Jack Tame and his brother enjoy a gargantuan feast of flesh — and the sights and sounds — in Argentina's carnivorous capital
We were nesting in the departure lounge, gorging and quaffing, when I had my first reservations about travelling with Frank.
"Do you want a wine?" my brother asked. "Oh yeah, why not?" I said.
"Let's do as the Argentines do. Get me a good red. A pinot noir, maybe?"
Minutes passed. I could seeFrank scrambling, confused by the self-serve bar. I strolled over.
"You all good?"
"Sorry, broski…" he said. "I've looked in all the fridges and I can't find pinot noir anywhere."
What my brother lacks in sophistication, he boasts in companionship qualities. We travel well together, both of us less interested in blockbuster tourist sights and souvenirs than simply walking and experiencing different neighbourhoods in motion.
Buenos Aires is perfect for that — it's a city youcan inhale. Youcanslip into its rhythm, amble from cafe to cafe, poke around neighbourhood supermarkets, and survey the faces during rush hour on the underground train. Frank and I landed with sturdy footwear and no fixed plans butto fully embrace the city's primal culinary pleasures. Red wine.
Red meat. Argentines eat late. Many Buenos Aires restaurants don't open until 8.30pm and when we arrived at a San Telmo parilla (steakhouse) for our first Argentine steak dinner it was already 10.30pm. The place was heaving with babbling locals and the walls were lined with shelves of wine. A waiter snapped out fresh paper tablecloths, ripe for meaty drippings.
You sense Argentina is not a country where veganism is widely embraced. Frank and I usually don't eat much red meat, but starting with house-made chorizo and beef empanadas, our Buenos Aires diet was set upon arrival. We ploughed through huge rib-eye steaks, and rolled inky mouthfuls of good malbec around our mouths. It was a blissful, vital meal.
For me, the greatest surprise of the Buenos Aires culinary scene came at dessert. Along with pizza, pasta, and general economic mismanagement, Argentina has inherited another Italian special: a passion for ice cream. Though the city's preferred blend is definitely more of an ice cream than a gelato, it has a beautiful elastic quality, served up in parlours with a firm spatula rather than a scoop. There are parlours everywhere, too, each boasting dozens of rich flavours. Most are open until at least midnight and it's perfectly normal to see a suited middle-aged businessman sitting in an ice cream parlour, smashing through a double scoop of dulce de leche on a weekday afternoon. More often than not, Frank and
I joined in. It's odd that more Kiwis don't travel to Argentina. Direct flights with Air New Zealand shoot straight across the Pacific, a shorter journey than that to Los Angeles. You board, watch a movie, eat dinner and doze off, then wake up on the descent from the Andes.
The European influence in Buenos Aires is unmistakable. The city exploded with migrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They poured in from Italy and Spain and built the bones of a beautiful, classy city before the country's economy properly tanked. It's a perfect city for walking. Everything about the density and architecture ofthe capital evokes colonial design. A grand opera house stands only a few blocks from an ornate French palace. Italian street names and theatres abound. Locals navigate with European urbanity. They dress in black and smoke long cigarettes. It's a cliched comparison that holds absolutely true: Buenos Aires is the Paris of the south.
Walking, gorging, and quaffing: that was our routine. But for a night away at the mighty Iguazu Falls,Frank and I spent our days in Buenos Aires, consumed by consumption. We hit blood sausages, sweetbreads, chitterlings (pig intestines) and pamplonas (pork rolls stuffed with cheese, ham, and peppers). We must have enjoyed a beast's worth of meat and several udders of ice cream.
Sucking Malbec off his teeth during our final meal, Frank turned the stem of his wine glass in his hand. "Broski, I think I'm almost ready for a salad," he said.
JACK'S BUENOS AIRES PICKS
El Pobre Luis, Gran Parilla del Planta, Parilla Pena
Besrt ice cream: Tufic, Volta, Freddo
Best side trip: The Iguazu Falls
Jack Tame appears on Breakfast, which celebrates 21 years on air this Saturday. Be in to win by tunin into the show this week, 6-9am on TVNZ 1.
Air New Zealand flies non-stop to Buenos Aires from Auckland, with on-way economy class fares from $819.