I did not like the food in Argentina.
Maybe it was my fault. Maybe I was ill prepared.
I did not expect to find spice eschewed to the point that black pepper is unavailable at most restaurants. I did not realize the Italian heritage of Buenos Aires would manifest as freezer gnocchi and the worst pizza in the world. I did not think a country with a 5,000km coastline would neglect seafood, or that the steaks I ate would, rather than "blowing my mind," be indistinguishable from the meat I occasionally consume in the States (disclaimer: I am not the best judge of steak). I did not know most baked goods would be either sickly sweet or stuffed with deli ham.
Why was I ill prepared?
There is a hype on Argentine cuisine. It is prevalent among foreign travelers in South America. "The food is awesome." "The steak is amazing." This is repeated by backpackers both coming from and heading to Argentina. Within the tourist-trail culture of the continent, it is common knowledge.
I bought in. I was disappointed.
In one silly way, this disappointment made me feel superior. It was fun to imagine myself the minority, the underdog, the holder of on-the-ground, unadulterated TRUTH, standing with objectivity against a horde of hype and hyperbole.
But feeling superior also made me feel like an asshole. And my disappointment put me at odds with my friends. It made me question my tastes, worry that maybe I was, to quote a comment from one of my Matador articles, "some sort of nerd that just hates normal stuff." Worse, it made me question why I had come to Argentina at all, and whether I had any right to be there.
Over the last few weeks, I learned I am not the only normal-hating nerd out there. Andrea and John of inspiringtravellers.com and Ayngelina of Bacon is Magic recently rated Argentine food a "meh." This is the only negativity I have seen the travel blog world bestow on Argentine cuisine (with the exception of Tom Gates' pizza, of course).
Why are these posts appearing now? Is the hype thinning? Is there a food revolt sparking among travelers in Argentina? Are nerds multiplying?
I don't know.
When I read these posts, I say FINALLY out loud. But then I feel that same urge of dissent, that pride of the underdog, pulling me towards an about-face. Not a full 180...the truth is, though, I didn't hate 100% of the things I put in my stomach in Argentina.
So in the interest of honesty--and maybe a little guilt--after several paragraphs of cuisine-culture bashing, I've come to a very different focus with this post: what I enjoyed, food-wise, during my months in Buenos Aires. Some of it is even Argentine.
* medialunas and mate - Most afternoons, my wife and I would leave our 10th-floor apartment with a termo and a canister of mate, walk to the corner bakery and pick up a pair of medialunas, and continue to Bosque de Palermo where we'd eat and drink by the pond. The sweet glaze of the croissant was cut nicely by the bitterness of the unfiltered tea.
* Barrio Chino - Once I discovered you can buy Mexican salsa at the grocery stores in Chinatown, my outlook on BsAs started improving. Some of the Asian restaurants here are good too. There's also a Koreatown around Carabobo south of 25 de Mayo.
* animal guts - Americans are a world minority in that we forgo the non-flesh parts of our meat animals. The oily, acrid smell and taste of intestines is the only way in which the Argentine parrilla reminded me of the Korean 고깃집. Sweetbreads was a new favorite for me.
* random (non-buffet) veggie restaurants - There were a few: Bio comes to mind, as does Buenos Aires Verde.