Monday, February 18, 2008


Months ago I pitched a story on Buenos Aires to The good news: They loved the idea! The bad news: Someone had beaten me to the punch; they already had a Buenos Aires piece in the works.

Not what I wanted to hear.

In an act of semi-desperation — or consummate pluck, depending on how charitable you're feeling — I even followed up a few weeks back with an editor there: "Say, are you guys still doing that Buenos Aires piece? 'Cause if it fell through, I'm totally available!"

Their Buenos Aires article hadn't fallen through and now the package is finally up on the web site.

The concept is that visitors should move beyond the tourist-saturated Palermo neighborhood and focus on San Telmo.

I don't know if I can go along with the idea that visiting San Telmo is likely to make you feel like you're mingling with locals — it's pretty far along the same path of gentrification (and tourism) that Palermo has followed. But I do like the idea of exploring the city's neighborhoods. And San Telmo is a great neighborhood, with just enough tourism to be traveler-friendly without being completely overwhelmed. That is, if you get here today. At this rate, it could be played out by tomorrow.

The Chow piece starts off like this:

Beautiful, decrepit, hedonistic, and temperate. Buenos Aires is a city of charming contradictions. You’ve heard about the steak and the Malbec, but you can also get arguably the best Italian food outside of Italy, and the world’s best gelato.

I probably would have written something similar.

Reading that made me remember the biggest reason I started this blog: People kept asking me what Buenos Aires was like and I never had a good answer. If you've been here or have been reading any blog about Buenos Aires, you'll recognize that's because it's a mix of the familiar and the foreign, full of contradictions and extremes.

So I don't envy anyone the task of writing a paragraph that purports to summarize Buenos Aires.

One hundred seventy-five posts on this blog and I don't think I'm any further along in that goal than when I started.


Luli said...


We are full of contradictions and extremes. That´s the reason.

Y vos? Where are you from?

Nice blog!


Esteban said...

I'll summarize BsAs for you in one word - Damn!

That was pretty much my reaction to everything beautiful, decrepit, hedonistic, and temperate.

And wouldn't you know, it fit every time.

But enough quoting stuff written by other people, Dan. You need to start quoting yourself again (just so I can take another drink, if for no other reason).

Dan said...

Luli - I'm from the United States, where we certainly have our extremes, too. Y gracias.

Esteban - I like that summary. Do I need to credit you if I use that in an article? As for quoting myself, I believe I've said I would never do such a thing.

Matt said...

arguably the best Italian food outside of Italy.

Now that's something I could argue about: Italian food in Argentina is far, far, far and away, away, away the worst Italian food I've had the misfortune to eat anywhere in the world. It bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to Italian food from Italy. The sauces are rank, too heavy and way overserved, the fresh pasta seriously third rate and don't get me started (again) on the pizza. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

The steak, of course, is fantabulous, those crappy, floppy cheese and ham tostados are somehow more addictive than heroin and the range of Asian food is the best in South America (except Lima) but the Italian food is just pure, unadulterated, embarrassing rubbish. And that's also the opinion of every Italian i've met who has spent time in Argentina.

Valentine Michael Smith said...

I agree with Matt...the Italian food here really sucks. Actually, most of the food here sucks. My theory is as follows...

Many cultures had to develop cooking techniques to deal with the problem of bad meat. This included various cooking methods as well as such things as sauces. Some cultures did that very well...France and India come immediately to mind, although there are certainly many others.

Argentina is a relatively young country, and never had to deal with that problem. The pampa, with its unending supply of great beef, was alway right there. Beef so good that all they had to do was grill it and voila...a great meal. Bottom line, the Argentines never really had to learn how to cook. Few decent sauces, few alternative cooking methods...etc.

(There are actually several other factors, but in the interest of space, I'll leave it at that.)

Once you get past the initial infatuation with the beef, the national palate here is actually the most bland I've come across in the world (and I've been to over 50 different countries).

This is not to say that parrilla food should be discounted. If all you've ever known is the cardboard beef that you get in the U.S., you're in for a real treat when you come here. But in the interest of honesty, it should be acknowledged that Argentine food is a one-trick pony, so to speak, that gets old fast. And there are not many decent alternatives around town to take its place when that happens...certainly not Italian.

Dan said...

Yeah, the typical menu here is comically bland and monotonous, largely untouched by trends, innovation or flavor.

This came into frightening focus to me all over again when I traveled last month. Because in Buenos Aires I've figured out how to get around this, but when you're traveling, you're at the mercy of the places you come across. And it wasn't pretty.

And, yeah, one of the things I miss most about the States is the variety of food.

Besides the fact that I like to cook, this is a reason I don't eat out all that much: If I did, I suspect I'd get a lot sicker of the food here, a lot more quickly. The monotony can get oppressive.

My friends who are adventurous eaters in the States are eating — I don't know — insects and hyper-regional cuisine from countries no one's even heard of. My friends who are adventurous eaters here are eating sushi and hummus.

That said, there are some great restaurants and some good food here. It takes quite a bit of work to find them, and I've learned it's not even worth bothering with some types of food/cuisines, because it's just going to pale in comparison to what I'm expecting. (Thai food is a good example. Sweet Jesus, I miss good Thai restaurants. The range of Asian food is the best in South America? I'm not in a position to dispute that, but I can only weep if it's true.)

But, in the end, a lot of the difference in opinion on the food here springs from how it's viewed by visitors vs. how it's viewed by people who come from elsewhere to live here. I think that's the biggest reason your reality — and mine — is different from what you might read about this place.

P.S. VMS, your blog is a masterwork of minimalism. I love it.

Matt said...

Yep-sad to say, Asian food in BA is way ahead of what's available elsewhere except Lima which has a genuine Chinatown where you can get really good Chinese food. Quito also had a fantastic, cheap Indian run by an Indian guy who'd had a restaurant in England for 15 years. So good, so cheap, so 2 x food poisoning. Still kept going back though.

The big question with Argentina is just why is the Italian and Spanish food so god damn awful? I mean, up until the 1950s, millions of real, proper Italians and Spaniards were pouring off the boats. Where did their culinary heritage go? If you visit other cities with large Italian populations-Sydney, NY, even London-the food, in general, is fantastic and is the same as what you'd get in Italy. It's the same in BA with Jewish food-Argentina is home to the 5th largest Jewish population outside of Israel, but where's the great Jewish food?

It's a conundrum and I'm setting you, Dan, the task of writing a 5000 word piece on the issue. I shall pay you in Milanesas. With ham on top, of course.

Luli said...


Te sugiero un restaurant de comida Thai, es mi preferido, Sudestada. Guatemala y Fitz Roy, en Palermo.

And I think that you may go to the best restaurant, pero no hay nada como un buen asado en un campo.



Dan said...

¡Sí! A Sudestada fui hace un par de años. Me gustó. Si cobrara menos y tuviera delivery, ahí comería mas seguido. Pero me lo comentás y me da ganas de volver un día para almorzar. ¡Gracias!