Let’s start with the unbelievable food.
Many have heard about the beef in Argentina. Delicious cuts of beef, chicken, and pork flow abundantly throughout this city. There’s something about the basic flavoring – mainly, a ton of salt – that just brings out the juicy, tender quality of each cut. From the hole in the wall, to the high class restaurants, it is rare that you will find a bad piece of beef unless it hasn’t been cooked the way you’ve asked, which unfortunately, happens more often than not.
The other evil, not-so-well-kept secret that Buenos Aires has to offer is the amount of sugar and sugar-infused desserts and pastries that are literally everywhere you turn. It’s not uncommon to have little mini-sugar-glazed croissant-like pastries for your breakfast accompanied by a coffee with milk. And let’s not forget the fact that dulce de leche (you know, that caramel-like substance, only better) is in EVERYTHING!! Can you imagine a little croissant-like pastry with dulce de leche in it??? Heaven! They’re horribly addictive – and contain about 500 calories in each one – without the dulce de leche. Additionally, you see many Latinos walking around with thermoses and little gourds that are filled with a dried grass substance, that substance to the untrained eye, looks like it could be something illegal. It’s actually their mate tea, which they drink everywhere. AND, since it’s hard on the stomach…what do you usually eat with it? Pastries, of course!
Bread…so…much…bread. At every meal, there’s bread. Argentina is carbohydrate hell. Breads, pastas, pizzas, polenta…And being a mirror, in the sense of culinary havens such as Italy, these carbs specific to Argentina are not necessarily completely healthy. However, just like many Italians, the Argentines are generally surprisingly thin.
While guide books may tell you that Buenos Aires is a diverse culinary scene, I can tell you after having grown up in the multicultural melting pot of Toronto, it is not. Greek food? One restaurant that’s only half authentic. Indian? Only one place that I’ve found that actually has an Indian Chef. Sushi? Well honestly, for a place that’s on a supposed “river” it’s hit or miss. Seafood is horribly lacking in variety and flavor, unless you pick up your own fish in Chinatown and cook it yourself. AND, unless you can spend the time cooking at home, making something from scratch, you will generally find the same dishes offered in restaurants no matter where you go: beef, chicken, pasta, schnitzels (which they call milanesas) and sandwiches with ham intruding in just about every single dish.
I can’t recall back in Canada noticing drastic price changes in food like I’ve seen here. After being here for four years, I can actually say to someone “Hey, I remember when the same dinner here, 3 years ago, cost half the price it does now!” To which the usual response is just a blank stare and a “Whaaat?” I mean, I remember when two people could eat two filet mignon steaks (known here as bife de lomo), a salad, French fries, a bottle of wine (perhaps 2), water and even, dessert – all for the low price of about 30 bucks. Today, a meal like that would cost at least 100 bucks or more! In one restaurant where I used to pay 300 pesos to eat dinner with dessert, I recently paid 1000 pesos without dessert (that’s about 200 dollars). Now, with hole in the wall places, it’s still pretty cheap for your eats, but you have to be careful about the quality. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sick from food – street food, restaurant food, home-cooked food – you name it, I’ve been sick from it. And as far as eliminating certain things from my diet (such as meat), it gets to be quite difficult as vegetarian options in a primarily meat-fueled food industry are few and far between.
So, forget trying to be on a diet here (see my reference to CARBS) or trying to get something healthy on the go. If you’re in a rush, there are few healthy food options unless you’re downtown and can afford to pay 80 pesos (15 bucks) for a sandwich that isn’t ham and cheese. As for cooking at home, you can easily spend 20 bucks just on buying eggs, bread, milk and some cookies. Every day, one can notice 5 cent differences in prices of items in a store. It’s depressing. Suddenly, your 20 bucks doesn’t go so far, especially if you need a specialty item like olive oil, cheese or, even, a can of tuna. A portion of beef or chicken isn’t exactly affordable now either. It used to be a couple of bucks, now it’s about 6 or 7. And fruit…pfffft forget the fruit.
All in all, prices these days are in competition with North American and Europe, but wages are still kept pretty low. While I have some Canadian cash coming in, most of my pay comes to me now in pesos and since the peso doesn’t go very far, eating in Argentina, especially in Buenos Aires, can be rather challenging. You definitely have to wonder how families that don’t make much money manage to eat, especially when the price of basic staples like bread and meat have skyrocketed in such a short period of time with no sign of dropping anytime soon. My recommendation is: If you come this way, come for the steak, stay for the asado (Argentine barbeque that’s basically cooking a whole cow), but run away from the prices.