MASA Club de Tacos – Private Taco Dinner

September 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Inventive Mexican food in an intimate setting

review of Mexican food Argentina

[Photo courtesy MASA Club de Tacos Facebook Page]

When I tell Argentines that what I miss most about the US (other than family) is the Mexican food, they don’t get it.  You see while famous for its beef and wines, Argentina is not known for its food diversity – and forget about spicy foods.  Growing up in Arizona, Mexican food formed the nucleus of my diet, and continued to do so when I moved to California and basically survived on burritos.

So when I heard about a new Mexican-inspired puertas cerradas restaurant in Buenos Aires, I knew I had to check it out. I’ve scoured Palermo for good Mexican food joints, but I usually end up disappointed and nostalgic. Somehow spending 300 pesos on mediocre tacos and leaving without flaming lips, having doused my food in the “extra spicy” sauce, feels traitorous to my roots. I figured a fellow West Coast yanqui would get it.

Simple, tasty, and creative Mexican-inspired cuisine

Kevin, the creator of MASA Club de Tacos, gets it. MASA is named after the heart of Mexican cuisine, the masa or dough used to make tortillas. In Argentine Spanish, however, masa while still meaning dough, is also a slang term for a cool person. Dinners are hosted every Thursday night in a residential home alternating between Belgrano and Almagro. Guests typically reserve in small groups, and the mixed company provides a perfect opportunity to meet new people — especially Argentines! The experience feels more like a warm dinner among friends than a private restaurant, and the price scheme adds to that feeling: each guest pays what they deem to be the value of the meal, and brings their own beverages.

cooks MASA taco club

I arrived with my Argentine partner last Thursday at the Almagro MASA location, and was immediately made welcome by Kevin, a laid-back and friendly California native. He lead us to the kitchen where his quirky and fabulous right-hand-lady Evy was busy with prep work. We chatted about Mexican food in BA and the US as the cooks prepared appetizers. When the rest of the guests arrived, a family from Bahia Blanca and a few young Argentines who work in the tech sector, we settled into the living room, discussing the emerging kite surfing scene on Argentina’s Atlantic coast.

Dinner is served!

While we chatted with our fellow guests, Kevin and Evy served us baskets of fried avocados and a creamy jalapeño salsa. To my delight, the salsa sent steam zipping through my nasal cavities! The Argentines seemed a little overwhelmed by the spice, and warned me against dousing the palta slices, but I just couldn’t get enough. The avocado was warm and creamy, without being over fried. Delicious.

Buenos Aires Mexican food

To avoid gobbling up all the slices on the table, I ventured to the kitchen to find the Negra Modelo I brought with me. With the new Daft Punk album and some classic Outkast tracks pumping in the background, the cooks were preparing the first dish. I asked about the concept of restaurant, and Kevin explained it as an elevated spin on Mexican street tacos. He founded the project after working on a local website with a cultural agenda, with the ideal that going out in Buenos Aires shouldn’t have to be exclusive to those who can afford a pricey meal. That’s how he came up with the unique, pay-what-you-can price: it makes the hip closed-door phenomenon accessible.

I scuttled back to the table as they plated the salad, an absolutely divine grilled cabbage salad with mango, tomato and a creamy vinaigrette. The cabbage was perfectly grilled to eliminate bitterness but still be crunchy, and my boyfriend has been begging for grilled cabbage since. Peppered with mango slices, the salad was mildly sweet but still light and refreshing.

Grilled cabbage Mexican salad

“Don’t judge your taco by its price” -Hunter S. Thompson

As we awaited the main dish, our fellow guests told us about an application they invented called Cook App which allows you to search puertas cerradas restaurants in Buenos Aires. It’s like a go-to spot to find different venues on the lively underground restaurant scene.

MASA club tacos closed doors restaurant

And then came the main event: two tacos filled with pork carnitas with onion and cilantro, and chicken slow cooked in honey, jalapeño salsa, and blueberry juice, both served on homemade corn tortillas. The tortillas were the best I’ve eaten in Argentina; they were light and not overwhelmingly corn-y (as corn tortillas often can be), with a perfect touch of griddled flavor. Both meat fillings were delectable, and the pollo (chicken) was particularly juicy. The tacos were served with another salsa, this time made with the Peruvian Locoto chili, and I doused my tacos with the two spicy spreads to the horror of the Argentines. Once again, the tacos delightfully blended sweet and savory flavours.

Swooning in a taco-induced reverie, we cleaned the juice off our hands and discussed the spectacular tortilla masa. The strawberry cupcakes came right at the perfect time and perfect closure for the pallate. Again, these were not too sweet, and the cake itself was spongy and exuded fresh strawberry goodness.

Strawberry cupcake desert

While the family had to leave early, we stayed and talked with Evy and Kevin. We laughed about Argentine and US American cultural differences, and Kevin even admitted that he made corn tortillas since he knew I was coming. Argentines, apparently, are much easier to serve Mexican food. “They pretty much love anything we serve them,” noted Evy, while those of us from the US, on the other hand, have lots of expectations about Mexican food. True enough. Overall, I felt the dinner combined traditional Mexican ingredients into fun, and unique dishes.

Our hosts regaled us late into the night with stories about demanding clients, the joys of menu planning, and what it was like serving the rock group The Black Keys.  The MASA Club de Tacos is a unique, friendly experience.

If you’d like to reserve a spot at the next MASA Taco dinner, find further details on the MASA Club del Taco website, or visit their Facebook page. Vegetarians and those with diet restrictions, never fear! The MASA team is willing to accommodate to your requests. Read  more reviews of the restaurant on My Beautiful Air or The Argentine Independent, and happy eating!

Your personal Buenos Aires Photo Tour

September 2, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Richard Photographer

Rosie Hilder, Expat Writer

June 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

British writer and adventurer, meets one Argentine at a time

Rosie Hilder traveled to Bolivia four years ago, ready to start life as an expat. Her experience in La Paz didn’t turn out so well, but – determined to stay in South America – Rosie moved to Buenos Aires instead of going home to England. Since arriving in 2009, Rosie has become an English teacher, journalist, photographer and blogger.

Rosie portraits03_baja

She started her blog, 52exchanges.com, in 2011, where she documents a year-long challenge to have 52 (one per week) language exchanges in Buenos Aires. A resident of the barrio of Almagro, Rosie sat down with us recently…

Why did you come to Buenos Aires?
I actually originally moved to Bolivia for an English-teaching job and then when I got there – I really liked it – but after about six months, I realized my bosses were a bit sleazy and didn’t pay me, so I decided to leave, but I wanted to stay in South America, but come somewhere a bit more developed. I had this idea in my head about how great Buenos Aires would be, so I came to Buenos Aires.

Why did you stay?
I really liked it! At first, I had to stay because I couldn’t afford to leave. And then, I got quite a good teaching job, not those sort of normal, flaky institutes. They got me a visa, it’s a job, you know so I decided to stay because of that. And then my ex-boyfriend left, and then, I started to meet at bunch of friends and started to really enjoy the city. And now I have a new Argentine boyfriend! Now I won’t leave because of him.

Favorite barrio?
Almagro, obviously. Perfect mix.

PG: What about Almagro?
Well it’s a barrio, you know? People actually live there. And there’s like all these specialist shops that I love. And it’s not as fancy as Palermo. And it’s in the middle of everything, you can get anywhere from it.

Where’s the best place you go for coffee, steak or ice cream?
I’m not really big on coffee, but I’ve heard the Full City Coffee House, a Colombian one in Chacarita, is supposed to be really good. Steak – well obviously a family asado is the best place to go for beef, but La Cholita [Rodríguez Peña 1165, in Recoleta] is really good. For ice cream, Nonna Bianca [Estados Unidos 425], it’s in San Telmo. It’s Italian.

Nonna Bianca
(Photo Credit: suziedwards’s photostream// CC by 2.0)

What are your favorite events or festivals in Buenos Aires?
BAFICI, the independent film festival, that’s in April. It’s just a really good chance to see films that you wouldn’t normally see. And after, they often have question and answer session with the director, which I always find really interesting… and people always clap at the end, which is great. We don’t do that in England.

How do you spend your weekends?
Well I’m really busy normally, but a good place to go to relax is the Costanera Sur. I like to go for a walk in the ecological reserve there, or sit in a café with a book.

6203800819_9df77fa69a

(Photo Credit: miguelvieira’s photostream // CC by 2.0)

Your last day in Buenos Aires. What are the three things you’d do, or three places you’d go to?
Well, I would definitely go to a park. Maybe the Parque de 3 de Febrero cause just to enjoy the Argentine park experience with mate and family. And that park is really good because there’s loads of stuff there you can take good pictures of. What else would I do? Well I would probably go and eat a steak if it’s my last day. That’s pretty much obligatory, isn’t it? Have wine. And then I would go to my favorite bar, which is Senior Duncan in Almagro.

Is it a British bar?
No, it’s one of these “closed door” bars, and it’s very cool. It’s run by five or six Argentines. It’s one of those places where you can go and make friends with everyone there. They have good music. On Thursdays they have a swing dancing night. And they have a storytelling event there.

So switching gears, 52 exchanges, what prompted the idea and what was that experience like?
I didn’t learn Spanish at all [in school] for seven years. So I thought, “Oh yeah, I’ll go learn Spanish.” I got to Bolivia and realized I’d forgotten the past tense, couldn’t understand anything. I couldn’t get by. And then I sort of got up to scratch in Bolivia with private classes and stuff. And then when I got to Argentina and I didn’t understand everything – [Argentine Spanish is very unique and sometimes difficult to understand] – obviously, because they use the “Sh” sound for the “ll” and all that. And after two years in Argentina, I felt, “Well now I understand and I know to say “sh” and not the traditional Spanish pronunciation  but I still wanted to feel like I completely knew. People at home would say, ‘Are you fluent?’ and I would say, ‘Well… I don’t know.’  What does that mean? Which is a theme in my blog – what does it mean to be fluent? And a friend of mine – someone I know back home – was doing this blog called ’52 free gyms’ or something like that, and he was going to all these free gyms and writing about it. And I was like ‘this is what I should do’ – I’m not really into the gyms but I think it could be even better with people. So, another friend told me she’d been on a conversation exchange, and I put the two ideas together and decided to do a blog about 52 conversation exchanges.

If someone’s reading your blog for the first time, they’re a visitor to Buenos Aires, what lesson do you think they’re coming away with?
Well, they’ll learn some very useful Spanish vocabulary. They’re learning about the city, because I went to different places [for language exchanges] and I said I was in this bar or this place. And they’ll learn about Porteños in general. And I guess for me, the blog is really about cultural differences – the fact that what I say isn’t necessarily the truth. It’s not fact, but it’s the way I see it because I’m English. Things that are normal for Argentines aren’t normal for me. I think that’s the point of the whole thing is trying to get a bit more understanding of the culture, which for me is the most interesting thing about living abroad.

Thank you Rosie! Questions? You can contact Rosie at her personal website: www.rosiehilder.com. And if you are an interesting expat/local in Buenos Aires and would like us to interview you, feel free to get in touch and tell us why.

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

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