open restaurant we came across.

Los Loros in Sal Telmo, for more modern, refined cuisine. And a bit of a romantic atmosphere, perfect for our Valentine's Day dinner. Los Loros has a lot of non-steak options, which I could appreciate, since I'm not the biggest fan of steak (I only like super tender steak; Jesse, however, ate steak four out of the six days we were in Argentina.)

And with that, my Argentina tales have come to an end.

February 27, 2009

Sightseeing in BA

For our final days in Argentina, we headed back to BA for our final days in Argentina, with Meag and Guille in tow, for some sightseeing.

The colorful La Boca neighborhood is the quintessential image of Buenos Aires. In fact, this is a historically poor neighborhood on the river (although this pocket of it around El Caminito Street is now overly touristy), and rumor has it that the pretty amalgamation of bright colors actually originated from paint scraps leftover from shipping boats that residents used to spruce up their tin-roofed homes.

Meag led us to Museo de Bellas Artes de la Boca Benito Quinquela Martin, which was once the studio of the artist Benito Quinquela Martin, and features his paintings of boats, as well as the work of other Argentine artists.

There is also an interesting collection of old ship mastheads.

And more sculptures outside on the terrace.

But we were really there for the views of La Boca from the roof.

(Aw, my favorite picture from the trip)

We also visited the amazing Flea Market in the neighborhood of San Telmo, which takes place every Sunday and is a don't miss.

It was way cooler than any flea market I've been to before - lots of antiques - from old rotary phones and gramophones to lace to kitchen items to jewelry and knick knacks and on and on.

Jesse bought a safety razor (I think that's what it's called), which made me happy because I've always wanted him to have one but they're hard to come by. They are more environmentally friendly than plastic disposable razors because the metal razor lasts forever (clearly) and you only need to replace the razor blade.

Argentina tales to be continued

February 26, 2009

On the Banks of the Muddy River

Being that we had escaped winter for summer, my vacation plans included time soaking in sun on a beach.

So for our second day in Rosario, Jesse and I headed to the beaches on "The Island" in the Rio de la Plata that you can reach from Rosario via a convenient ferry that runs every half hour.

However, I was still so sunburned that I was actually trying to shield myself from the sun instead of tanning (hence looking like a dork in Jesse's hat).

Luckily we could take refuge in the shaded huts along the beach, where we enjoyed cold beer and more chori-pan.

Which is okay, because I didn't really want to wade in the brown river anyway. Meag also said something about snakes on the island, but we didn't see any.

Argentina tales to be continued

February 25, 2009


Next up, for the third day of our trip, we headed to Rosario, a city about three hours northwest of Buenos Aires that is home to my friend Meag. Jesse really wanted to rent a car but I didn't because of the cost and the scariness (as I mentioned before, drivers straddle lanes, tailgate, there aren't stoplights or signs in Rosario...) I really wanted to take the bus, which I figured would be more relaxing. I even tried to trick him, by leading us to the bus station on Wednesday morning, telling him when we'd get there we could try to find a car rental place nearby, hoping that would prove too difficult. However, (unfortunately for me) his theory of spontaneity proved right again and we were able find a rental place with cars available that very morning.

I have to say, the driving in Argentina was not as heart attack inducing as I thought it would be. I was stressed out on our ride to Rosario mostly because I hate driving in general, because Jesse refused to keep to the speed limit, and because I couldn't help fearing a car crash with no way to get help since we didn't have a phone on us. Also, the ride was only 2 1/2 hours but felt like FOREVER because we drove through nothing but the same flat plains the whole way.

I used my awesome navigational skills to find our hostel in Rosario without a map! We stayed at Anamundana Guest House, a homey little place with English speaking staff. Mad cheap at 100 pesos ($30) a night. Our room even had a mini balcony (Argentinians love open air spaces)! I'd recommend it, although I think I'm personally over having to share bathrooms at hostels.

After a walk around Rosario's shopping district, I got to see Meag's cute little apartment, which her boyfriend lovingly fixed up with his own sweat equity. We assembled a relaxing afternoon snack of picada on her balcony, complete with grapes leftover from her winemaking attempt.

In the evening, our hosts led us on a tour of Rosario, which has some really pretty riverfront parks, followed by dinner and then drinks on the river. Fun!

Argentina tales to be continued...

February 23, 2009

Reserva Ecologica

For our second day in Buenos Aires, I had planned a day full of walking around, exploring neighborhoods and parks, complete with a picnic lunch in the Reserva Ecologica, an ecological park along the water that was created over a former landfill.

However, someone failed to tell me the weather forecasted rain. We made it nearly all the way down Florida, the main pedestrian shopping avenue, strolling and enjoying ourselves, before the rain started coming down. We tried to hide out in bars for a couple hours, but the rain showed no signs of slowing down. Stupidly, we walked/cried/ran all the way home in the pouring rain, completely drenched. I had to ring out my dress three times when we got home. Luckily the lack of humidity there meant that all of our clothes - even our shoes!! - were dry by the next morning. Phew. Crisis averted.

So Wednesday was a do-over of Tuesday. And it involved A LOT of walking - something like five hours of walking. From our apartment, we headed through downtown to Puerto Madero, the factory-turned-hip neighborhood separated from the rest of BA by a canal.

Our goal was the Reserva Ecologica, which has its entrance at the south end of Puerto Madera. We thought we had finally made it when we reached this park.

However, after wandering through the park and ending up on this street, we saw there was still even further to go before we'd reach the entrance. Luckily the street along the Ecological Reserve is lined with grill stands, serving up delicious "chori-pan" aka a big fat grilled sausage on a baguette with chimmichurri and other sauces.

So we stopped to rest, refuel, and enjoy a cool beer before forging on.

The Reserva Ecologica is a network of well-groomed paths with desert-y trees and grasses on either side. Not too exciting, but a pleasant walk. Jesse did see some parrots, but they flew away before we could photograph them.

We felt removed from the big city, yet this view was a reminder to my legs of how far we'd have to walk to return.

We inadvertantly chose the path that took us to a breathtaking little beach along the Rio de la Plata. Buenos Aires is not on the Atlantic Ocean proper, but this wide murky brown river that opens up to the ocean. There was just a thin strip of dark brown on the horizon, probably Uruguay, to remind us this was no ocean.

This beach was also missing the quintessential saltiness of sea air, making me long for a trip to the beach back on the Jersey shore.

After finally making it back to the city, my legs wanted to fall off and we were both sunburned lobsters, care of forgetting to wear sunblock. Jesse convince me we should visit a spa to soothe our aching muscles with a soak in a hot tub. This was not something in my original budget, but since we were on vacation...why not? It was fun and kind of surreal to pad around a modernistic spa in a robe and slippers. I think the soak was good for my muscles, but not good for our skin, which stayed red and painful for days - an unusual experience for us since our Mediterranean complexions don't often burn.

Argentina Adventure tales to be continued...