Buenos Aires for Visitors
Dan Perlman takes a tour through the gastronomic delights of Argentina’s far flung provinces without leaving city limits.
Argentina is 3,800 km (2,360 miles) north to south and 1,420 km (884 miles) east to west. That’s just less than 30 percent of the size of the United States; the eastern states of Canada and all of the UK would sit quite comfortably inside the province of Buenos Aires alone. In short, Argentina is a very big country indeed.
No surprise then that food culture varies markedly throughout the country. Fortunately, BA is pretty much the focal point of the country, so you don’t need to leave the capital city to get a chance to stab your fork into these tasty regional dishes.
Food from the north-west area of the country is well represented. What might be called Argentina’s rustic simply styled ‘mountain cuisin’, is featured in Jujuy, Salta, Tucumán, Catamarca and Santiago del Estero. Their rich hearty meals for example, locro (corn, potato, squash and meat stew), carbonada (stew of meat, vegetable and occasionally fruit), and mondongo (tripe stew) are often left in a pot simmering over the fire all day, ingredients being added over the course of one or more dinners. Many of these dishes share influences throughout the Altiplano, a region that extends into northern Chile, southern Peru and Bolivia.
Spots to sample this cuisine tend to be casual, almost lunch counter affairs usually starting with empanadas (turnovers), tamales or humitas (stuffed cornmeal dough steamed in corn husks) followed by a stew. The menus often offer little else, maybe a simple house wine and a flan casero (home-made flan) for dessert. Among our favorites are the two branches of La Cocina (Pueyrredón 1508, 4825 3171; Florida 142, 4326 7892). They focus on the reasonably spicy cooking of Catamarca. Their locro is easily one of the best in town, and offered with a choice of chilli sauce with various cheesy add-ons.
The cooking of Tucumán and Salta is probably best represented by the always popular La Querencia (Junin y Juncal, 4821 1888). Here the empanadas arrive with cracker like crusts and are stuffed with a variety of interesting fillings, but spicing tends to be more muted in comparison to other north-western regions. For the somewhat more picante cooking of Santiago del Estero, the empanadas at La Familia (Chile 984) in San Telmo are delicious if you don’t mind takeout only.
The north-east, strangely, is not well represented – the provinces of Formos, Chaco, Missiones, and Corrientes ahve a cuisine that’s heavily influenced by neighboring Paraguay. Often there is a stall at the weekend Mataderos gaucho fair that serves up excellent food from Paraguay and the north-east, well worth the trek if you’re a foodie.
For the specialty fish of the Paraná river that weaves through Santa Fé and Entre Rios, Jangada (Bonpland 1670, 4773 0411) in Palermo serves simple, perfectly grilled fish straight off the parrilla with just a touch of herbs, oil, and lemon.
Off to the west, Mendoza and San Juan are etter showcased. In a spot combining Mendozan art with the cuisine, Pan y Teatro (Las Casas 4095, 4924 6920, www.panyteatro.com.ar) in Boedo has superb pastel mendocino (potatoes flavored with a cinnamon and sugar mixture) and rabbit stewed in white wine. San Juan as the ‘don’t miss’, truly ‘don’t miss’, outposts of El Sanjuanino (Posadas 1515, 4804 2909; Sanchez de Bustamante 1788, 4822 8080; Pedro Goyena 700, 4924 0888, www.elsanjuanino.com) in Palermo, Recoleta and Caballito respectively, serving up divine empanadas and tamales.
Moving on south, the multi-province region – generally known as Patagonia, is easily the best covered part of the country. You could spend weeks just trying out all the little, and not so little, eateries that cover the rich culinary heritage of the forests, mountains, and coastline. Game, fish, and shellfish are strongly represented and interesting fruits, especially berries, figure in much of the cuisine. It’s also, in some ways, a more contemporary culinary experience, with many of the more creative chefs in the city featuring Patagonian ingredients with modern twists on classic cooking. The most famous is probably Patagonia Sur in La Boca, where star chef Francis Mallmann offers up high end dining at a high end price. Easier on the wallet is Aires de Patagonia, in Puerto Madero, which turns out beautifully elegant cuisine. Likewise the San Telmo and Palermo Hollywood locales of Divina Patagonia serve delicious modern versions of dishes such as venison with chocolate sauce, wild boar with raspberries, the famed Patagonian lamb in a variety of ways, and some wonderful seafood dishes that are equally creative.
For a more simple approach, it’s hard to miss San Telmo’s Mitico Sur. You can order from a alarge number of regional wines, paired with a variety of tablas – platters loaded with Patagonian specialities such as locally made cheeses, cured meats, smoked fish, pickled vegetables, and plenty of lamb – and nibble away to your heart’s content.
In mid-2006, I started writing for Time Out Buenos Aires. With changes in their way of conducting business, I decided to part company with them after my last article and set of reviews in mid-2009.