Street food mecca! Empanadas…my favorite. Must figure out how to recreate. The crust remains a little doughy, by some magic bakers trick…or maybe because they sit on a hot plate all day until getting popped in the microwave before consumption. Either way, perfection. Available with all kinds of fillings, most commonly, as one empanada-hawker put it in English for me: chicken, vegetables, or meat. Go for meat. Chopped beef (not ground, usually) with onions, olives, and hard-boiled eggs. Mmmm. Also in the parade of street food: choripan (chorizo + pan…sausage n’ bread. I never had one, but Momma was a big fan), steak sammiches (of course), fresh OJ (which they had everywhere, for less than a glass of crap reconstituted OJ here…I drank A LOT of juice…), mega-sweet, mega-good fruit salads, popcorn, caramelized nuts (peanuts and/or almonds made on the spot, a hot copper pot swirled with sugar and vanilla and a splash of water to coat the nuts in crystal sweetness…you get drawn in by the burnt sugar smell and next thing you know you’re all hypnotized, handing over crumpled pesos for a little plastic bag of nuts…), cake (food stand, with stacks and stacks of decadently decorated cakes…tres leches, towering chocolate cakes, cakes coated in sliced strawberries…and hordes of people standing around the stand, shoving bites of cake into their happy mouths while they balance the enormous slice on a wobbly paper plate), and these awesome little grilled tortillas, still doughy inside, charred on the outside.

Mate, it’s for reals. It’s not just for the sweet oldies clinging onto the way it was, not at all. Everyone, all mate, all the time. (Supplemented by a hearty number of cafe cortados though, of course.) Mate cup/gourd, bombilla, thermos of hot water, pack of mate- necessary at all times. Packed into specially designed mate packs, or minimalist-style thermos tucked under the arm, mate in hand, or even jammed in the baby stroller cup holder. There are ultra-fancy gilded, hammered silver gourds, campy little painted ones, pretty little wooden ones, hip little silicone ones. Mate tradition seems strangely a  bit similar to the call to prayer–albeit sans-religion–a little break from the day’s work to reunite with your friends, maybe have a small snack, chat, sit on the curb, you know. Though we had the burnt-sugar mate at Casa Feliz, we never took part in the full on mate sipping deal. It felt a little…intrusive, tourist-posing-as-mega-cultural-traveler, Lonely Planet momenty to buy ourselves a mate set up and mimic all the cool Argentinians.

Produce in Argentina is muy fascinante. As far as I could tell, it comes from like, you know, farms. Farm-wooden crate-truck-bodega. And while big ol’ supermarkets are scanty, specific shops (carnecerias, fruterias, etc.) litter the city along with a mass of bodegas. But whereas an American bodega would have maybe a couple unripe bananas and some carrot sticks packaged with ranch, every bodega has a substansial little produce corner, run by someone entirely different than the shop a lot of the times. Buy your Quilmes and soap at the register, then cross the store to pick out some slightly dented duranzos and bunched arugula, a couple shining eggplants and a bag of oranges for juicing from the produce man hunched over a mini tv behind his wares, yelling at the Boca Juniors. Who knows if it was organic or sustainable or whatever–it’s accessible and plentiful, real vegetables and beautiful fruits available on every street corner! (And how badly did I want a battered old produce crate? Very, very, very badly. And the one place I documented they had plastic ones, of course)

And…tango. It’s delightful. And legit, everyone seems to know at least a little tango. We happened to be in Buenos Aires for “Noche en Vela” or Sleepless Night, a big big night of hundreds of art/music/cultural events all across the city. Cafes filled to the brim with people pressing their ears against stone walls in an attempt to hear the strains of a famous flamenco band, the giant obelisk in the center of town became a massive canvas for a flashy light show, and a whole busy street was blocked off, crowned with a stage for a tango band, the street itself full of swaying couples, some impressively talented, sweeping each other around amongst the gawkers, some just sweetly fumbling through the steps before taking a break for a small sip of mate.

 

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