Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Buenos Aires: The Food (Part 2)

One thing that Buenos Aires definitely brought over from Europe, along with much of the culture and architecture, is the food culture. Last time, we checked out steak, alfajores, Italian cuisine, and Argentine cuisine, but that was just a sampling of what the city offers. In this post, we follow up with more delicious food from Buenos Aires. We start off with the quirky cafe Malvon (Serrano 789, website) near our great (and cheap) hotel, Pop Hotel. 

This little cafe in Villa Crespo is a great place for brunch, offering both quick snack at the pastry case or a more formal sit down meal. We were there for brunch where the varied offered up something for everyone in our party: BBQ short ribs for one person, granola and honey for another, and pancakes for me personally. 

Our next delicious stop was at El Sanjuanino (Avenida Callao 1515), which focuses on the humble empanada. This restaurant has been offering up traditional Argentine style empanadas, tamales, and  my favorite, alfajores, for more than 50 years. This is a great place for lunch and is always buzzing with people. Their empanadas are moist, flavorful, and have a flaky crust that delicately pulls apart with a whisp of steam. These things are excellent, and their sangria comes in a huge, cheap pitcher.

Alfajores are my favorite treat from South America and we had plenty of opportunity to try them while we were there. Another treat that we enjoyed while there was gelato: Along with the Italians came the Italian tradition of their frozen desserts. The most famous gelato shop, Helados A.M Scannapieco, was on our list of places to visit, but the location at Av Córdoba 4826 is closed. There is a very nice plaque there explaining that the random store there was the original location of famed shop. The business continues on, but at a different location (5274 Avenida Nazca), but as a warning to any would be gelato lovers... there is nothing at the 4826 address. 

Thankfully, there are plenty of other places that offer the same frozen treat. The best that we had while we were there was at Nonna Bianca, but the San Telmo market. Everything is hand made and there is a wall full of flavors to choose from, including about 10 different types of Dulce de Leche. What exactly is the difference between Dulce de Leche, Super Dulce de Leche, and Extra Dulce de Leche? Maybe the locals know.

The flavors were great, including a very rich and smooth melon that I ended up devouring before I could get my camera out. At another shop in Palermo, I had a bit better luck (see below). 

Next time? Even more food, including a non-kosher McDonald's.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Buenos Aires: The Food (Part 1)

One of the biggest draws of Buenos Aires was the food culture. As a European melting pot and with access to some of the best beef in the world, Buenos Aires offers a wide variety of delicious and top notch food from around the world. From Italian pizza to the finest steak, there is something here for everyone. We could have spent months exploring all of the corners of the city, but with our few days there we had to sample some of the best restaurants out there (and one or two duds). For our last entry, we explore our top picks for restaurants in Buenos Aires.

Our first stop is Don Julio (Guatemala 4691), which is an upper crust steakhouse in the Palmero district. The steak here is fantastic and the vibe of the entire restaurant is very much old school. We got in at 8pm, which is early by Argentine standards, and ended up with lomo (tenderloin) which is pictured above. The cut is generous and the beef itself is phenomenal. This steak paired with a malbec is what makes restaurants like this famous. Reservations here are strongly recommended.

Steak may be well known, but it is certainly not the only traditional food for the city. With a strong Italian cultural influence, pizza and pasta are staples of the food culture here. For our pizza fix, we tried El Cuartito (Talcahuano 937) which has been serving up pizza since 1934.

This is a well loved spot full of locals. The walls are covered with sports memorabilia from a mix of sports (including a poster of Michael Jordan playing for the Bulls). Overall, a no-nonsense welcoming pizzeria. We were a little out of place as tourists, but united by our love of pizza and beer. This pizza pie was a bit different from a lot of pizzas, with uniformly thick crust underneath all of the toppings and green olives as a mandatory topping. After nearly 80 years, they have this down to a science and both of the pizzas were delicious. The crust was just substantial and crispy enough, with just the right amount of cheese, and great flavors. My favorite was the Atomica, seen below with the tabasco sauce on it.

Want to see more of the restaurant scene in Buenos Aires, along with what has to be the all time, best treat from Argentina? Keep reading after the break!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

McDonald's Around the World: Kosher McDonald's in Buenos Aires!

I love visiting McDonald's when I travel. Whether it is finding out about the McHotdog in Kyoto, trying some Swedish Pancakes in Stockholm, or the биф а-ля рус in Moscow, visiting McDonald's while you are traveling can often be surprising. Despite what many think, they are not all the same and in Buenos Aires there is one that is unique to the Americas: A Kosher McDonald's.

Buenos Aires is home to a strong Jewish community with a long history. Argentina is home to one of the largest Jewish populations in the world and is third in the Americas behind the United States and Canada. In Israel, there are kosher McDonald's, but outside of Israel they don't exist except for  here in Buenos Aires.

So, what is on the menu and how is it different? We start with the McNifica, which is identical to the Big and Tasty that was offered in the United States awhile back. The difference is in the name alone and that this one comes with no cheese. The Happy Meal is the same basic combination, but with a limited choice between a hamburger and chicken nuggets. If you are starting to wonder where the cheese is, it is because mixing meat and milk is not kosher. No cheeseburgers are on the menu at the kosher McDonald's.

Overall, the menu looks pretty normal. The Doble McNifica ends up being a half pound burger with the same toppings at the regular McNifica. The Big Mac here is just like the regular Big Mac, but without the cheese.

Want to see more of the menu and find out what makes a kosher McDonald's kosher? Read on after the break!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Well, what do we have here? 50,000 page views today!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Buenos Aires: The Funkier Side

After seeing the sights, it is always nice to check out some of the more offbeat attractions of the city. Top on the list were two attraction in the southern side of the city: The San Telmo Antique Market and the origin of the tango sound, the Caminito.

The San Telmo Antique Market was our first stop. To get there, you can take a cab or hop on the Subte Line C to San Juan (Subway Map). From there, it is a half mile walk to the market. Once there, you are in a top notch antique market that fills the entire square. Each table has it's own thing and vendors of seltzer bottles stand right next to tables full of original art, books, or clothing. There is something a the market for everyone, including me: I bought a 50 year old subte token to add to my transit pass collection.

The market is huge and most of the things on sale reflect both the prime location and popularity of the market. Things are expensive, but do not be afraid to haggle. The first price you get is likely double what they will actually take in many cases (especially for nick-nacks like my token). The market is large enough to easily soak an hour or two of your time, or more if you aren't hurrying off to the next place. It's well worth a visit and the one of the best markets I've been to.

After the break, more from the San Telmo Antique Market, the famed (but overrated?) Caminito, and Street Art galore!

Friday, November 09, 2012

Buenos Aires: Déjà vu

My very first impression of Buenos Aires was a sense of déjà vu. The city and the people were instantly more familiar to me than the other places that we had been to before on the trip. Santa Teresa reminded me of Los Angeles, but I knew that I was somewhere new. In contrast, stepping off the boat and making our way to the hotel was far more European than anything else thus far on the trip. The language of the buildings and the people was distinctly continental with a fierce nationalism over it. Argentina is Argentine, but that identity was built clearly on the relatively uninterpreted vocabulary and patterns of continental Europe.

It is not really that surprising to learn that Buenos Aires experienced a massive influx of immigrants from Europe in the early 20th century that drove much of the development of the city and nation. The population between 1895 and 1914 nearly doubled and was one of the primary destinations for immigrants coming to the new world, behind the United States. The influx of immigrants from Italy, Spain, and France have especially left a mark on the culture of Argentina, but immigrants came from all over Europe, including Russians, Volga Germans, and, like my grandmother, Scandinavians. As a result, when the city was being planned in the late 19th century and early 20th century, much of the urban planning and ideals were imported directly from Europe. The European monumental metropolis was to be raised in Buenos Aires, their new home.

In many ways, they succeeded. The city is massive and block by block resembles Paris or any other European city. That was the source of my déjà vu, as well as the fact that the cuisine had suddenly become distinctly European. The art nouveau decoration and sensibility that you find in the streets of Paris is here. The subway system clearly echos the belief of the era that all cities of note should have a subway system. The entire city feels as if it had been transported from somewhere in France or Spain and dropped here.

After the break, we will visit three top picks, including Avenida 9 de Julio, the Pink House, Recoleta, and Puente de la Mujer (The famous bridge by Spanish Architect Santiago Calatrava).

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Montevideo to Buenos Aires by Boat

After getting caught in the tail end of a hurricane and crossing Uruguay by bus from Salto to get in to Montevideo past midnight, the next morning it was time to go. The city was bouncing back to normal, but we had no time left. After breakfast at the After Hotel, we squeezed into the supremely undersized Uruguayan taxi cabs and headed for the Buquebus terminal.

Our hotel looked great and was really comfortable, for the 9 hours that we spent there total. The front desk staff was exceedingly helpful and friendly as well, and best of all? It was pretty inexpensive. We had planned to stay an extra night here before Pluna went bankrupt and we had to change our itinerary, but we would have been pretty happy here.

 The most that we saw of Montevideo was from the taxi ride to the ferry terminal. It looked like an interesting city. I would have liked to spend more time there, but it wasn't in the cards for this trip. Instead, we were on to the boat to Buenos Aires. At the terminal here, you check in and then go through pass control. I can confirm for those looking for a way around the reciprocal fee for the Argentine visa that entering the country by ferry lets you skip the $160 fee.

Once on the boat and away from the dock (we needed a tug because of strong winds), it was smooth if uninteresting sailing from there. After a few hours, Buenos Aires appeared on the horizon with the skyline set against the gray skies. As we drew closer, my thoughts turned elsewhere, back to Stockholm. Part of the reason that I wanted to come to Buenos Aires was because nearly 90 years ago my grandmother also arrived in the port of Buenos Aires by sea. She was a child at the time and doesn't remember much from the time that she and her family spent there, but in some way this was an echo back to that event and the photo of this exact harbor that she shared with me in Stockholm. The tall ships are gone and the skyline today strikes upward, but this is where she was so long ago.

And tomorrow, I would start my own exploration of the city.