Argentina: A Few Of Our Favorite Things

Well, it’s been a week back in reality. We leave you with a selection of our favorites.

New world hip latin cool with classic old world European elegance.
Steaming hot empanadas (San Juanino).
Tender pampas-fed beef (La Cabana).
The best meal ever (La Bourgogne).
Exquisite cheap malbec (Catena).
Magnificent awe-inspiring Iguazu falls.
Alvear Palace’s grand hotel and graciously accommodating staff.
Shopping antiques (Defensa street, San Telmo).
Shopping cool (Honduras street, Palermo Soho).
Hand stitched Polo and leather goods (Arandu).
One site not to miss: Recoleta Cemetery.


Let’s Talk Food and Drink

Argentines love eating. Similar to Parisians a great deal of their social and political life involves a table with conversation. The selection is endless, but the main staples arise from the culinary best of Spain and Italy. A couple of our favorites include:

1. Parrillada (mixed grill): nothing like a sizzling asado (barbeque grill) at the entrance of a restaurant to rev up your appetite. As we stated before, the steak is superb (free-range and fabulous). This is not a country of vegetarians.
2. Empanada: a tasty turnover filled with ground beef, ham and cheese, chicken or just about anything else. Comes either baked (al horno), the best way, or fried (frito).
3. Pizza and ice cream (helado): are particularly good secondary to the Italian influence.

Now drink is another story. Mendoza is the premier wine region and Malbec the definitive Argentine wine. Given the current devalued Peso a great bottle can be had for 10 – 20 dollars. For an even greater experience try one from Bodega Catena Zapata, Achaval-Ferrer, or Cheval des Andes which are among the worlds best. San Juan is famous for its Syrah and the area around Cafayate for its white (torrontĂ©s).

Coffee lovers have a place to die and call heaven. Even the little hole in the wall places on the side streets have an excellent espresso machine. An espresso with a drop of milk is cafĂ© cortado – the best in my opinion. Starbucks has invaded Argentina, but if you want a more local similar experience try Havanna. Nothing like an alfajores (cookie-type sandwich) with dulce de leche (creamy caramel) filling while people watching around the square.

This would not be complete without a discussion of mate (pronounced mah-tay). More that a simple drink, mate is a social ritual. Yerbe mate is the dried, chopped leaf of Ilex paraguayensis, a relative of the common holly. The cebador (server) fills the mate gourd with yerba, then hot, not boiling, water from a pava (kettle). You then sip it through a bombilla, a silver straw with a bulbous filter at its lower end that prevents the yerba leaves from entering the tube. And the taste…like wet hay, I guess it’s an acquired thing.


The Mission

We flew an hour and a half up to the Argentine/Brazilian border today to the most magical setting: Iguazu falls. The magnificent falls stretch through the rain forest engulfing the sky with a perpetual mist, birthing rainbow upon rainbow with the glint of the sun.

Myth has it that an Indian warrior named Caroba infuriated the forest god by escaping with a young maiden named Naipur with whom the god had become infatuated. Enraged, the god caused the riverbed to collapse producing a line of precipitous falls over which the lovers fell. Naipur turned into a rock at the base, Caroba survived as a tree overlooking his fallen lover. The thunderous torrent is quite breathtaking with walkways both over and under the cascades. Most famous is Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) – remember that great opening scene with the priest tied to a cross going over the falls in “The Mission”?

Well, the sun is setting, time for some Malbec, tomorrow its back to the city and more last minute shopping.

The Flea market

The Sunday San Telmo market marked the start of our buying extravaganza. Chandeliers, glassware, and silver were the hot items of this mart. Reminded us a bit of the Porte de Vanve market in Paris. Small stalls one after another sparkled in the morning winter sun (although winter here the last few days is a quite pleasant 65 – 75 degrees). Bric-a-brac heaven! Surrounding the square are numerous higher end and much more expensive antique shops – great stuff, just too pricey.

Today we toured the more northern cities of upscale San Isidro and tranquil Tigre. This was historically the summer playground of the portenos (local BA natives). Nestled overlooking the Rio de la Plata this kind of resembles a Spanish Hamptons. Inland this area also houses the furniture factories and wholesalers – more difficult to do business, but definitely worth the effort. Take your own guide or translator to facilitate the deals. After a leisurely river-cruise (island deltas and river houses could have been from backwoods Louisiana) we headed back to the city to do some tourist shopping along Florida Street (imagine Times Square as a mile-long pedestrian street). Tonight it’s early to bed, got to get up at 5am tomorrow for our flight to Iguazu. More on that next time .