Over my past few weeks here in Buenos Aires, I have developed an intense love-hate relationship with the food.
You see, perhaps you picture gigantic slabs of meat and massive racks of ribs when you think about Argentinian cuisine. I did too. We’d both be right, but only partially. While I have had some of the best, and largest, meat of my life here, I’ve also learned that it’s not steakhouses (parrillas) around every corner and a hunk of beef every meal.
In fact, I believe there’s only one parrilla in my neighborhood, out of the 363460* dining establishments. Trust me, we’ve been taking advantage of it as often as we can. But the problem with that is… even though the price for a hunk of beef is WAY less than what we would pay in California for the same hunk of beef, eating there is still more expensive than anything else around.
So over the past few weeks, we’ve taken to eating a lot of other more commonly available foods. This brings me to the point of this post: the real cuisine here in Buenos Aires (spoiler: it’s mostly French and Italian inspired), and my love-hate relationship with it.
*not an accurate count
Love: The cute little umbrella-ed sidewalk cafes.
Little sidewalk cafes are literally around every corner, especially in the Palermo neighborhood where we are staying. Dining in Buenos Aires, especially dining al fresco, is a pure delight. You are welcomed to sit and chat for however long you want, until you decide it’s time to ask for the check. This is a welcomed change from the US ways, where you are shoved the check practically before you’ve swallowed your last bite. Many a days, we’ve found ourselves lingering over our meal long after it’s over, people watching, and enjoying the fresh air and the free wi-fi.
Hate: Lack of variety, and spice
When I first settled in here, I was happy to see so many Italian and French cafes around every block, and even happier to find that the pizza is totally decent. This availability and quality of different foods is a HUGE improvement after coming off of a month in Santiago. But soon, I realized that French and Italian food IS the Buenos Aires local cuisine. As for other international cuisine? They’re pretty hard to come by. Don’t get me wrong, as much as I like pizza and baguette sandwiches, there’s only so many I can eat.
Also, I’ve learned that Argentinians eat very plain. Almost nothing is spiced or salted. Instead the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves (which I’m all for), but sometimes I really want something spicy, or at least dried red pepper flakes on my pizza! But they’re nonexistent here.
Love: My sweet-tooth-slash-inner-fat-kid LOVES the pastries.
Buenos Aires is often dubbed “the Paris of South America”, and its Parisian influences can be seen in almost every aspect of life, from the architecture (the impossibly cute balconies with shuttered French windows!), the fashion, the French bulldogs, and of course, the food, with my favorite being the pastries. Croissants with butter and jam for breakfast? Yes, please! Little mini fruit tarts for dessert? I’ll take two!
It’s impossible to not get swept up in the love affair with sweets here. Almost every single cafe/restaurant has a display of beautiful pastries and cakes. And you literally cannot walk half a block without coming across a pastry shop, with rows upon rows of tiny croissants, quiches, and cakes. I’ve never been anywhere with so much of what I love!
Hate: All the gluten! And where are all the vegetables?
Porteños (Buenos Aires locals) seem to consume a diet high in carbs and almost nonexistent in vegetables. And so much gluten! It’s almost impossible to go one meal without carbs, much less without gluten. Warm baguettes with a perfect crusty shell, crispy parmesan toast, little croissants with a sugar glaze, moist chocolate cake with layers of dulce de leche…. all so glutinous. And do you know what happens when you eat too much gluten? It’s not pretty.
When I was still in the States, I worked hard to trim down and tone up, which included cutting out gluten from my diet (save for special cheat days). When we were in Santiago, it was easy to stay relatively gluten free, since rice came with every meal. But it’s IMPOSSIBLE to do the same here in Buenos Aires, and I can safely say that just 3 weeks of eating in Buenos Aires have undid a couple of years worth of hard exercise and healthy eating.
Love: The beautiful and fresh food
More often than not, the food in Buenos Aires is an art form. And the ingredients are incredibly fresh. Tomatoes just taste sweeter, the olives are bursting with flavor, and the mozzarella cheeses are practically fresh off the cow. No doubt about it, the fresh and natural food movement have made it’s way here.
Furthermore, restaurants really take pride in their food craft. Nothing is from a can or processed. The Italian influence here means that there are little Italian restaurants almost everywhere, and even some parrillas will have a “pasta” section on the menu. Almost everywhere (that we’ve come across at least), the pasta and breads are made within the restaurant.
Hate: The price of food here.
I shouldn’t have been too surprised at this, but I was. The price of food has increased to match the massive inflation in Argentina over the years (25%-30% per year… yikes!). As it is now, I’d say it’s on par with Southern Californian prices, especially if you’re going by the official exchange rate. Coming from Santiago, this was a hard adjustment… even a very basic meal, is at least DOUBLE the price of a very basic meal in Santiago.
The high price of food isn’t only limited to restaurants, but to groceries as well. US$5 for half a dozen eggs, green onions, and a bottle of water… am I shopping in Whole Foods in the US?? And the worst offender? US$3 for water at any sit-down establishment. I think I’ll rather dehydrate.
But some certain types of food are a little bit less expensive, like the pizzas. The two of us could share one pizza and one water for about AR$120 (or US$15). So guess what we’ve been eating a lot of?
And of course the cheapest thing you can get here are empanadas, which cost about US$1-$1.50 each. So you can bet that a lot of this has been on our menu too:
Unfortunately, neither the pizzas nor empanadas are doing any favors to my figure. But our wallet sure approves. Somehow, we’ve even managed to convince ourselves that saving money on food means having a little extra to spend for dessert (remember what I said about all the irresistible sweets??).
So we’ve also been indulging in a lot of this:
And my waistline REALLY doesn’t like any of those.
Oh, Buenos Aires, I really hate your food. How expensive it is to eat decently. How it’s impossible to get away from carbs. Really? Do we really need a huge basket of freshly baked artisan bread with every meal? And seriously, how does anyone here have normal digestive functions with the lack of vegetables? And I hate how the disgustingly cute cakes and pies are just calling out my name, enticing me to take a bite (or ten). And how our wallet is mysteriously drained every few days, despite the fact that we haven’t even gone anywhere.
And most of all, I really hate how much I really love it all. If only my waistline and bank statements would feel the same way.
This post is part of the #sundaytraveler series. Check out this post Going underground at Postojna Caves, Slovenia by Pack Me To (@packmeto), and don’t forget to support all the other participating blogs (links at the bottom of post)!