I was in Buenos Aires more than two years ago. I spent a few weeks more than I intended to because all my documents and electronics, and most of my t-shirts and underwear were stolen. But that’s a story for a different day! I’m here now to tell you about the amazing food. It was so great that I made notes!
A friend who lives in Buenos Aires told me about a reasonably priced sandwich place in the middle of Buenos Aires, rumoured to be run by ex-convicts. I went there after one of my many trips to the Indian embassy and loved it. All the sandwiches were…I think the best words to describe them are honest and good: the bread crunchy, the meat perfectly cooked, and the lettuce crisp.
There was drama too. Every sandwich would slide down the glass counter, like you were the hero visiting a saloon in an old western. The servers and cooks were quick and efficient, smiling and talking to the regulars while also not wasting a single second in getting the sandwiches out.
I kept going back to the place. Every three days, I would walk around the city centre taking in the sights, sounds, and protests of Buenos Aires, and end up in Cafe Paulin. I would order a sandwich, stare at the people around me for a minute (sometimes less) before my sandwich would zoom down towards me, surfing the glass on its porcelain plate, helped along by the servers when there seemed to be a danger of stopping. The guy who I ordered from would stop it right in front of my face, magically knowing it had arrived even though his focus was on making a sandwich for someone else.
Who among you has imagined onions and cheese on pizza? Well the Argentinians have. I’m sure the onions have to be cooked just-so, and the cheese has to be of a particular saltiness and melted perfectly, and the result is just amazing. The pizza-bread itself is soft and thick, easily winning the Oscar for best supporting actor for its role on this pizza.
The place itself is amazing, almost every inch of the wall covered with photos of rockstars, musicians, and footballers. At the counter near the front of the restaurant are locals standing and eating their slice, probably on a short break from work their busy lives, eating their slice of pizza and drinking their Coke, not paying attention to the taste anymore, taking for granted the comfort of being in a place they have been to a thousand times before. The waiters move efficiently around them and amongst the tables in the seating area. They don’t make much of an effort to be friendly, though questions are always answered, but briskly.
After you have relished your lunch or dinner of a slice or two of the onion-and-cheese pizza (there are about a fifty other options on the menu, but there’s no need to look at any of them), washed down with a Coca Cola, the choice of dessert is upon you. There again is but one choice: the flan. You don’t need ice cream, ice cream is for cowards and tourists. Just take a spoon of that wobbly brown-cream thing into your mouth and feel it as it vanishes into sugary-sweet nothingness in your mouth.
The flan demands a coffee, so order an espresso and though the coffee is just okay, it’s still great because it fits in so perfectly with everything else.
Las cabreras (?): the steak!
The steak I ate here still remains the most expensive dish I have ever ordered, and it was 50% off, based on a very interesting offer: you had to get in when the doors opened at 7 PM and had to be out by 8 PM, when the rich diners would start trickling in for their fancy meals.
This wasn’t the first time I was seeing Kobe beef on a menu, but it certainly was the first time I ordered it. It had been too expensive before, and it still was. But hey, as the saying goes, when in a place you love, you eat at least one expensive meal.
There were six of us that day; me and some friends I had met while hiking in the South of Chile.
We all ordered steak, though some of us didn’t go all the way to Kobe beef. In about ten minutes, the steak finally arrived to the table, accompanied by mashed potatoes, a salad with some vegetables that I don’t recall, and of course a glass of wine.
To put it lightly, that meal was perfect! I am not an expert on meat, or even food in general, but that medium-rare steak was awesome. Chewy, juicy, soft,…,you could keep throwing adjectives of pleasure at that meat and they would all stick.
When I lived in the United States, the Chicago-style hot dog, with its jalapeños and mustard, was my favourite. I enjoyed the myriad styles of Japanese hot dogs available in Seattle.
While travelling through Europe, I ate and loved the German Currywurst in Berlin, loving the different style of ketchup, the clearly-better-than-the-US sausages, and the reminds-you-of-chat-masala powder they sprinkled on top.
But, in Buenos Aires, I met the true king of the sausage-in-bread kingdom of dishes: the Choripan.
Toasted bun, sausage cut lengthwise and fried for a brief moment, fresh toppings and a good variety of sauces: a party of flavours! I don’t drink cold drinks with many things, but the Choripan demands a Coca Cola, and you’ll find it difficult to refuse.
However, not all Choripan is the same. There are many stalls on the esplanade by the river and not even all the stalls are the same. The toppings and the quality of the meat vary, based on what must be the sincerity and the passion of the people running the stall.
Here are some things you can look out for to make sure you get the best Choripan:
- Where you can see multiple sauces that are made, not only in bottles
- Where there are fresh-cut onions and cilantro
- Where there are jalapeños (pickled is fine)
It’s okay to have a few bad, and a few mediocre Choripans , because then you’ll know and appreciate the good one when you dig your teeth into it.
Yes, this burger joint is just called Burger Joint.
Great, toasted buns that hold their own as you eat your way through deliciously cooked meat and toppings. Good beer and of course, great fries. A burger place that doesn’t make good fries is a waste of time.
Hipster-y look notwithstanding, I kept returning to this joint. Every burger I tried was great, including the vegetarian one (or two). From what I remember, the sole burger with blue cheese was my favourite.
Latte n Te
Coffee and Tea in a nice cafe. In every city that I stay for more than a few days, I find a cafe that I then go to regularly (almost religiously). This was my comfort spot in Buenos Aires. It’s the kind of place where you can find good coffee, a Philip K Dick novel and Monopoly.
The food was here okay, but just being there felt like sitting in the middle of literary history.
Since my Kindle was stolen, I had bought books by Argentinian authors to read while I was in Buenos Aires. One of those was Julio Cortazar, whose book Hopscotch is what this website is named after! The other was Josef Luis Borges, who was one of the pioneers of Science and Speculative Fiction in the world. He wrote in this very cafe, and one of those three sculptures in the pictures above is of him!
The Japanese Restaurant of my Birthday
According to the original plan for my South America trip, I was supposed to be back in India for my birthday. But, my backpack was stolen along with my passport and I had to spend a few extra weeks waiting for my new passport from an inefficient, but sincere Indian embassy.
On my birthday, I was taken out to dinner by two friends I had met in El Bolson, Argentina (story coming up at a later date, I suppose). We went to a Japanese fusion restaurant that I can’t remember the name of, but the food was excellent. It was a very fancy restaurant — everything, from the tables to the clothes on the customers looked really expensive.
Side Note: In India, I’ve been turned away from more than one place because I’ve been wearing Chappals, or shorts, or jeans, or a T-shirt. This never happened in South America; everyone was relaxed about these things, and there was a comfortable atmosphere of no-judgements everywhere I went.
Anyway, the food in this place where I ate two years ago was amazing! What I remember most now was the delicate, elegant sushi that we had for our first course.
It’s funny, isn’t it? We sat there for a few hours at least, eating great food, and chatting away freely. I don’t remember the dishes we ate, but I do remember a feeling of a simple joy — a spiritual comfort with myself, contentedness, and connectedness to the present moment around me.
What is the point of publishing this two years from the fact, you ask? Well, I don’t really have a good answer. I had the notes, I had time, I like to write, and so here is the entry!
If my website does attain a semblance of popularity, I will remove the dates from these entries and arrange them differently, so maybe this delay of two years doesn’t matter much.
But most important of all, if you’re in Buenos Aires, enjoy the pizza and the sandwiches and the meat and the Choripan!