We flew (4 hours) from Lima to Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina, last Monday (19th) arriving in the early evening. The first couple of weeks (see previous posts) of our three week ‘holiday’ were quite tiring with lots of early starts, trekking, and camping. The last week has been quite different as we stayed in a decent hotel and have been over indulging ourselves with the local cuisine, which is heavily meat orientated. Sitting here on the plane home, I’m feeling rather stuffed!
Our hotel, Livian Guesthouse, in BA was really nice, it’s a converted old house that retains it’s original features and situated on a quiet back street in the fashionable neighbourhood of Palmero. I visited BA with Russ back in 2007, and we stayed in the downtown area and and wasn’t to taken with the city, but this time staying a bit further out in Palmero I loved it. Buenos Aires is a city that does things late, people get up late, nothing is open until 11am, and they stay up late and eat late – restaurants don’t get busy until 8pm and stay open until 1am. We took advantage of this and enjoyed some empanadas (Argentina’s snack of choice, a bit like a Cornish pasty with various fillings but using pizza dough) on our first night in a cosy little restaurant in on Plaza Palermo Viejo.
On our first full day in BA we joined the Parrilla tour in the Las Canitas district. Parilla means steakhouse and the tour took us around four eateries (where only ‘locals’ go!) to enjoy some local specialities. First stop was for Choripan, which translates as Sausage Sandwich and is the streetfood of choice in the city. Served with a sauce known as Chimichurri, which is made up of Garlic, Parsley, Oregan, Vinegar, Olive Oil, and Pepper. I absolutely loved it!
Next up was an nondescript pizza place, where we enjoyed a tasty meat Empanada before we went to the main stop, which was the Parrilla. It was barely noticeable from the outside with mirrored glass and a heavy door that apparently always has a sign that says closed, but inside it was packed. The main feature of a Parrilla is the barbecue grill used to cook the meat, a very exciting sight! We had two cuts of steak firstly sirloin, which was disappointingly chewy, and skirt steak that was much nice. The highlight though was the accompanying Provoleta, which is a grilled cheese something of a cross between mozzarella and halloumi, we really liked it.
We were now unsurprisingly very full, but the last stop was at an ice cream parlour – there are all around the city and very popular. A significant amount of the original immigrants to Argentina were from Italy, and therefore there is significant Italian influence in both the culture and cuisine. I highly recommend the tour, it was nice walking between the restaurants and learning something of the area as well as the local cuisine.
After the tour we walked down to BA’s most affluent area, Recoleta. There are lots of art galleries here and as it had started raining made a good shelter, as well as the very grand cemetery, which is the final resting place of many of the countries notable people such presidents and artists, the most famous being Eva Peron.
After the cemetery we spent a while sipping a coffee in the Parisian style café over the road, La Biela, which has a grand and historical feel to it. In the evening back in Palermo, following a tip from the Parrilla tour guide, we had a (late) light dinner of sushi at Nicky’s New York Sushi restaurant. – the food was decent but the highlight was the ‘secret’ 1930’s New York Bar hidden at the back. A very cool place that was like going back in time, you either have to dine at the restaurant or be a member to get in, no photos allowed so you will have to pay a visit yourself to appreciate it.
The next day we joined a free walking tour around the downtown area. We started from the top of the Avenida de Mayo (lots of things are named after May as they got independence from Spain on 25th May 1810) at the congress square and walked all the way down the avenue to the Plaza de Mayo.
Our guide was fun and informative and we learnt several things that were not in the guidebook as we walked past many of the cities key buildings. The most famous being the ‘Pink House’, which is Argentina’s equivalent of the white house but in Pink! The story goes that in harder times cows blood was used to paint the building, and they seem to like to make it pink especially at night.
Unfortunately we had to cut the tour short as it was raining heavily again, a theme of our first two days, but our guide recommended the Guerrin pizza restaurant nearby. We sampled the Fugazzetta Rellena, which is a BA take on pizza – double-crusted pie, filled with cheese and ham, and topped with mozzarella, oregano, and sliced onions. Awesome!
As it was still raining we went for a coffee at BA’s oldest café, Café Tortoni, having opened in 1858. We were recommended to visit here by several people and it’s a place where you can feel a bit of history, and the coffees not bad too!
In the evening we dined at the ‘Argentine Experience‘, which was a little touristy but interesting and very good fun. The experience is led by some locals where you join a small group and learn something of Argentine, which seems to heavily involve food! Firstly we made an Empanada, a traditional one, and a creative one – I made a bird, which was deemed the best and so I won a jar of Dulche de Leche (similar to caramel but made using condensed milk, it is used on everything in BA).
The main course was naturally steak, fillet steak lightly shallow fried in vegetable oil – one of the best steaks I’ve ever had! They taught us how to order a steak in Argentina as generally they will cook it longer than in Europe so it is best to order medium-rare (jugoso) if you want medium (a punto). Of course this was all washed down with plenty of Argentine wine, Malbec being my personal favourite.
After the main course we drank some Mate (pronounced Mat-ehh), which is a strong and bitter tea that the locals sip all day long from a container that looks like a bong through a metal straw – an acquired taste, but I quite liked it. Desert were self made Alfajores, a thick helping of Dulche de Leche sandwiched between two vanilla biscuits, rolled in coconut and dipped in chocolate – heavenly.
It was a really fun experience, we met some nice people and I would say it is worth the hefty price. Unfortunately we had to be up early the next day, not helped by drinking to much wine the night before, as we caught a ferry from BA to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. This quaint little town on the banks of the Rio de la Plata (River Plate) is only 1 hour on the ferry, but it’s a world away from the busy streets of BA – it’s like going back in time.
After a few hours walking around the chilled out streets, enjoying a nice cafe, having a little walk on a sandy beach (unfortunately the weather was not nice enough for sunbathing), and admiring the colonial era architecture we took a bus to Montevideo (2-3 hours away). Since visiting Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, 7 years ago with Russ I have been really keen to come back, the main draw for me is the barbecues of the Mercado del Puerto (Port market). Unfortunately though it’s only open until 5pm so I had to wait till the next day to satisfy my cravings. However, Montevideo is a nice enough place to spend a day or two, it’s much smaller and less busy than BA, and has a nice promenade for a walk around the shore.
We stayed overnight in a grand hotel, Hotel Palacio from another era in the Old Town and had a nice meal of Chivito (a thinly sliced steak sandwich) and a few drinks in a nearby restaurant – it felt like a holiday from a holiday! Next morning we visited the Andes Museum, which provides an insight into the amazing story of a plane crash in the high Andes involving a Uruguayan rugby team 1972. If you have seen the film Alive you will already know something of the story, but the well presented museum brought it to life with lots of survivor stories and artefacts from the crash site.
At lunch time it was time to visit the Market, and I was not disappointed as it had not changed much since my last visited. The smell of the meat grilling over burning logs is amazing! There’s nothing fancy here, you are served by grizzly men with stained aprons, but that’s part of the chrm. I love that you can pull up a stool at the bar of one of the grills and order whatever takes your fancy – the problem is that everything looks so good!
We opted for beef ribs (which I remembered from last time), pork sausage, grilled pepper, and a grilled cheese. It was soooo good!
Sadly you can only eat so much, and we had to leave, but it is great when something lives up to your memories, and I already can’t wait to go back again! After a little walk around the promenade we took the bus back to Colonia and caught the ferry back to BA, arriving in the late evening we opted to have an early (by BA standards) night.
Time flies when you are having fun and the last day of the trip soon came around. After another nice breakfast in the hotel we walked around Palmero and found a nice cafe serving great coffee on a leafy street. It would be nice to spend a day just watching the world go by, but sadly we didn’t have time to waste. We visited the historical San Telmo district, near the city centre, which has cobbled streets, colonial houses, and a nice antique/souvenir market. For lunch we had a Choripan from a little grill at the back of the market, which I would highly recommend – amazing Chimmichurri.
Later we had a look a little stroll along the El Caminito in La Boca, one of the cities poorest neighbourhoods. The El Caminito is a bit touristy but it’s colourful houses and vibrant cafes make it worth a visit.
As the sun was setting we walked along the 12-lane Avenida 9 da Julio (one of the widest city streets in the world) to the Obelisk that commemorates the 400th anniversary of the cities founding.
In the evening back in Palermo we enjoyed a few drinks and a final Empanda – a fitting end to our trip. Yesterday, with heavy hearts (and stomachs!) we took the long flight home, via Sao Paulo and Amsterdam. BA is a great place, we absolutely loved it and already plan to come back – hopefully we can see a bit more of Argentina too, I’m really keen to visit Patagonia.
p.s. Looking back through the photos I realise we ate a lot – the detox starts tomorrow!