To discover the charm of this vibrant city, slow down.
Argentina’s capital is a beautiful mix of chaos, intensity, frustration, and love. Foreigners are drawn to this city for the romance, the tango, the wine; but after living here for a while, it’s the subtler things that keep you intrigued.
While it takes a bit of patience to enjoy it, I will never get bored of the people, the crazy never ending streets, and the food of Buenos Aires. It is a city I love to hate and hate to love, all whilst being driven crazy in my love of it.
Argentina has had a rough and chequered history, most people today having lived through a political and economic roller coaster. I admire porteños— as people born in this port city call themselves— for their characteristically easygoing attitude, despite living on this roller coaster. Their relaxed and friendly demeanour is born from a need to be flexible with whatever the government throws at them. Today, residents struggle through a yearly inflation rate of more than 40 percent and a history of unpredictable economic conditions, rising prices and recurring crises.
One of the best places to get a sense of this imperfect history, along with the warmth and charm of the city, is in the old barrio of San Telmo. The crooked cobblestone streets are littered with both the old and the new; centuries-old facades at every turn housing trendy micro-breweries or coffee houses.
The global food scene is slowly coming to Buenos Aires, with an influx of eastern and western restaurants. Heisenburger creates gourmet burgers served in a Breaking Bad themed restaurant and Fukudo Noodle Bar serves absolutely delicious Ramen. These exist alongside traditional corner restaurants with white-haired men playing cards or dominoes over half-empty bottles of Malbec.
For a truly spectacular evening of grilled delicacies and creative accompanying dishes, follow in the footsteps of Argentine presidents and the likes of Fidel Castro, Diego Maradona, Bill Clinton and many more, for a night of grass-fed certified Angus and Kobe beef at La Cabaña. (Read my review of La Cabana here.)
Sometimes though, it’s even more satisfying to have a juicy Bife de Chorizo (Sirloin steak) in a no-frills parrilla like Lo De Bebe, a popular restaurant in the barrio of Palermo. Many areas, such as Plaza Serrano, are filled with restaurants where you can spend less than 200 Argentine pesos ($14AUD) on a satisfying dinner with various cuts of meat, simple side salads, and plenty of Malbec- enough to please even the hungriest of carnivores.
Walking the streets, many of the restaurants are overflowing with patrons. Extra tables are quickly set up for those without reservations and the vibrant hum of chatter and laughter reverberates along the streets. The locals know how to eat and do so regularly. The real magic is in the patient, relaxed art of eating and connecting for hours over quality food and drink.
The influence of the city’s Italian history is everywhere— you can see it in the colours splashed across the walls, hear it in the rapid mumble of Castellano (Argentine Spanish) and taste it in the local restaurants serving homestyle classics such as Milanesas, Fideos and of course, Pizza.
The view of the city itself is a chaotic mixture of colours, sounds and flavours; each barrio with it’s own authenticity. Stroll through La Boca and its colourful houses, San Telmo and its uneven cobblestone streets, Once and its barrage of street vendors, Palermo and its beautiful tree-lined lakes, and for the best view of it all; the top floor of the Palacio Barolo. For a more active way to see the city, go on a running adventure with Urban Running Tours or a cycling tour with Biking Buenos Aires.
The Recoleta Market and San Telmo Market are great weekend fairs for strolling, admiring and buying all sorts of goodies. But topping the list of must-do’s is the Feria de Mataderos. Here, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled to another Argentine province or time period.
Take part in what’s sure to be one of everyone’s favourite pastimes- wine tasting. The intimate setting at Pain et Vin is sure to please, the husband-and-wife duo Ohad Weiner and Eleonora Jezzi Riglos leading you on a journey through the vineyards of Argentina by way of your palate for only 400 Argentine pesos ($30AUD).
Despite the hustle of the city, porteños live for slowing down to drink coffee, wine or maté (a communal loose-leaf tea). How you drink your mate is seasonal, but it should always be enjoyed with friends. During spring and autumn, sit in the park and enjoy the sunset huddled up in a blanket, sharing a mate and chatting about your day. In summer, sit by the pool sharing a re-invigorated version of mate with sugar or juice.
So slow down. Walk, Talk, Eat and Drink your way around the city and appreciate the leisurely pace within the chaotic streets. Buenos Aires’ charm may take it’s time, but once it has struck, it will be forever in your heart.