Ahhâ€¦Argentina, the land of the gaucho, the land of beef. What better place in the world than to dine and to dine in style, especially provided that the exchange rate that for North American guarantees the highest quality meals for prices a third of those in the United States. Though my four weeks in Buenos Aires have left me far shy of a restaurant connesur and goddess of Argentine food, let me share with you what Iâ€™ve learned.
Breakfast in Buenos Aires is light, typically medialunes or some other sweet pastry, a shot glass of expressed orange juice, a shot glass of fizzy water, and a foamy cup of cafĂ© con leche. This meal is taken with a newspaper in a cafĂ©. Donâ€™t expect to find many cafĂ©â€™s open before 7 a.m. and many more open only after 8. Like any meal in Buenos Aires, donâ€™t expect to scarf down your food and fly out the door or take your food to go (hardly anyone here eats on the streets). If pressed for time, try a McCafe, the Argentine adaptation of Americaâ€™s McDonalds.
Lunch is taken between noon and 2 p.m. and is again taken in a cafĂ©. Most cafĂ©â€™s boast similar affairâ€˘panini sandwiches, ham and cheese sandwiches or simply cheese sandwiches on crustless, flat bread. Those of heftier appetite can seek refuge in the larger cafes or small resteraunts who will often all serve some form of Italian pasta and pizza, offer some form of a salad (be wary that in ordering salads you must specify each ingredientâ€¦ if you say youâ€™d like a salad with tomatoes, you will literally be given a bowl of sliced tomatoes), and meaty sandwiches. If youâ€™re on the run, bakeries often sell small sandwiches, meat or vegetable tarts, empanadas, tiny pasteries filled with anything from cheese and onions to barbequed beef (think tiny calzone), or bastoncitos, similar to empanadas but rolled up like tiny burritos.
A light snack is often taken in the late afternoon (between 4 and 6 p.m.) because dinner isnâ€™t served even to the earliest of eaters until after 8 p.m. Expect most restaurants to be at full capacity by 10 p.m. Your dinner experience in Buenos Aires depends entirely on where you are dining on any given evening. Scattered throughout the city are small and large Italian restaurants serving every imaginable kind of pasta with every imaginable sauce. Vegetarians are in the small minority of this society, so expect massive quantities of meat anywhere you go. For those vegetarians among us, never fear, meatless meals are surprisingly more abundant in Argentina than America. Greek, Mexican, Indian, Armenian, Chinese, American (TGI Fridaysâ€¦), and more can be found in Buenos Aires, but be sure to expect a few things: 1. You will always have to ask for pepper and 2. Your food will never be as spicy as it should be.
While dining, a service charge is often included to cover the bread and butter you eat at the table. Do not confuse this charge with a tip. It is common in Buenos Aires to leave a ten percent tip. No more is necessary, though if you feel your service or dining experience has been particularly pleasing (and many of your dining experiences will be) feel free to leave more.
As far as cooking your own foods, my warning is to be wary of the meat you purchase as it is brought into most of the meat markets in the back of an open dump truck style vehicle that is filled with various cuts of meat. The meat may be fresh, but do cook it well.