Buenos Aires

25th Jan 2009


You might assume that Nick has hijacked The Paupered Chef, chopped my body into little pieces and hid me in the attic (between sessions of ravioli-making and chili shenanigans ).  But this is not the case; I am alive and well.  I left Estonia for close to a month to bask in holiday cheer back home in the States.  But now I've returned to the cold and dark climate of Northern Europe, where the sun still slips below the horizon before 4:30pm.

It's a real gosh-wow pleasure to be back in a kitchen.  Traveling for extended periods puts the daily routine on hold, and without a kitchen to putter around in, I feel suspended, like half my brain isn't working.  It's good to be sort-of home, as much as I can call Estonia home.

But it's been a fantastic month away-- I was back to New York for a long weekend, then to Chicago to see my family and Nick.  You may have read about the New Year's carnitas cooked in lard , which, with the help of eight or ten bottles of champagne, tasted heavenly.  They probably would have tasted heavenly all on their own, though.

But the real adventure happened after Chicago, when I headed down to Argentina for a week or so, spent mostly in Buenos Aires .  Last December, when the sun in Estonia was rising just a couple inches above the horizon and moving from east to west and back down before you barely noticed it was out--when the days are as cloudy and short as they were--well, you make rash decisions.  South America = Southern Hemisphere = Summertime.

If you know much about Buenos Aires, you may have read about the beef.  That, just maybe, it's the best in the world.  That huge steaks can be had for nothing because the Argentinian peso is worth little against the U.S. dollar because of a economic crash in 2001.  Well, most of it's true.  Buenos Aires is the kind of city that you start asking yourself withing moments of hitting the streets why you don't live there.  Because a stately apartment in the Parisian-looking tree-lined Recoleta neighborhood can be had for a tenth of what it would cost in Manhattan (or Paris), and the corner restaurant serves expertly grilled ribeye with a bottle of rich Malbec wine for $15.  Because, as long as you were paid in dollars through some freelance agreement, you could live like a king.  Because the people are incredibly friendly and lovely, and the food in general is top-notch.  And the taxis are cheap.

I read an Adam Gopnik essay once about what Paris meant to the generation of Americans who went there to write and eat and absorb -- Paris was this place on the edge of the world where you could live cheaply and get away with things.  So much of it was about food -- this is why people pass copies of A.J. Liebling's elegaic masterpiece Between Meals to each other with solemn nods  -- but Paris isn't quite like that anymore. It's not cheap, for one. And though Argentine cuisine isn't a rich tradition to absorb like the French, the food in Buenos Aires is nonetheless something special.

Especially the beef.  Holy moly, the beef. I have cramps in my hands from cutting steak.

I'm not an ardent steak-eater by any means--I've cooked far more burgers, and when I do buy steak, it's usually skirt or flank and not the gourmand's ribeye--but this stuff was remarkable.  I got so interested, actually, that I ended up at butchers asking questions, and eventually at Liniers Cattle Market, which is the largest cattle market in the world.  The day I visited, 15,000 cattle were being auctioned !

I'm working on a few posts about it now, as well as a writeup of my favorite steak in Buenos Aires.  Along with Nick's chili recipe, it's going to be a meat-centric week, folks.  This should get you started.



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