Leaving on a High Note

Leaving on a High Note

While I still have three more weeks left to savor Buenos Aires, I am ready to bid farewell to the city. Understanding my own aversion of settling down, I know I will grow frustrated with Argentina if I were to stay any longer, as soon as life here loses its novelty. I must leave before I accidentally and inevitably begin to tarnish beautiful memories I have made in Argentina.

Because so much traveling awaits before me before I go back home to the United States, I can’t even begin to imagine how I will feel upon my return to New York City in August. Perhaps I will feel trapped and claustrophobic. Perhaps I will cherish making a semi-permanent home in my new apartment in Williamsburg, finding joy in turning my residence to a Pinterst board. Perhaps I will choke under the pressure of impending graduation and the real adulthood that awaits thereafter. Who knows.

But when I return, I wish I maintain the sense of wonder and adventure that made my life so blissful here in Buenos Aires. I cross my fingers that I will find time to discover nooks and crannies of New York City that has escaped my radar so far. I hope to make trips to less-traveled outer boroughs, discovering what the city is really all about outside my comfort zone of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Aside from memories, the biggest thing I take away from Argentina is a much better grasp of the Spanish language. Although I had issues with communicating when I first arrived, my proficiency in speaking and understanding the language has improved drastically. Now I hardly have any problems with going about my daily life in. I must thank my supportive host parents and the wonderful professors of NYUBA for guiding my progress.

Howeve, NYU Buenos Aires should better organize its academic calendar to allow students to travel more. For reasons unbeknownst to me, the program here started few weeks later than other sites (which partially explains why I joined this class so late). To accommodate, the site scheduled “make up classes” on most fridays which prohibited a lot of students from discovering other parts of South America. Since traveling is just as important to a study abroad experience as academics, NYUBA should reconsider its curriculum to encourage that.

When I look back at my life in Argentina, I will remember aimless strolls through worn-out cobblestone streets of San Telmo, stopping in front of random buildings to appreciate eccentric graffitis. I will remember massive hunks of juicy beef at Don Julio, cups of aeropressed brews at Coffee Town, and crispy empanadas at La Cocina. I will remember fruity and robust Malbec from Mendoza, as well as floral and delicate Torrontes from Salta. I will remember my first tango show at a dingy saloon and a bilingual interpretation of The Wonderful World of Dissocia produced by a friend of mine, whom I met while playing pickup soccer with Buenos Aires Football Amigos.

And those memories will have me come running back to Buenos Aires whenever opportunities arise. If home is where the heart is, Argentina has truly become my humble abode during last four months. I will cherish every dear memory of this beautiful city deep in my heart. I know I will be back to my South American home in no time.

Thank you, fellow classmates and readers, for following my journey through the Southern Hemisphere. It’s been a pleasure to partake in this lovely course. Hope you guys had as much fun as I did.

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What Will Argentina Eat?

What Will Argentina Eat?

I love reading cookbooks. From beautiful pictures of artfully presented dishes to useful tips and recipes that enrich your experiences in the kitchen, there is a lot to love about them. But what fascinates me the most about cookbooks is their ability to pass down history and tradition, serving as a manifesto of our foodways.

In his book Nueva Cocina Argentina, author Pietro Sorba discusses the future of the Argentinian cuisine and those who lead it. Sorba spends time with 31 of the most prominent chefs in Argentina who are innovating the food traditions of the country. Chefs discuss their former trainings, sources of inspirations, and their signature dishes with Sorba.

These are chefs who realize that cooking traditional haute gastronomy of French cuisine will do absolutely nothing in leading a conversation about the future of food in Argentina. Just like the United States reshaped its culinary identity under the tutelage of pioneering chefs like Alice Waters in the early 1990s and established the New American cuisine as a cultural movement, Argentina has been experiencing a transformative period that will change the way its people interact with food.

Characterized by the marriage of indigenous ingredients (of which Argentina is blessed both in quantity and quality) and emphasis on lighter flavors derived from modernized culinary techniques, the New Argentinian asserts that the country’s cuisine can be reinterpreted and elevated.

Through 224 recipes highlighted in Nueva Cocina Argentina, Sorba and his elite team of chefs transplant the ideology of New Argentinean cuisine from white tablecloth dining rooms of prestigious restaurants to kitchen counters of everyday home cooks. Although it’d take a great proficiency in cooking to pull off these recipes due to their technical difficulties and complexity, they serve as an example of how flavors of traditional dishes can be reimagined. Take Martín Arrieta’s dorado a la parrilla (grilled mahi mahi), Rodrigo Costilla’s mollejas asadas (roasted sweetbreads), or Fernando Mayoral’s milanesas de cerdo y quinua (deep-fried pork, crusted with quinoa). These flavors aren’t new to the Argentine palate, yet they stimulate readers with possibilities of breaking from traditions.

To my bliss, the movement of the New Argentinian cuisine is evolving around Buenos Aires. Due to the city’s wealth, it could gift talented young chefs with opportunities to travel and learn how to cook in the most esteemed kitchens of the world. In the book, for example, Gonzalo Aramburu traces his influences to the late Charlie Trotter of Chicago and Joël Robuchon of Paris, while Fernando Rivarola looks to Alex Atala and Grant Achatz for inspirations. Another thing that is in favor of the innovative cuisine is Porteños’ semi-adventurous, cosmopolitan palate. There is a thirst for novelty here.

A couple of months ago, I had a pleasure of dining at Gonzalo Aramburu’s namesake restaurant in an abandoned street in San Telmo. Plates after plates of carefully constructed, intellectually stimulating, and (most importantly) delicious food arrived to the table. During those three hours I spent at the chef’s counter, I learned more about the direction of the New Argentinian cuisine than I could have imagined: everything from the disciplined regimen of cooks to a delicious dish of seasonal vegetables with almond milk-burrata cheese. I’d recommend the visit to the restaurant as well as the book. It’s certainly more fun than going to a museum and just as educative.

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Before You Arrive in Argentina

Before You Arrive in Argentina

If any NYU student comes to me to ask whether he should study abroad in Buenos Aires, I would whole heartedly say yes. Hell, I’ve actually already given that advice to many contemplating underclassmen, who somehow never seize to find me on social media and bombard me with questions about the program. Pack your bags and fly down to South America, people. When else will you make time to live in Argentina for a few months?

Some practical advices first.

Bring cash. Due to its unstable economic climate that I won’t pretend to understand in the slightest, the official exchange rate between American dollars and Argentinian pesos is a joke. While banks will give you 8.9 pesos (as of May 5th, 2015) for every dollar and charge you transactions fees whenever you make an withdrawal, you can use black markets on the street to receive a much higher rate; at a high point in January, I got 12.8 pesos. Sure, it is technically illegal, and you should watch out for counterfeit bills, but it really isn’t a problem since everyone does it. Just step out of the subway station near Calle Florida and chat with someone who’s yelling “cambio, cambio” on the street. Check with a few to ask for a better exchange rate, and voila!, it’s that easy. Make sure to bring your semester’s budget to Argentina in $100 bills — people are less willing to buy smaller bills.

On a side note, understand that Buenos Aires is not the most budget friendly place in the world. Although general prices of living is lower than it is in New York, imported goods tend to boast a high price tag due to taxes. Also, traveling within the country can be quite expensive: flights are pricey, and even buses to Mendoza or Cordoba will run you upwards of $100. Plan accordingly.

Bring warmer clothes. Although the temperature rarely drops below 32F in Buenos Aires, it is hardly a tropical paradise that you might mistakenly associate with South America. As we transition into winter, it is definitely chilly at the moment, especially during morning and evening hours. You don’t need a thick parka (unless you plan on traveling to Patagonia near Antarctica during winter; not recommended), but definitely bring a coat.

Brush up on some Spanish before coming. Although you can get around Buenos Aires with a minimal grasp of Spanish, your experiences in Argentina will be so much richer if you did speak the language. From making reservations at restaurants over the phone to comprehending curators in museums, Spanish is essential. If you’ve never studied it before, pick up a pocket book or two before arriving. It will help a lot.

Most importantly, come with an open mind. Your stay in Argentina will be miserable if you start comparing Buenos Aires to New York. Come eager to explore. The majority of NYU students who claim that Buenos Aires is boring never leaves the neighborhoods Palermo and Recoleta: where they live, and where they go to school. There is so much more to the city. Walk along the graffiti-covered cobblestone streets of San Telmo. Hang out at a neighborhood bar in Villa Crespo. Go eat some roasted chicken in a dingy Peruvian restaurant in Abasto.

Like I’ve said so many times before in blog posts, Buenos Aires is a city that will love you back as much as you love her. Only when you spend your time and effort with her, she will reciprocate. Come prepared.

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Thank You, Buenos Aires

Thank You, Buenos Aires

Sunday evening. After an intense hour of soccer with friends from Buenos Aires Football Amigos, I start to walk back home as refreshing autumn breeze cools me down. My arms are sore, and my legs weigh a hundred pounds each from frantically sprinting around in a shoddy indoor field that resembles a cage. Home isn’t too far away; just a 10-minute walk down the road.

On the way home, I start planning out the rest of the evening: I will shower, run off to a near by empanada shop to sit down for a quick dinner with a glass of jug wine. When I return home, I will sit down with my chatty homestay parents in our living room to watch television while nourishing a warm cup of tea.

I feel like I belong here.

It doesn’t really take much to keep me happy. Aside from intense existential crises that occasionally haunts me, I am a relatively simple human being. I like to eat, I like to take pictures of things, and I like chatting with strangers.

Here in Buenos Aires, I can full-heartedly say that I am indeed absolutely happy. I live with wonderful homestay parents who genuinely care about my wellbeing. Thanks to favorable exchange rate and relatively lower cost of living, I can afford to indulge in most of what my heart desire. I have lots of free time in hand to work on different writing projects and laze around in beautiful parks that surround me.

The experience of studying abroad in Argentina has been nothing short of fantastic. Sure, I may be separated from my adoring friends back in New York, but I needed this time alone at the end of the world to regain focus, both in pursuit of my academic goals and personal happiness. New York drained me. Buenos Aires has replenished me.

I have a strange habit; when I drink too much, I start to scribble down short blurbs of words on my phone, mini essays on my feelings. I know, I know, it’s really weird and corny, but it’s something I trained myself to do, Pavlovian-style. It not only prevents me from sending drunken text messages to estranged friends or ex-girlfriends, but also provides me with an occasional funny read.

While I was going through my phone few days ago, I found a note I must have written during one of my first days in Buenos Aires. I sound tipsy, but blissful. Perhaps you’d be interested in taking a peak.

Argentina is an ice-cold pint of watered down Quilmes on a humid summer day under the blistering sun. Argentina is a game of pool at a nearby cafe in midnight, accompanied by a mug (a mug!) of espresso.

Argentina is a Hip Hop club at five in the morning. Argentina is a medicinal highball of Fernet Y Coca Cola, lukewarm since ice cubes immediately melt from the heat of dancing bodies.

Argentina is an incoherent conversation with a taxi driver at 6AM, as you drunkenly try to explain how the rush hour traffic in New York City is much worse than it is in Buenos Aires. He doesn’t understand. Or he is pretending that he doesn’t.

I like Argentina. I should live here forever.

Due to my propensity for a nomadic lifestyle, I am now ready to say my goodbyes to Argentina in pursuit of exploring other parts of South America. However, I refuse to acknowledge that I only have one more month left in this beautiful city that has provided me with such precious memories. I will miss you, Buenos Aires.

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Struggle Bus to Iguazu

Struggle Bus to Iguazu

I have a high tolerance for inconveniences. I love the comfort of sleeping in my own bed with fluffy pillows and warm blankets, taking hot showers, and turning on air-conditioning whenever I please. But these are luxuries I can willingly part with when I travel. I manage to sleep soundly wherever I can rest my head against a wall, uncomfortably sweaty and unkempt.

For the most part, my study abroad experience in Buenos Aires has been wonderfully comfortable. I live with wonderful host parents in a safe neighborhood close from school. However, the trip I took to Iguazu Falls during spring break perhaps could be best summarized by Simon Winchester’s sentiment when he compares the word “travel” to its etymological grandfather: “a Roman instrument of torture.”

To head north to Puerto Iguazu, a sleepy Argentinian village that lies on the triple-boarder amongst Brazil and Paraguay under the famous waterfalls, I took a 19-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires’s Retiro bus terminal. See, South America isn’t Europe, where you can hop on a cheap airplane or a high speed train and arrive at your foreign destination in a couple of hours. It is a ginormous landmass that stretches for what feels like an eternity. Flights are expensive, trains are slow and rare, so most of the transportation between major cities in South America happens via buses.

Admittedly, the facility on these double-decker, overnight buses are quite nice. Cushiony seats recline back almost 180 degrees, air-conditioning pumps cold air throughout the bus, and small television screens keep you entertained with slightly outdated Hollywood movies. However, nightmare comes in the shape of unevenly paved asphalt roads. The bus trembles so much during the majority of the ride, it is difficult to drink a bottle of water without spilling. Combine that with reckless drivers behind the wheel, you have a fun ride in front of you. For 19 hours.

You can perhaps imagine my bliss when I finally hopped off the bus in Puerto Iguazu. After briefly dropping off my bags at a hostel, I decided to take a walk around the town. When I returned, the hostel seemed lovely. The staff were helpful and caring, showers weren’t absolutely freezing, and the bar offered free Caipirinhas during happy hour. After a bottle of wine and a great barbecue dinner with newly made friends, I instantly fell asleep, tired heat and humidity of the tropics.

When I woke up the next morning, I found a few bug bites along my arms. I didn’t think too much of it at first, since giant mosquitos swarmed near the waterfalls. The bites itched and swelled. I could not stop scratching my arms while exploring the national park. Waterfalls were absolutely stunning, surely one of the greatest feat of nature, but the damned itch just would’t go away.

I finally learned the true identity of those damned bug bites few days later in Rio de Janeiro while complaining to a fellow backpacker about how bad mosquitos had been in Iguazu.

“Shit, man,” laughed David, after inspecting my arms. “Those aren’t mosquito bites. Those are bed bugs.”

Panic ensued. Travailed. 

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An Open Love Letter to Strangers

An Open Love Letter to Strangers

Staying in hostels can be a nightmare. Beds are creaky, showers are cold, and the concept of privacy tends to disappear out the window. But I can full-heartedly say that hostel hopping is one of my favorite parts of traveling. Why? Because of precious opportunities to befriend strangers from every walks of life.

When I first started to backpack on my own a few years ago, I realized how easy it is to make friends while you are on the road. In real life, we are often hindered by social cues and our own shyness to start conversations with strangers and make new friends. But everyone puts their guards down when they travel. From Paris to Munich and London to Lisbon, I met incredible people with stories that inspired me to continue traveling, to see parts of the world that I had never witnessed before.

I still keep in contact with some friends I made while I was traveling in Europe. No, we do not write each other long-winded letters nor claim to be the closest of friends. But whenever short glimpses of their lives pop up on my newsfeed, it makes me smile, nostalgic about the adventures we’ve lived through together.

I arrived in Buenos Aires one week earlier than most of my peers, in order to acclimatize before school started. I stayed in Milhouse Hostel in Monserrat, and there, I met people who shaped my first impression of Argentina; fellow travelers who shared my enthusiasm for discovering a new surrounding. Together, we took walking tours of La Boca. We lounged under the summer sun while listening to music at el Cemeterio de la Recoleta. We danced until the sunrise at the biggest nightclub in Buenos Aires and struggled to recuperate the next day. We became friends.

To travel, we leave everything we hold dear at home; family, friends, lovers. So it is only natural that we become vulnerable before fellow nomads and seek comfort in each others’ presence. We connect on spiritual level by sympathizing each others’ struggles — bedbug infestations, crushing loneliness, homesickness, deadly hangovers, you name it.

The most beautiful part of building instant friendship is in its ephemerality. We can go from complete strangers to best friends in 30 minutes, and disappear from each others’ lives without broken hearts or hurt feelings. It is human relationship condensed and concentrated sans all the drama. It’s exciting, it’s spontaneous, and it’s addicting. 

As I plan another leg of my journey through South America (backpacking through Peru, Bolivia, Chile, northern Argentina and Uruguay until July!) after school wraps up for the year, I look forward to meeting more strangers. With them, I will climb up the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, drive a minivan through stunning salt flats of Uyuni, and share meals of traditional barbecue and red wine in Salta. I sincerely can’t wait to share stories, drink too much beer together, and part ways before we get sick of each other.

This has been an open love letter to fellow travelers. Hope our paths cross again in the near future. Be safe!

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Recording the Paraguayan War Through Art

Recording the Paraguayan War Through Art

Located in the peaceful neighborhood of Recoleta, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes houses an impressively diverse collection of paintings and sculptures from both European and Argentinian artists. Established in December of 1895, the museum attracts around one million visitors yearly. While the majority of artworks come from big name artists like Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, and Francisco Goya, pieces from Buenos Aires-based artists chronicle the history of Argentina as a nation and how its national identity was influenced by its colonial fathers.

Cándido Lopez, Prilidiano Pueyrredón, and Carlos Morel are the Argentinian artists who feature most prominently throughout the museum’s collection. All from the early 1800’s, these artists all established themselves in Buenos Aires, and became the leading painters of their time.

If I had to pick favorite paintings from Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes’ huge collection, pieces from Cándido López would certainly make it to my list. His vivid portrayals of the Paraguayan War (Guerra de la Triple Alianza) immediately grasped my attention when I walked by them for the first time a few weeks ago. López fought in the war himself as a soldier, and lost his right arm during a battle; tragic event for anyone, but especially for a young artist. However, he bounced back soon enough, as he trained himself to paint with his left hand. I’m sure it’s more difficult than it sounds.

Having studied under Italian artists like Baldassare Verazzi who fled their country and found a new home in South America, Cándido López made a name for himself by age seventeen as a prodigy within the artist community in Buenos Aires. Renowned for his close attention to details and penchant for vivid colors, he went on to become one of the most important figures in Argentina’s art history. He was later buried in El Cementerio de la Recoleta, not too far away from the museum that houses many of his paintings. The fact that his body rests at the cemetery in Recoleta is a testament to his achievements; El Cemeterio de la Recoleta is reserved for Argentina’s top-tier elites like presidents, important military figures, and Eva Perón.

Displayed next to each other, López’s paintings “Desembarco del Ejército Argentino Frente a las Trincheras de Curuzú,” “Asalto de la 3ra. Columna Argentina a Curupaytí,” and “Después de la Batalada de Curupaytí” chronicle the war amongst Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina that took place between 1864 and 1870. The war was responsible for deaths of over 400,000 people, an international tragedy that accounted for one the highest fatality ratio in modern South American history.

While López fought as a soldier, he witnessed the tragedy of the war like the deaths of his compatriots. His paintings portray falling soldiers amidst the background of stunning nature. The background of radiantly green fields contrasts intensely with soldiers’ darker-colored uniforms covered in blood. They almost take on a photographic qualities, as they focus on recording what happens during the battle rather than embellishing.

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Spring Break in Rio de Janeiro

Spring Break in Rio de Janeiro

I love traveling, but I hate taking vacations. I love the sense of adventure, discovering new things and meeting new people, but I dislike taking time off to relax. Sitting idly on the beach for three days might sound like a perfect time off work for some people, but that’s not really my thing.

So I had my doubts when I decided to travel to Rio de Janeiro for spring break. Originally, I had planned on exploring Paraguay and the northeast of Argentina after a couple of days at the Iguazu falls. But after finding an incredibly cheap plane ticket to Rio de Janeiro, I completely overhauled my entire plan. Instead of tracking through the jungles and the barren pampas of Paraguay, I’d sip frothy cocktails on beachside bars. I had never experienced a clichéd college spring break at Cancun or Florida; this was be my equivalent I suppose.

Rio de Janeiro smells like seawater and sewer. While beautiful beaches and expensive condos of Ipanema and Copacabana stretch for miles, the rest of the city swarms with shantytown favelas and grimy streets. The immense economic disparity between the rich and the poor is clearly visible, and, coming from a place of a privileged traveler, it did make me slightly uncomfortable.

Still, even the harshest doubters couldn’t deny Rio de Janeiro’s charm. I enjoyed sipping on outrageous amounts of cheap beer and caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail made from fresh lime juice and cachaca. The black bean stew of feijoada is hearty and soul-warming, and the traditional barbecue churrasco is a meat-eater’s wet dream. The soccer match between local rivals Flamengo and Fluminense at the Maracanã (“home of football,” no less) was one of the most adrenaline-fueled two hours of my life. Aggressive chants, drum circles, goals, packets of baby powder wrapped in toilet paper that mimic exploding flares. It had it all.

But I do leave Rio de Janeiro with a slightly sour taste in my mouth, and I can’t figure out why. Perhaps it was the elderly drug dealer who grabbed a 50 Real out of my wallet on the street and wouldn’t let go while attempting to sell me “cocaine.” Perhaps it was shabby hostels with creaking mattresses and brain-freezingly cold showers. Or perhaps it was those viscous mosquitos that pillaged my arms and legs every night. I don’t know.

For me, Rio de Janeiro could be summarized by a homeless man I met one saturday night in Lapa. While dancing to intense beats of traditional samba music under the arch, I met a man who called himself Snoop Dogg. Snoop did not have a place to sleep that night, but he did have a handle of cheap vodka and a carton of grapefruit juice. And that’s all he needed to have a good time.

If you travel to Rio de Janeiro, remember this; you are there to party and not much else. Drink and dance until your heart’s content, but you might leave slightly disappointed if you attempt to dig a little deeper.

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The Impossible Task of Finding Buenos Aires

The Impossible Task of Finding Buenos Aires

Authenticity is an intense topic to tackle. In the increasingly globalized and homogenized world we live in, is it even possible to seek out truly authentic experiences? I remember my volunteer trip to Ghana a few years ago, when my friends and I were invited to a traditional dance show. To an intense beat of goatskin drums, dancers with body paints and straw skirts jumped and hollered for us tourists.

While the crowd (myself included) was blown away by how radically different the performance was from our lives back home, I couldn’t help myself but wonder wether this whole spectacle is patronizing to native Ghanians. My concern reached a new height when I saw dancers change into their blue jeans and polo shirts, smoking Marlboro cigarettes and drinking Guinness after the show was over. Wearing the same clothes as me, smoking the same cigarette, and drinking the same beer.

Can we label something “culturally authentic” when that part of the culture has lost its relevancy to people’s daily lives? Must we travel to “back regions” of Dean MacCannell’s “Staged Authenticity: Arrangement of Social Space in Tourist Settings” in order to fulfill our preconception of what foreign countries should look like?

Just like any other global metropolis, Buenos Aires boasts an amalgam of influences from different parts of the world. Immigrants from Senegal, Korea, France, and Bolivia all have carved out their respective niche in the city. The culture of modern day Porteños resembles nothing like when the Spanish immigrants first arrived in Buenos Aires during the colonial era. No one rides around in horses. No one needs to convey his masculine strength to his neighbors through primitive tango.

Like all travelers, I always search for an “authentic” experience but struggle to decide what is and what isn’t. What’s more relevant to Buenos Aires of 2015? Japanese-influenced Peruvian ceviche at a posh riverside restaurant in Puerto Madero, or steaming locro (tripe stew with white beans and corn) at a run-down bodegón? Watching Hollywood films at a polished movie theater at Alto Palermo Mall, or deserted tango shows at a shady milonga in Abasto? Conceptual metal sculpture of a local artist in Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires, or Benito Quinquela Martín’s bright walls of color in a tourist trap that is La Boca’s Caminito?

We live in a 21st century, a global society. As tragic as it may sound, it is virtually impossible for a city to remain oblivious to outside influences. In order to get the most out of our travels, we must embrace the multitude of immigrant cultures that occupies the same space as the native one. The conversation on authenticity is no longer relevant, and stifles creativity and innovation.

If you want to find real Buenos Aires, you won’t find it in the famous Caminito. You’ve already seen the pictures; vividly painted houses that are oh-so-exotic and oh-so-South American. Tango dancers with traditional outfits, Maradona impersonator who dresses up in fake beards, restaurants that serve subpar food to a hoard of Chinese tourists who arrive by busloads may seem charming and “authentic” in a careless glance, but they don’t represent what living in today’s Buenos Aires is like.

True experiences cannot be captured in an iPhone picture that you will share with your friends on Facebook. We must live them.

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Eating Argentina with a Culinary Legend

Eating Argentina with a Culinary Legend

Food fascinates me because it is a common denominator amongst all people; everyone must eat to sustain life. Then, history of food is history of daily lives, and reading cookbooks are an anthropological study into how cultures have evolved over time. Aside from useful recipes and hunger-inducing photographs, cookbooks’ ability to pass down information and wisdom to following generations entices me. I love reading them.

The first cookbook I picked up in Buenos Aires was La Cocina de Nuestra Tierra, written by Argentine celebrity chef Choly Berretaga. Imagine an Argentinian Julia Child and you are almost there. Berretaga is a prolific author, having written nearly 50 cookbooks in her long career. Over the years, she has established herself as an authority in Argentinian home cooking, educating millions of viewers across the country about its native foodways.

In La Cocina de Nuestra Tierra, Berretaga introduces readers to regional cuisines of Argentina. Because of its sheer size, Argentina is composed of different, distinctive biomes. Its land sprawls from arid deserts of Noroeste to picturesque mountains and lakes of Patagonia, from vast farmlands of the Pampas (Región Central and Mediterránea) to humid rain forests of Nordestse. Different climates allow different regions to grow distinct agricultural products, which encouraged the development of independent gastronomical tradition.

Berretaga starts the cookbook by talking about the nation’s favorite meal; asado, Argentinian barbecue. As I mentioned in previous blogposts, red meat is cheap and plentiful here thanks to fertile farmlands where gauchos raise a staggering number of livestocks. Even construction workers near my house holds a weekly asado at the street corner on fridays, slow-cooking massive portions of rib eye steaks over an open coal-fire in a makeshift grill they’ve fashioned from a used metal barrel.

She also teaches readers about popular accompaniments to steaks; chimichurri and salsa criolla. While the former is an aromatic paste that incorporates pungent chili powder and oregano with olive oil, the latter is a refreshing condiment of spicy red onion, tomato, and white vinegar. I’ve grown quite fond of both condiments. There is nothing better than a fresh salsa criolla with a juicy slab of skirt steak.

In further chapters, Berretaga transports us to different regions of Argentina. First stop, the northeastern provinces of Salta, Jujuy, and Tucumán. The food tradition of this area is considered one of the most ancient in Argentina. Rich supply of agricultural products like corn, potato and quinoa allowed the natives to develop a hearty cuisine that fueled hardworking farmers. Perhaps the most typical dish from this region is locro, a rich stew of tripe, white beans and pumpkin. Empanadas, the nation’s favorite savory snack, also originate from here as well.

What people eat change drastically once you head towards the Brazilian boarder. Provinces of Entre Ríos, Corrientes and Chaco are located by rivers and tropical forests that provide the natives with unique ingredients that aren’t commonly found in other parts of the country. Freshwater fish, grilled and stewed with garbanzo beans and chili; pumpkin pudding with caramel; breads made with cassava flour are typical to the region.

With Berretaga, readers vicariously sip robust wines at Mendoza, catch trouts in a Patagonian lake, and bake multi-layered alfajor santafesino with excessive amount of dulce de leche. Overall, La Cocina de Nuestra Tierra helped me gain a deeper understanding of Argentina’s native cuisine and its diversity. I have made it my mission to sample all of them before I leave. I travel to Iguazu and its neighboring provinces in coming weeks. I’ll report back on my discoveries. 

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