Foto Ruta Photography Excursions

February 27, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Get clicking on a creative excursion in Buenos Aires

Walking around a city as photogenic as Buenos Aires without a camera can be a frustrating experience, and never more so than when you are overtaken by a man on a bicycle, talking on his mobile phone while simultaneously walking five variously sized dogs, their leads straining as they struggle to keep up. Watching him wobble down the cycle lane past picturesque old buildings covered in graffiti, even the least enthusiastic photographer will be gripped by the desire to capture the scene on camera.

For those hoping to hone their snapping skills while in town, Foto Ruta organizes photography-based weekly events that are one part photography workshop, one part (unguided) city tour.

Behind bars in Buenos Aires

[Photo credit: Foto Ruta Facebook page]

Snap happy

Each Saturday Foto-Ruta holds an afternoon excursion in that week’s nominated neighborhood, usually San Telmo, Palermo or Villa Crespo (check the diary page on the website for the schedule). It is a chance pick up some picture-taking tips and explore that area of city in the company of other photography enthusiasts, who range from SRL wielding semi-pros to point-and-click holiday snappers.

In the Villa Crespo neighborhood, the meeting place is a closed doors restaurant in a traditional ‘casa chorizo’ style house. Unassuming from the outside, the street entrance leads down a narrow passageway to a charming and character-filled space, setting the tone for a day of ‘getting under the city’s skin’; seeing beyond the superficial to capture the real essence of the neighborhood.

Buenos Aires mural

[Photo credit: Foto Ruta Facebook page]

Pre-photography boot camp

Seated around a table scattered with inspirational photography books, the first part of the day is an introduction to the neighborhood and a brief teaching session with Foto Ruta founders Becky from England and Joss from Canada, who is a professional photographer.

With the help of images taken at previous Foto Ruta events, Joss talked us through the concept for the day and gave some photography tips about lines, shape, viewpoint, pattern, movement, light, photographing people and so on – probably pretty basic stuff for some of the group, but all new to me. “The best camera is the one you have with you,” she said reassuringly, before sending us out onto the streets armed with a map and a list of words.

Your mission should you choose to accept it…

Our task was to explore the neighborhood in small groups and take photos that corresponded to 10 ‘clues’ – words or phrases such as ‘behind bars’ and ‘follow the leader’. The exercise has as much to do with concepts and creativity as photography skills, prompting us to use our imaginations. Becky and Joss describe it as ‘slow tourism’; the idea is to take your time, look closely and see the details that are so often missed when visiting a new city.

A dog crossing Avenida Corrientes in Buenos Aires barrio of Buenos Aires

[Photo credit: Foto Ruta Facebook page]

Once outside, we immediately began spotting potential shots all around us: a frustrated little boy in an Argentina shirt and superhero cape glaring angrily out onto the street from a gated passageway (‘behind bars’), a building almost entirely covered with ivy (‘connecting with nature’) and a labrador with a luminous bow in her hair crossing Avenida Corrientes (‘fluorescent female’). Working together to track down the clues while wandering around the neighborhood and stopping to chat to the people we asked to photograph, it felt like a completely fresh way of experiencing the city.

A Saturday shopper in the barrio of Villa Crespo in Buenos Aires

[Photo credit: Foto Ruta Facebook page]

From clicking cameras to chinking wine glasses

After two hours on the streets taking pictures, we reconvened in the closed doors restaurant to select the best shot to represent each clue from each group. While we selected and uploaded, we were served a glass of red or white wine, and finally we watched a slide show of the photos taken by each group, with feedback and comments from Joss. It was clear from the range of shots that we had all risen to the challenge and really captured the essence of Villa Crespo. So next time a leather-clad gaucho clutching a Starbucks frappuccino walks past me I’ll be ready.

Tips for photographing Buenos Aires from Foto-Ruta

In addition to the weekly event, Foto Ruta also holds Academia guided photography tours and iPhoneography tours in Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile.  To find out more go to http://foto-ruta.com/

For more articles about Foto Ruta, see Tim Fitzgerald’s post on the BBC Passport travel blog,  this post on The Argentina Independent, this report from the Buenos Aires Herald and this post by travel writer Michael Turtle.

Location of the neighborhood of Villa Crespo in Buenos Aires

El Tejano – BBQ in Buenos Aires

February 25, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Could the best American BBQ be in Buenos Aires?

El Tejano

The smoked meat hit my taste buds, I dropped my utensils, sat back in my chair and smiled. This progression of events occurred several times last week at El Tejano (The Texan) in Palermo. An East-Texan expat who landed in Buenos Aires seven years ago, El Tejano is introducing Buenos Aires to BBQ in a way I’ve never seen in the United States.

I’m no Anthony Bourdain, but I am a BBQ foodie. I’ve eaten brisket and ribs in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Florida. You could say I like it.

Buenos Aires boasts of its world-renowned steaks. Steak grilled on the parrilla (large, brick grill) is a staple here. Meat is never cooked on anything but a grill.

Smoked meat is an untold story in Buenos Aires, largely because it doesn’t exist. No restaurant in the entire city uses a smoker to cook its meat. Tejano built his own smoker. Thus, when I heard about his private dinners, I quickly contacted him. My expectations were high. El Tejano guaranteed the dinner would be all-you-can-eat. Given that my group of five hadn’t seen BBQ all year, barely ate all day and didn’t stop talking about our dinner for the week before, I doubted if we would actually have as much as we wanted.

Puerta Cerrada in Buenos Aires

El Tejano

We arrived at a beautiful, private dining room in Palermo Soho. Puerta Cerrada – closed door – dinners are a tradition in Argentina. Although often held in someone’s home, El Tejano serves his clients in the Anuva Wines tasting room.

We started off with homemade guacamole, hot sauce and corn chips – all three tough finds here – to appease our hunger. Shortly after, Tejano brought out a black-jalapeño cornbread with dill and pickles. Sweet cornbread with a small, spicy kick. Once the freshly-made coleslaw and sweet tea came to our table, I knew the meat had to be next. Expectations peaked, glands salivated and five friends waited in anticipation for a taste of home.

El Tejano

When Tejano walked the brisket to our table on a huge cutting board, my face froze in half-smile, half-jaw-on-the-floor. It was huge. He cut through the black outside and unveiled a perfect, pink-ringed brisket. Slow, wispy smoke billowed out. It was so tender, when Tejano cut it, the slices crumpled into little pieces. Paired with a sweet, hint-of-cinnamon BBQ sauce, the 8-hour-smoked brisket had excellent texture, flavor and color. My first servings quickly turned into seconds and thirds. It was only the beginning.

El Tejano

If I had any regrets, it was sprinting too soon into this marathon. I thought when we finished with the brisket, Tejano had run out. But I was happily wrong, as our empty cutting board was exchanged for a new one with another slab of brisket. This time we only got through half of it.

After my third serving of mouth-watering, smoked brisket and second of coleslaw, Tejano served us the pork ribs. Juicy, soft and flavorful come to mind. Although the BBQ sauce paired well with the brisket, the pork ribs stood better on their own. To aide our meat binge, Tejano gave our table a corn-bean-jalapeño salad that helped compliment the BBQ.

El Tejano

To put an exclamation point on our dinner, a creative, third meat – Matambre – finished the meal. Stuffed with green apples, cinnamon and onions, the Matambre was also “injected,” with Coca-Cola to break down the fat deposits and offer the cut a sweet, meaty taste. Matambre – which basically means “kill hunger” – is a fairly typical meat cut (similar to flank steak) in Argentina, and that’s exactly why Tejano uses it. With some creative design and additions, Tejano presents Argentine meat in a whole new light.

A wonderful glass of Malbec completed the marathon to BBQ heaven. Through the food, we really learned about a veteran expat…

The Man Behind the Meat

El Tejano

While serving endless portions of BBQ, Tejano, or Larry, detailed how he smoked the meat, made the cornbread and decided what to pair the BBQ with. This wasn’t just a waiter telling us the specials at a restaurant. It was a man explaining his passion. His electric smile glows while he describes smoking the meat and all the details involved. We had no idea what a black jalapeño was until he educated us on the pepper’s varieties and why he experimented with this one on his cornbread. We learned that growing up in Austin, Tex., BBQ wasn’t something he learned about, it was inherited, passed down through his family.

Larry also provided snippets of his life here in Buenos Aires. He moved here seven years ago after literally flipping a coin. One side meant a move to Chile, the other to Argentina. It landed on Argentina. Larry began serving private dinners earlier last year, and is hoping to do much more. He sells his own homemade hot sauce and wants to to have it manufactured in Argentina soon. The idea of a BBQ food truck in Los Bosques—the parks in Palermo—also interests him. Larry grows his own peppers in a green house in Buenos Aires. When he talks about his plans, clear ideas percolate in Larry’s mind at all times. His conviction, energy and enthusiasm make his customers his biggest supporters.

It’s his story that puts his BBQ over any other I’ve ever eaten. The food on its own will keep me coming back, but such a unique expat tale will interest any visitor to Buenos Aires.

The personal attention and stories, accompanied by an exceptional dinner of such an iconic, American food genre, make El Tejano stand out among food innovators in Buenos Aires. We left the dinner hungry on only one question: what will he do next?

To reserve a dinner with El Tejano

Website: www.eltejanoba.com.ar/events

e-Mail: info@eltejanoba.com.ar

Note: As with all “closed door” restaurants, El Tejano will send the exact dinner location upon booking.

Argentine Empanadas Unpacked

February 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Argentine Empanadas

Empanadas: flavorful pastry pockets

Empanadas (literally meaning wrapped in bread) are savory pastry pockets, filled with a variety of delicious stuffings.  As common as asadopizza, pasta, or alfajores, empanadas are a mainstay in the Argentine diet.  Oven baked (al horno) or deep fried (frito), they are served warm at parties and dinners alike and porteños frequently order empanadas via delivery, just as they might pizza.

Common Argentine empanadas and what to expect inside

In almost every restaurant that serves local fare, you can find at least three kinds of empanada on the menu.  Here are the most typical kinds,  typically named based on their fillings…

  • de carne = meat, baby! Consider this ground beef stuffing the number one seller in a country of carnivores.  Sometimes these even contain raisins, and go by the name “empanada de carne dulce”.  For a recipe, see below!
  • carne picada or carne cortada al cuchillo = also a meat pastry, but this time the beef is cut by knife.
  • carne suave vs carne picante = mild beef vs “spicy” beef (but not really all that hot – Argentine cuisine is not famed for its spicy food)
  • jamon y queso = ham and cheese.
  • caprese, or tomate y albaca = tomato, cheese (often Argentine mozzarella), and basil.
  • roquefort = blue cheese.
  • humita = the filling is based on a traditional dish from the north called humita.  Made of ground or shredded corn with a bit of milk, whole corn kernels, and sometimes onions or even bell pepper. Not to be confused with an empanada de choclo, which usually has whole sweetcorn kernels in a white sauce.
  • queso y cebolla = cheese and onion.
  • de pollo = very similar to the carne filling, but with chicken instead.
  • de verdura = literally “vegetables”, usually includes chard or spinach in a white sauce.
  • de champiñon = mushroom.
  • de atun = filled with tuna, sometimes onion, boiled egg, or celery (try them at Pizzeria El Cuartito on Talcahuano 937, and tell them Anthony Bourdain sent you!)
  • dulces = occasionally you’ll find a desert empanada, usually made with dulce de leche, but other popular fillings include fruits, nuts, and dulce de batata or dulce de membrillo, which are sweet potato or quince pastes.

These are most of the common empanadas, but chefs are known to create interesting combinations all the time.  Keep your eyes peeled for blue cheese, celery and walnut (roquefort, apio, y nuez); or pancetta and plum (panceta y ciruela).

Regional empanada differences

There are some regional differences in empanadas from various provinces of the country, from size to preparation to ingredients.

Empanadas salteñas from the Northern regions of Salta and Jujuy are filled with meat, potato, boiled egg, and chives.   Sometimes, they’re even made with llama meat!  They can be found farther north in Peru and Bolivia, known simply as Salteñas.  Many attribute their diffusion to Juana Manuela Gorriti, a woman writer from Salta who fled with her family to Bolivia during the Rosas regime in the mid-1800’s.

The story goes that she and her mother sold empanadas to survive in their early days of exile, though this is perhaps doubtful since she came from a family of high status, and went on to marry the President of Bolivia.  She eventually moved to Peru where she met with other important Latin American writers of her day and became an intellectual figure of her time.  The women of these nations still follow her culinary lead, but while the empanadas are universally called Salteñas, they are often quite different from the Argentine version.

Empanadas catamarqueñas or riojanas from the provinces of Catamarca and La Rioja are very garlicky, and usually made with goat meat.  From Córdoba, empanadas cordobesas are known to be sweet, since they come sprinkled with sugar and stuffed with raisins.  Empanadas sanjuaninas are probably so delectable because they’re prepared with lard; they also come with a whole olive in each empanada (watch out for the pit!) and are cooked in traditional wood ovens.  To try these out, El Sanjuanino on Sanchez de Bustamante and Santa Fe (and other locations) comes highly recommended.

In the subtropical regions of Corrientes and Misiones, empanada dough is made from cassava root flour, and it’s common to find exotic fillings like surubí or manduvé, two species of catfish; pacú, a relative of the pirana; or golden dorado.  In Entre Ríos, there is an empanada filled with arroz con leche, a rice pudding.  

In the provinces of Patagonia (Neuquén, Río Negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz, and Tierra del Fuego), the empanadas are most commonly filled with lamb, guanaco or fish and shellfish, especially mussels or even Southern King Crab (known as centolla).  Empanadas from these regions are prepared with white wine, making for a juicy filling and a thicker dough.

The people of Tucumán love empanadas so much, that every September they hold the National Empanada Festival.  They are quite traditional, sticking to only three kinds of empanada: matambre (rolled flank steak), chicken, and tripe!

There’s an interesting Argentine saying, “todo bicho que camina va a parar al asador”, which means any creature that walks will end up on the grill.  Empanadas are no exception to this rule, and any meat available is fair game.  That means armadillo, vizcacha, yacare caiman, carpincho or capybara rodent, and rhea can all be found rolled up in a turnover, somewhere.  But don’t worry, they (probably) won’t be served in a restaurant!

Making Empanadas the Argentine way!

Making Empanadas

Making empanadas is fun and you can stuff them with whatever tempts your taste buds!  The easiest route is to pick up some of the pre-made dough at the supermarket, then make your own filling.  But if you’re feeling really up to the challenge, try this recipe!

Easy Empanada Recipe

Empanada Dough:

  • 4 cups /500 grams of all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup /50 grams softened butter
  • 1/2 cup / 100cc of warm water
  • salt to taste
  • NOTE: If you wish to replace with whole-wheat flour, I recommend replacing half and adding a dash of lemon juice, plus extra water if the dough seems dry.

1.   Put all the flour into a big mixing bowl and form a crater in the center.  In a separate container, mix warm water with the butter and salt.  Pour the liquid mix into the center of the crater.

2.  Mix well, then knead until uniform.  Allow the dough to rest for at least 15-20 minutes in the refrigerator.  If you have the time, let it rest overnight.

3.  Flour your surface, then roll the dough a bit thicker than 1/4 inch.  Cut circles about the size of your hand from the dough.  Now you’re ready to fill the empanadas!

Beef Empanada Filling:

  • 1/2 kilo / 1 pound of ground beef
  • 2 big yellow onions
  •  7 grams / 1 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 pinch cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 50 grams / 1/2 cup of olives

1. Finely dice the onions while allowing enough oil to cover the onions heat in a medium to large saucepan.  When the oil is hot, add the onions and allow to saute until they are clear in color.

2. Add the meat and spices, and cook, stirring frequently.  Once the meat is cooked, remove the mixture from the heat.

3. Hard-boil two eggs.   While these are boiling, slice the olives however you like: or just leave them whole, but remember to remind the guests to watch out for pits!

4. Once the eggs are ready, slice them and add to the meat mixture.  If you have diced the olives, add those too.

TIP: If you’re very hungry, just allow the filling to cool before you stuff your empanadas.  But most Argentines actually let this mixture sit in the refrigerator for a day (or two…) before baking.  This helps the mix become uniform.

Meat Empanada recipe

Procedure:

  • Pre-heat the oven to a medium temperature.  In the center of each disc, add a heaping spoonful of filling, being sure to leave a generous margin.  Then fold the circle in half.
  • The hardest part can be folding the empanadas; if the sides don’t stick together, wet your finger with a touch of water and fully seal the edges.  Then, pinch a piece of the rim and fold it in towards the center.  To see how this braided closure works, check out some youtube videos!  And don’t get discouraged: most of these cooks have been practicing the “repulgue” fold for years.  Even inexperienced Argentines can find the process frustrating; note the concentration, below:

Empanada recipe

That’s my boyfriend’s brother, Claudio.  He gave up on folding empanadas after one try.  Don’t be like Claudio!  If you can’t manage any folds, try closing the seams with a fork.  Just make sure everything is tightly sealed, that way no juices spill out while cooking!  Fortunately, his mom and neighbor whizzed through the empanada preparation, and here’s a good example of the fold, below:

Folding Empanadas

  • If you like, you can brush the empanadas with a mix of equal parts egg yolk and water, and sprinkling the tops with sugar or parmesan cheese.
  • Once the empanadas are all prepared, into the oven!  Let them cook until slightly browned, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Allow to cool for as long as you can keep your hands off them, and enjoy!

If you’d like to make a traditional, vegetarian, humita empanada, try this recipe on the Seashells and Sunflowers blog.  For recommendations about where to find regional empanadas in the city, try Saltshaker, and don’t miss our review of Cumana Empanadas. Happy pastry sampling!

 

Top It Frozen Yogurt

February 20, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Buenos Aires: Is Fro Yo the new gelato?

Top-it-frozen-yoghurt
[Photo credit: from the Top It Facebook page]

At its hottest and most humid Buenos Aires can feel like a sauna and even a gentle stroll can leave you in serious need of a cooling pit-stop. But another ice cream? Really? Sometimes it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and if all those steaks and empanadas are making your waistband feel tight you might want to consider opting for a frozen yogurt from Top It in Palermo Soho. It’s fat and additive free and contains only 100 calories per portion.

top-it-cute-dog-buenos-aires
[Photo credit: from the Top It Facebook page]

You can’t top this

But a trip to Top It is not just for the pious. Not only is the frozen yogurt guilt free, it’s also delicious. There are only two flavors – original and a seasonal fruit flavor (e.g. peach or passion fruit) – but, as the name Top It suggests, the variety comes from the choice of toppings. Choose three or four revelations or the yogurt churning machine and then decide what you want on top. There are more than 20 different options, including fresh mango, kiwi, strawberry and chopped nuts.

Top-it-Palermo-Buenos-Aires
[Photo credit: from the Top It Facebook page]

Frozen Yoghurt delivery

You can order your frozen yogurt to take-away, enjoy the air conditioned coolness and eat inside the air conditioned shop in Palermo Soho with its bright seating area and shiny perspex covered walls, or bask in the sun on one of the pavement deckchairs. For those days when leaving the house is unappealing, there is also a delivery service. Top It has proved so popular since it opened in October 2010 that it is now available in two branches of sandwich joint Open Kitchen on Reconquista 620 and 1054 in the city center and there is talk of further branches. It seems like frozen yogurt is fast becoming the city’s newest (and fairly virtuous) addiction.

For more about Top It take a look at this post on the BSAS ARGENTINA blog.

Location of Top It in Palermo Soho

Top It Frozen Yogurt, Gorriti 4721 (near corner with Malabia), Palermo Soho

Telephone: 4833 2260,  Website: http://topit.com.ar/

Finding Borges

February 19, 2013 by · 9 Comments 

“A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.” – Jorge Luis Borges

Centro Cultural Borges

Several of Argentina’s icons and leaders have permanent places here in Buenos Aires. The country’s liberator, Don Jose de San Martin, lies in a tomb at the national cathedral, guarded every day by soldiers in historical uniform. The Evita museum pays respect to the life of Argentina’s most famous female figure. Xul Solar, an abstract painter, has 100 of his paintings on display at his former townhouse, now a museum.

The list goes until Jorge Luis Borges, the literary giant who mused about labyrinths, eternity and felines. His short stories and poetry will undoubtedly be read, analyzed and admired for decades. When I flipped through tourist books, nothing notable is mentioned about a Borges museum, or a place dedicated to his legacy. Channeling my inner literary nerd, I sought out to find an homage to Borges.

Borges’ San Telmo Office

A helpful New York Times article on Borges gave me a general outline of places to visit (some places mentioned – like the Confiteria Richmond – unfortunately no longer exist). I first ventured to San Telmo to the former National Library, now the National Center of Music, where Borges served as its director in 1955. Located at Mexico 564, the old National Library seems out of place. The building appears too grand and too big for such a quiet street. When I walked in, the magnificent architecture immediately struck me. A place worthy of Borges!

National LIbrary

My hopes to see Borges’ old office and the library were dashed when the front desk informed me the museum was under renovation until February for a new exhibit. Borges is still very much a part of the building today. From October to December, French artist Christian Boltanski paid tribute to Borges at the library with his “Flying Books,” exhibit, where he suspended hundreds of opened books from the ceiling. Although I didn’t attend, the exhibit gave the building a surreal image.

National Library Inside

Next to the National Library is El Historico, an upscale Argentine restaurant housed in the former building of the Argentine Society of Writers. The restaurant was practically empty for lunch hour in January, which allowed me to look around. Walking through the first doorway on the right, I saw an old plaque of the Society’s board of directors, 1942-1944. A Sr. Jorges Luis Borges is listed a few names down.

Borges Plaque

I walked back to Avenida de Mayo and took the A Line, the oldest subway line in the Southern Hemisphere, which connects to the C line going to Retiro. I got off at Plaza San Martin, which is a short block from one of Borges’ old apartments where he lived intermittently for 40 years. Located at Maipu 994, and closed off to the public, I was only able to take pictures of the outside. The doorman informed me that Borges lived on the sixth floor. I asked if he knew of any places where I could find a good collection of Borges work, and he suggested the Centro Cultural Borges in the Galerias Pacifico mall. I was certain he was fooling me. A Borges center in a shopping mall? With too much time on my hands, I went with low expectations.

Centro Cultural Borges—A Pleasant Surprise

Upon arriving at Galerias Pacifico, bustling shoppers surrounded me on their way to the next high-end clothing store. Ugh. I asked an information desk about this “Centro Borges,” and the receptionist told me to go to the top floor. I continued on, certain I was wasting my Borges afternoon in a packed mall.

Evita

Opened in 2003, the Centro Cultural Borges is an incredibly pleasant surprise. It is the closest place Buenos Aires has to a museum for him. On the top floor of the Galerias Pacifico, which is in a beautiful, French-style building, is the Centro. It’s so quiet I quickly forgot I was in a mall. There’s a room dedicated to the life and work of Borges, and several other rooms that host paintings of famous artists and photographers. Painter Diego Torres currently has a collection of his brilliantly colored paintings of famous women on display (above, Evita). An impressive exhibit of photographs by Tina Modotti occupies another gallery room.

The room dedicated to Borges has a few original pages of the transcript from “The Aleph,” arguably his most famous work. Several of his famous quotes adorn the white plaster walls too. The front page of La Nacion, a respected newspaper, from the day Borges died is framed. He covered nearly the entire page. One wall lists many important Borges places in Buenos Aires – old apartments, offices, cafes he frequented – along with interesting facts. For instance, at his apartment Anchorena 1672, where Borges lived from 1938-43, he wrote the short story “Las Ruinas Circulares.” Although born in an apartment at Tucuman 838, Borges spent his childhood at his grandparents house in Palermo at Serrano 2135, a street that is now named in his honor.

Sitting at Borges’ desk

Jorge Luis Borges

[*Update April 2016 – Unfortunately the bookstore La Ciudad mentioned below has now closed. We are adding this note to save people from a wasted journey, but are leaving the original text below so as not to take away from the article*]

For my last stop, I went back to Calle Maipu to check out La Ciudad bookstore, a place Borges was a regular at, according to the New York Times article. Tucked into a small shopping gallery (the Galeria del Este at Maipu 971), La Ciudad maintains its antique atmosphere very well. A desk covered with old editions of Borges’ work welcomes visitors.

When I walked in, a bookstore clerk suggested I sit at the desk. Worried he thought I was buying a very expensive Borges book, I made it clear I only came to look. The clerk waved off my concern, pulled the chair out and asked me to sit. The old wooden chair wobbled and creaked as I lowered into it. I thought it might break. The clerk pointed to the picture frame on the desk. I looked closely and sure enough, it was an old, frail Borges sitting in the exact same chair. I smiled from ear to ear, completely ecstatic. However small, I felt some connection with him, sitting in his old chair.

Borges Apartment

I began my trek to find an homage to Borges with a simple narrative: there’s got to be one place out there where I can spend the afternoon admiring his work. The architect of literary labyrinths and infinite time probably shook his head at me from his heavenly library. Borges was known for aimlessly strolling around Buenos Aires. With a little imagination, it’s not difficult to picture him walking out of the National Library, La Ciudad or his apartment on Maipu.

In “The Aleph,” he describes an anonymous house on a random corner in the neighborhood of Constitucion where the Aleph resides as, “the only place on earth where all places are.” Such symbolism seems to have carried over from his fiction to his legacy. Infinity, and Borges, can exist anywhere.

Borges’ cosmic literary concepts cannot be held in a museum. Yes, the Centro Cultural Borges does a good job of commemorating his life, but it’s also a platform for other artists. To find Borges, I needed to weave my way through my own labyrinth, not only visiting scheduled places, but asking around, getting lost and discovering the city he loved.

Other places to visit on the Borges trail

  • Cafe Tortoni: oldest cafe in the city. It has a wax statue of Borges sitting in a chair. Located on Avenida de Mayo near the corner of Suipacha.
  • El Preferido: opened in the 1950s, Borges mentions it in one of his poems. Located on the corner of Jorge Luis Borges and Guatemala, it’s become a famous restaurant because of its ties to Borges. The place remains much like it did during Borges time (minus the English menu). It’s the pink building, which dates back to the 19th century.
  • Jorge Luis Borges International Foundation: Run by Borges’ widow, Maria Kodama, the foundation has several of Borges first edition books in several languages. But, you can only visit the foundation by appointment and its hours are 9:30am-2pm daily. Located at Anchorena 1660 in Recoleta.

Map with some Borges locations mentioned in this blog post

Arkakao Gelato, Buenos Aires

February 15, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Classy ice-cream for discerning customers

arkakao-recoleta-icecream

[Photo credit: Arkakaó Facebook page]

Arkakao is the smartest ice-cream joint in town. Here your gelato (Italian ice cream) will be delivered to your table by an elegantly dressed waiter complete with white starched shirt and waistcoat, who afterwards will present you with a tiny towel that expands when wet with which to wipe your sticky hands. Chandeliers complete the ice-cream boutique experience. This is a place for people who take gelato eating and afternoon tea drinking seriously. Somewhere to keep in mind for a treat for most of us, but possibly an ordinary afternoon outing for certain well-heeled Recoleta residents.

arkakao-italian-gelato-buenos-aires

[Photo credit: Arkakaó Facebook page]

Authentic Italian gelato in Buenos Aires

Arkakao is the Argentinean version of Kakao, a luxury ice cream parlor, chocolateria and tea salon in Aosta, northern Italy. The Italian owners of Kakao decided to open a branch in Rosario, the home of Argentina’s largest Italian community and now they have a third store, the Buenos Aires branch on Quintana 188, in the heart of Recoleta.

The ice cream is additive and preservative free and made fresh everyday, so you’ll never be served yesterday’s leftovers (which begs the question, what happens to the leftovers? Could this be the best place to work in the city?).  Aside from the dairy products used, many of the ingredients are imported from Italy, which, according to Arkakao is the country where the best hazelnuts (Piemonte), pistachios (Sicily) and chocolate (Torino) are produced.

arkakao-gelato-buenos-aires

[Photo credit: Arkakaó Facebook page]

Recoleta Flavor conundrum

Just when you thought you were finally getting the hang of the names of all those flavors in Spanish, in Arkakao the gelato is labelled in Italian. If you get really confused, use it as an excuse to taste your way around the different flavours on offer. As well as cups and cones, you can order Banana Split, fruit cup, coffee, hot chocolate and ice cream frappe made with any flavor you like. But if the choice on offer overwhelms you, take our advice and go for chocolate orange – sublime.

Arkakao Gelato, Quintana 188 (near corner with Montevideo), Recoleta

Website: www.arkakao.com.ar, Telephone: 4813-7585

National Museum of Fine Arts

February 8, 2013 by · 2 Comments 

A day of art and history at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

National Fine Arts Museum Argentina

The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (MNBA), or the National Museum of Fine Arts, should be a destination on the route of every traveler who comes to Buenos Aires (the only reason to miss it would be if you absolutely hate art, history, and free things!).

The building is as pink as the Casa Rosada, and houses an impressive collection of Argentine and international art.  On the ground floor, you’ll find pieces spanning from the Middle ages through the 20th Centrury.  Keep your eyes open for classic European artists like Rembrandt van Rijn and El Greco.  The Bellas Artes museum also hosts a breathtaking body of impressionist and post-impressionist artwork, with paintings and drawings from almost every one of this movement’s heavy hitters; you’ll find Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, Eduardo Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin, Berthe Morisot, and Camille Pissarro all represented in one wing, plus an additional room of drawings by Degas and Paul Cezanne.

Argentina’s history in brush strokes

The museum originally opened 1896 and was originally located in the Galerias Pacifico (now a shopping mall & cultural center). When you first enter through the main doors, you’ll see a lovely plaster sculpture of two lovers, titled Dulce Francia (Lancelot et Genevieve), by the Argentine artist Pablo Curatella Manes.  Behind this piece is a room dedicated to the art popular with Argentina’s aristocracy at the the time of the Museum’s opening: Pompier.  These sculptures and paintings depict idyllic nudes, most of which are mythological figures.  Also on display is a collection of French furniture of the 18th century popular with the porteña elite, as Paris was considered their “second home” up until World War one.

While all the aforementioned, European art gives an interesting back-story to Argentine life and culture, don’t miss the wing dedicated to Argentine artists!  Here you’ll find Republican artwork of the mid-1800’s, including imposing portraits of the caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas and his daughter, as well as some wonderful portrayals of Gaucho life.  For those interested in military history, the museum contains a collection of meticulously detailed paintings by Cándido López.  These portray different battles in the War of the Triple Alliance, in which López himself fought and even lost his right arm (he later learned to paint with his left).  He was known to outline these works on the battle field, but their emotive colors are the result of painting later by memory.

Bellas Artes Indian Raid painting
[Photo credit: Sebastián-Dario’s Fickr account/ /CC BY-NC 2.0]

Tucked away behind the room with Lopez’s battle scenes, is a small room of Argentine art of the end of the 19th century.  Here you’ll find some striking  paintings and sculptures, which mark the beginning of a particular national artistic cannon.  One is Angel Della Valle’s provocative painting La Vuelta del Malón (The Return of the Raid), which displays a group of malevolent Indigenous men on horseback, complete with an unconscious, semi-naked white woman in tow.  This piece was painted after General Roca’s infamous Conquest of the Desert, a military campaign by the Argentine government which effectively wiped out most of the indigenous population in Patagonia and is reflective of the debate of “Civilization vs. Barbarism” which dominated Argentine culture of the 1800’s.  Another notable piece is Sin Pan  y Sin Trabajo (No Bread and No Work) by Ernesto de la Cárcova which depicts a young couple sitting at an empty table, the man’s ax lying idle, and the woman nursing a baby to her emaciated chest, a powerful critique of turn-of-‘the-century industrialization and modernization.

Finally, the first floor of the MNBA holds a wonderful collection of Argentine art of the 20th century.  Here the artistic canvas of Argentina’s history truly shines, as a unique cultural aesthetic emerges and artists struggle with themes of dictatorship, Peronism, civil unrest, progress, and finally, democracy.  Unfortunately, the first floor of the Bellas Artes museum is currently closed for construction as of mid 2012, with no scheduled date of completion.  Bellow is a detail from the painting Primeros Pasos by Argentine great Antonio Berni, just one of the many exciting pieces to check out once the first floor reopens.

Berni Bellas Artes woman sewing
[Photo credit: Sebastián-Dario’s Fickr account/ /CC BY-NC 2.0]

Location, location, location! High Culture in Recoleta

Recoleta Parque Esculturas

The Fine Arts Museum is located in an ideal area: the cultural epicenter of Recoleta.  To get the best out of this region of the city, we recommend you take our Recoleta Walking Tour, which highlights the rich and famous’s extravagant tombs in the Recoleta Cemetery, as well as the places they loved while living in BA’s upscale neighborhoods of Retiro and Recoleta.  

After touring and checking out the MNBA, have a drink at La Biela cafe, shop the ferias in San Martin de Tours plaza on weekends, then check out a free exhibit at the Recoleta Cultural Center.  After you’ve strolled through the latest in design in the Buenos Aires Design Mall, cross over the bridge covered with murals, which will lead you to the neoclassical building of University of Buenos Aires’s Law School. 

Continuing up Figeroa Alcorta, you’ll hit the wonderful Florais Mechanica mechanical flower sculpture, which opens all day, and “wilts” at nightfall.  Cross back across the Plaza Justo park, but watch out for the runners and people exercising on funky looking gym equipment!  This park also holds an interesting collection of sculptures and is an ideal spot to take a seat and reflect on artwork’s importance in Argentine culture.  Check out even more ideas of what to do in Recoleta on our Recoleta page.

For more information on the current exhibits and the history of the Bellas Artes museum, check out the MNBA website.  And read other travelers’ reviews of the Museum on TripAdvisor.

Location and hours of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

Avenida Del Libertador 1473, between Av. Pueyrredon and Dr. Luis Agote, Recoleta

Free Admission
Tuesday to Friday 12:30 pm to 8:30 pm
Saturday and Sunday 9:30 am to 8:30 pm
Closed Mondays

Website: http://www.mnba.org.ar/english.php

La Francisca Deli

February 5, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Charming deli in Palermo Soho

La Francisca - Feria de Campo

Palermo hosts a bevy of restaurants, but few sandwich spots. For the shopping crowd, it may appear difficult to find a quick, tasty bite to eat to fuel your feet to the next boutique while you lug your mounting collection of bags. Plus, you may want to save your budget for the next store and not indulge in a time-consuming lunch.

Near the corner of Malabia and Niceto Vega, a small, colorfully decorated window welcome sandwich-lovers to one of the newest, and best kept, secrets in Palermo. La Francisca looks like a typical fiambreria, offering typical cuts of cured meats and fine cheeses. As you may see, La Francisca’s sandwiches make it more of a sandwicheria – real word in Spanish – than a meat and cheese store.

Opened about two years ago, La Francisca is run by a quartet of lovely ladies, who like to practice their English! Last time I went, I tried ordering in Spanish but they kept replying in broken English. I caved and reverted back to English.

Welcome to La Francisca deli!

A great sandwich spot for shoppers

When I mentioned I was from New York, they suggested I try their hot pastrami sandwich. Yes! Finally, I found hot pastrami in Buenos Aires. Although they made comparisons to Katz’s delicatessen in New York, which offers arguably the best pastrami sandwich in the world, this sandwich was quite different. But not in a bad way. In hindsight, I realized I didn’t want a gigantic, melted-cheese sandwich that would leave me bloated the rest of the day. La Francisca’s pastrami was wonderful, included all the same ingredients of a regular pastrami sandwich, didn’t overwhelm and put a smile on my face for my walk home.

A great sandwich in Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires

Despite the small space, any visitor can immediately see that the owners have packed plenty of character into the place. If you have to wait, there is a huge red lounge chair next to the cashier. They sell an artesanal (microbrew) beer brand “Boj,” along with a small, but good collection of wines. Several high-quality jams, sauces and spices dot the shelves on the walls too. The price tags and descriptions are hand written. An outdoor bench lets patrons enjoy sunshine while nibbling on a mid-day sandwich.

The sandwiches are about a foot long, and there’s plenty of options. My favorite is their proscuitto (jamon crudo), brie, dried tomatoes (soaked in olive oil) and arugula on a French baguette. Other sandwiches include salami, ham, pancetta and other cured meats. La Francisca also has vegetarian options, such as their eggplant-tomato-arugula sandwich. Each delectable item is prepared well, and isn’t sloppy or greasy. The owners also seem unaware of their lucrative location in Palermo Soho because the menu is very reasonably priced – a foreign concept to a boutique-filled neighborhood.

Although La Francisca’s sandwiches make it my go-to lunch place, the service almost outdoes the food. The ladies always make me feel welcome. I always find some new detail inside – old golf clubs, a dusty guitar – that add to its abundance of charm. La Francisca is a classic, local deli with Argentine character.

Al fresco lunch at La Francisca, Palermo Soho

Where is La Francisca?

La Francisca, Niceto Vega 4712 (near the corner with Malabia), Palermo Soho

Telephone: 4771-0172; La Francisca Facebook Page

Open Mondays to Saturdays, 11am to 8pm

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