Friday, November 4, 2011

The best empanadas in Wellington and memories of Buenos Aires

Last night I went out for dinner with a couple of friends to my favourite restaurant in Wellington, Buenos Aires Tango. The empanadas there are to die for. Now my empanadas are pretty darn good but I can't compete with these. We got a dozen to share - cheese and tomato, blue cheese and walnut, chicken and four cheeses. Teamed with a bottle of tempranillo, a type of red wine I haven't had since Argentina, and some good company and it was a great night out. 

Speaking of Argentina, I spent my final month travelling there last year and didn't manage a single blog entry in that time. So over the next few weeks I'm going to type up a quick entry for the five main regions we visited mainly for my own records but the scenery (and food) there is too gorgeous not to be shared. So for today welcome to...

Buenos Aires

I left Peru around midnight and touched down in Buenos Aires at around 5am. My travel buddy (and now pommy flatmate) for Argentina wasn't arriving on her flight from England until around 10am so I, being too cheap to take a taxi by myself for the hour-long journey into the city, sat and waited. It was a looooong 5 hours as I was decidedly unwell but eventually she appeared and I arranged a remise (a set price, hired car with driver) for us. We got to my grandma's apartment just in time for lunch. 
Lunch is a great time to arrive. My highlight of Buenos Aires is actually my grandma's cooking. Lunch is a two or three course affair, with wine usually. My grandma (technically my step-grandma) is of Italian descent and boy does she know her way around a kitchen. 

Every morning we got up and had breakfast at the little table in the kitchen. She'd make a pot of tea and put out an array of goodies. Homemade chicken liver pate on crackers or bread, my favourite spreadable port salud cheese or dulce de leche on toast, a bit of bacon, yoghurt, juice...anything you wanted or could think of. She really spoiled us. And entertained us with lots of stories about her days as a flight attendant.

We spent a few days in the capital exploring with my grandparents as tour guides. We visited the colourful suburb of La Boca, where people were dancing tango on the streets for the tourists, and most importantly there ate at a traditional pizzeria, well-known by the locals but not so much by tourists, where I was introduced to faina. It's a chickpea flour bread served a top pizza and invented in Buenos Aires by Italian migrants. It is out of this world good! With a jug of sweet iced wine (just the thing in the 30+ degree, high humidity) and it was one of the stand out meals of my life! 

We visited a couple of art galleries with some fabulous paintings including by my all-time favourite artist Monet. We ate A LOT of gelato. The first afternoon we arrived after a heady lunch my grandma took us for a walk in Belgrano for Freddo's gelato. It's a chain that pops up in most suburbs (they even deliver; imagine that, ordering in ice cream for dessert) and they sell some exquisite flavours - my favourites became dulce de leche (caramel) and the wine flavours (of course) malbec and sambayon. 

 Like any city across Latin America there were churches that needed to be visited too. The Catholics sure know how to build their churches. They are beautiful. Of course the central city was a must-do with the beautiful Casa Rosada, Cathedral and one church with cannon balls still stuck in the side of it from a battle way back in the day. We were there the week after the former president, and current president's husband, died suddenly. 
We headed up to Tigre, right in the north of the city, by train one day with my grandfather. There I was introduced to choripan. It's a spicy chorizo sausage served on a bun. Delicious! We took a boat ride through the delta trying not to wither away in the heat, and then bought ourselves some cool straw hats, locally grown almendras (walnuts) for my grandmother, and whiled away the afternoon drinking beer overlooking the wharf where grocery boats were being loaded up to deliver supplies to people living on the islands in the delta. It was here buying juice that I discovered Argentines call pineapple anana, whereas the rest of Latin America calls it a pina. Random fact. 

We visited my grandmother's sister in the old folks home. She has Alzheimer's. I got a lot of practice perfecting my answers in Spanish as she asked me the same questions over and over. After about half an hour of me speaking to her in Spanish, she asked if I spoke Spanish and was amazed when I replied in the affirmative. It was actually quite fun, if a little sad, and apparently she was happy all day afterwards so I'm glad two gringas in straw hats could pay a visit. 

We strolled through the streets of San Telmo, window shopping in the boutiques. You have to be careful to always keep an eye on the pavement ahead of you in Buenos Aires because people here love their dogs. You see dog walkers with upwards of 10 dogs on leashes walking through the parks. They aren't so fond of removing the doggie excrement from the foot paths. It's like a minefield and probably the only thing in that city that annoyed me. The rest I absolutely loved! I would move there in a heartbeat. 

One of the best parts of the city is the inner city zoo. Pommy flatmate and I went there by ourselves one afternoon by subway. They sell food to feed to most of the animals. I could have spent all day feeding and patting the greedy llamas. 

After a few days we left the city to see some of the rest of the country but came back for a day or two before popping over to Uruguay, and then spent our final few days in Argentina with the apartment to ourselves as my grandparents flew to New Zealand before me. We arrived to the empty apartment with a fully stocked fridge. My grandma had cooked her famous tarts and even left me beef empanada filling for me to have on toast. 

We may have watched Harry Potter 7: Part One twice, both in Spanish and English at the local movie theatre. It was funny because in the English version there's ad joke when George loses his ear. Fred asks him "how are you feeling Georgie?" to which he replies "saint-like" - because he's holey you know... that apparently didn't translate so well into Spanish so they changed it. "How are you feeling Georgie?". "Like a cheese!" Because you know, Swiss cheese has holes in it...I was the only one in the theatre laughing so hard I nearly fell off my seat. 

Buenos Aires is also one of the best places in the world to go yarn-shopping. We took the subway to Scallabrini Ortiz. Along this road there is three blocks of just yarn stores! There went the end of my money. One shop had skeins of gorgeous pure wool or alpaca yarn for about a third of the price you'd pay in New Zealand. I would go back there solely to yarn shop. And to eat of course.

On our final day we visited Recoleta cemetery where Evita Peron was buried. It's like a city in itself of family tombs - and cats everywhere you look.Apparently they keep down the rats. It's also adjacent to a microbrewery. Would we really pass up an opportunity for beer tasting on a hot afternoon??!  Then we hit the shops along the main shopping thoroughfare before having a last supper at a famous tango venue, Cafe Tortoni. We were treated to a stunning tango performance. 

Pommy flatmate flew out early the next morning. My travel insurance had just expired so rather than venture out and risk getting hit by a car on my last day I whiled away the hours listening to tango and knitting in the flat. I think I left Argentina with my taxi fare and $2000 overdraft but every second was worth it. It's a stunning country, with fantastic food and wine and really something that would interest everyone (and enough packed into the capital that you could spend a solid fortnight there an still not see everything). 

No comments:

Post a Comment