Breakfast is minimal, lunch is leisured, you eat snacks in late afternoon and sit down to dinner at 10 or 11 p.m.: Argentina has a patient daily meal pattern it borrowed from Spain. As for what makes it to the table, it’s the fulfillment of a very old European fantasy. Since Paleolithic times, men and women of the Northern Hemisphere have lusted for meat, so they created a carnivore's nirvana in the vastness of the Southern one. With its vast grazing lands known as the pampas, Argentina was the place where the Spanish lived out their dreams of nearly unlimited meat and its byproducts. Even dulce de leche is a strategy for turning huge quantities of milk into a dark, shiny pomade, ubiquitous in Argentina. And as for the local pizza—it’s pretty much an excuse to consume copious semiliquid gobs of high-fat cheese. Here are the top three things I ate over a Thanksgiving week my husband and I spent in Buenos Aires with friends. (Big nod to Robert Sietsema, who inspired me with his own list.)
BIFE DE CHORIZO MARIPOSA Asador—barbecue—is more than a meal option; it’s an expression of culture. Suburban houses, apartment rooftops, social clubs attached to fútbol pitches and basketball courts—all have rambling, built-in, charcoal-burning parrillas (grills). There’s a particular order to the meats you get from a parrilla. You start with offal (sweetbreads, kidneys, blood sausage), then move on to the meats proper: entraña (skirt steak), vacio (flank), ojo de bife (rib-eye). The cut here is bife de chorizo (no relation to the sausage), the sirloin strip or top loin, in this case mariposa (butterflied). Most beef is grass-fed (sadly, that’s changing)—it’s leaner than American meat, with distinct meat fibers and the ghost of blood in the taste. This one is from La Lechuza (pictured), a venerable social club that exists off the radar in the Palermo neighborhood.
CHORIPAN The commonest expression of Buenos Aires street food is choripan, sausages of pork (or pork and beef) grilled over charcoal and dropped onto split bread. Choripan stands exist outside city parks, but the best version I tried came from a parking lot on La Defensa for the San Telmo Sunday market. El Rey de Chori cranks out grilled Portuguese linguiça on soft-crumbed Italian rolls. What makes El Rey truly the king of choripan is the condiments available for slathering: an aged chimichurri (brick-red rather than green, pictured above), salsa criolla (sort of like pico de gallo), caramelized onions, and my favorite, pickled eggplant with pale green, Gypsy-like peppers (pictured). You can guzzle glasses of cheap Argentine wine. And if you’re as lucky as I was, a roving Brazilian samba band will happen to be jamming out in the street while you eat.
PIZZA DE MOLDE The Village Voice’s Robert Sietsema called Buenos Aires New York’s pizza rival, and he’s right. Except that the classic Argentine pizza called de molde (deep-dish, essentially) is fundamentally unlike American pizza. The author of Buenos Aires’s English-language food blog Pick Up the Fork kicked up a minor shit storm two years ago when she admitted to hating the local pizza. I loved it, at least the pizza I had at Las Cuartetas on Avenida Corrientes, in the Argentine capital's equivalent of Times Square. In the U.S., we judge a pizza largely by its crust; in Buenos Aires, pizza de molde stands or falls by the amount and quality of the cheese piled into its precooked crust and baked. It’s called muzzarella, but the yellowish, buttery, wonderfully liquid stuff in the pizza you see here was more like burrata (I suspect the cheese Cuartetas uses is, in fact, cremoso, a muzzarella upgrade). A charming oddity of traditional pizza de molde: You eat it with faina, wedges of chickpea-flour pancake (pictured, left), essentially the socca of Provence.
Photos by John Birdsall