Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sushi on the Cheap

Argentina does many food items very well: beef, ice cream, empanadas, and milanesas are staples. However, the ex-pat with more exotic taste buds might have difficulty finding cuisine that falls outside the box of “Argentine food.” There are many restaurants that offer a variety of different food but many are expensive and watered down to satisfy sensitive Argie tastebuds.  Sushi, although available and easy to find, can cause some severe damage to the wallet.
For anyone looking to satisfy that sushi craving, you can buy sushi in full rolls at the grocery store in Chinatown for about half the price of sushi in restaurants. In addition to a variety of sushi and spring rolls, you can get many spices and more “exotic” ingredients in the grocery stores in Chinatown that are always absent in neighborhood supermarkets. The first and more “posh” grocery store is called Casa China. For fish, venture further into Chinatown to find a grocery store that has an entire back section filled with seafood.
The Barrio Chino

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


One very literal obstacle in life in Buenos Aires is the un-navigable sidewalk. Each business or residence is responsible for the maintenance of the sidewalk in front of their building. There is no government organization that cleans or fixes the sidewalk; therefore, many of the walkways fall into disrepair. At about 6 or 7 in the morning, those who wake up early for work (or those who are coming in late from a night out) must be carful to avoid the cleaners, washing each sidewalk with water, soap, and a mop. Sidewalks in the city are littered with an array of barriers and challenges, turning the daily commute to your own personal secret mission.

Dog poop: The most obvious of the obstacles, due it its stench and general ick-factor, is the dog poop. Buenos Aires is a city of dogs. Dog walkers lead armies of 10 to 15 dogs throughout the day. Dogs sit patiently under restaurant tables waiting for dropped food or outside shops waiting for their master’s return. Owners march down the sidewalks as their pet loyally follows them sans leash. Everyone seems to seek a companion in the form of man’s best friend here; however, cleaning up after said best friend is not socially encouraged. All of the lovely, smiling, bouncing dogs in the city also leave behind smelly, steaming piles of refuse. Although most sidewalks are cleaned in the morning, by mid to late afternoon, you must tiptoe carefully through many areas of the city.

Flyer people: One of the most popular forms of advertising here is passing out flyers. Every restaurant, school, band, and questionably legal escort service promote their wares by passing out little bits of paper with sales and information. In fact, passing out flyers is its own profession. Each flyer guy has their corner or territory carved out and all have perfected the swish-flick motion that gives their flyers that snappy special something. If you simply avoid eye contact, the distributor will usually direct their attention to the next pedestrian strolling along the street; however, many are overly insistent with their product, shoving them directly in front of your nose. To avoid a pocketful of paper, you have to perfect the non-committal stare and sidestep motion.

Cat Calls: The cat-calls in Buenos Aires are infamous. When I first arrived, I found them embarrassing or slightly offensive. Now, I just take them with a grain of salt and let them boost my mood for the day. No female can walk down the street here without a chorus of “Que Linda,” “Ah, Hermosa,” “Reina!” or—in my blonde –haired, blue-eyed, and pale-skinned case—“HELLO!” “Pretty lady!” Where are you from!?” Now that I understand most of what people are saying, I have realized that they usually don’t use offensive or demeaning language and these “piropos” (or sometimes “grocerías”) have blended into white street noise. However, I still can’t help but blush or smile at times with a particularly colorful display of admiration.

People: I’ll admit it: I am a fast walker. I think I developed this habit while teaching English, as I was always late to classes and had to rush to arrive on time. Buenos Aires is a very relaxed and laid-back place, but some people follow this cultural more a little too faithfully when shuffling along the streets. Pedestrians are as slow as Christmas moving from point A to point B. Weaving through these casual strollers is, for me, a practice in patience.

Cars, Buses, and Motos: Argentina has the most traffic related deaths in any country in the world, claiming an average of 20 lives per day. Pedestrians most certainly do NOT have the right of way. Most streets do have crosswalks and lights, but those on the street must use caution when crossing from one side to the other. I have seen more dead bodies on the side of the road here in the past two years than I have in my whole life. I was never a fan of driving, but the traffic in Buenos Aires is more than a little out of control. With a little common sense and care, you will travel safely to your destination.

Landmines: By far the worst and most difficult to avoid obstacle is the hidden land mines. These are not the ‘kabooom’ kind of landmines. Rather, they are uneven tiles in the sidewalk waiting stealthily with a mucky surprise. Because the sidewalks are uneven, many have tiles that move when you step on them. At first glance, they look like unassuming, stable tiles; however, once you step on them, they will slosh water all over your foot and ankle. The worst time to step on these landmines is about 2 or 3 days AFTER the last rain meaning that the septic soup that is soaking through your sock is a stagnant concoction of debris, dog pee, and gutter runoff. Yech.

The obstacles on the sidewalk are many but—with practice and caution—you can become an expert side-walker.

Friday, September 25, 2009

la semana del arte

This weekend is the week of art in Capital Federal, involving lots of sipping champagne and wandering around art galleries. My favorites of the evening were hands down paintings by Maggie de Koenigsberg o "Maga Latina." The gallery is called Masotta Torres on Mexico 459.

Check out Maggie De Koenisberg's work under "obras:" If anyone's searching for a present for can get me one of these!! (forrrr Christmas and my birthday for the next 10 or so years)

Thursday, September 24, 2009


One Argentine tradition that I have fully embraced is the Merienda. With dinner hours pushed back to 10, 11 or 12 o’clock, I find that my tummy always starts grumbling protests around 6 o’clock. The merienda is a tradition imported from Spain—a meal between lunch and dinner created to keep that nagging hunger at bay and to indulge in two of Argentinean’s weaknesses: caffeine and sugar.  
A merienda always involves a tea, coffee, or mate. Before arriving in Argentina, I never drank coffee regularly. I only turned to it as a drug to fuel all nighters in the library or to cure a hangover before work or classes. Here, caffeine is an integral part of daily life. Between tea, cortados and mate, I’m sure Argentines have to consume at least 4 or 5 units of caffeine daily (I also think that high caffeine consumption could be a reason that all Argentine men seem to be so short…but that’s another story). I have gladly hopped on this vibrating bandwagon.
The second and most sinful component of the merienda is the facturas. Facturas are pastries packed with sugar, dulce de leche, butter, and—I’m starting to suspect—crack. I was never a huge sweet person in the states, always leaning towards saltier snacks. In Argentina, the vast and colorful array of sweets is too tantalizing to ignore. Below is a photograph of a typical panaderia. The panaderias are located about every four blocks, wafting mouthwatering aromas of baked bread and caramelized sugar into the streets. From the simple and sweet medialuna, a croissant glazed with sugar, to powdered confections oozing dulce de leche, every sweet tooth can find something to satisfy.

Merienda also serves as more than an early evening pick-me-up. The merienda is always a social occasion: an office celebrating a birthday, two old friends catching up for hours over a thimbleful of coffee, a family visit, or sometimes simply getting that dulce de leche fix.  The merienda is a sweet excuse to spend time with friends or family and engage in caffeine jolted discussions and debates…what’s not to like?

A beginning

I came to Argentina almost two years ago. After graduating college with a liberal arts degree, I weighed my options and ultimately decided I wanted to spend time living outside of the states. What better a time to do this than now—I had no husband, no kids, no mortgage, no job—why not?

“Why Argentina?” is the question I am most frequently asked by both locals and foreigners here. I still don’t have a real answer. I shrug and say “the fernet” or “I closed my eyes and pointed to the map.” Whatever the reason, I found my way to Buenos Aires and Buenos Aires found its way into me. Sometimes I wonder if I was somehow programmed to live here. All of my vices in the states—perpetual tardiness, late hours, procrastination, and lack of plans—are integrated as a part of the culture here. Things here are certainly not puppies and rainbows all the time. As with any adjustment, there are always ups and downs; however, I find myself generally enchanted with the city.

In my year and a half here I have learned many things about both the culture of Buenos Aires and the culture of the states. There’s nothing like that sudden “aha’ moment when you realize that a certain habit or way of living isn’t simply the way things ARE—just the way it is where you are from. I have also found that the learning and discovering never stops. I’ve decided to start documenting and sharing these observations and experiences. So this, my friends, is a little window into my world.