There’s a lovely Italian proverb that goes parla come mangi or speak the way you eat. I love this saying because as a writer, I often get choked up on my words and can over think what I’m writing rather than letting it flow. As I sit here trying to find the words to describe the Buenos Aires food scene–from the subtle crunch and taste of a homemade empanada to the flavors of an authentic choripan in San Telmo–this Italian proverb comes to mind. I am reminded to simply let the words tumble out as effortlessly as I had enjoyed fresh dulce de leche ice cream while in Argentina.
The way I eat is the way I travel, which is to say that I opt for fortuitous discoveries of authentic locales vs. flocking to established, tourist restaurants. So, I was thrilled when invited to join American-expat, David Carlisle, for a tour of traditional parrillas and restaurants that porteños frequent in San Telmo. David and his business partner, Santiago, founded Parrilla Tour Buenos Aires to introduce visitors to local food and take them to insider restaurants they might have otherwise missed. From family-owned establishments that have perfected the art of the Argentine empanada to a hole-in-the-wall parrilla with expertly grilled chorizo, David’s tour was a perfect introduction to the savory and exciting epicurean culture of Buenos Aires.
The Art of Empanadas
The first stop on our tour through the neighborhood of San Telmo was a visit to Pedro Telmo (Bolivar 962), a 200 year old restaurant that is still being run by the same family today. As David explained, empanadas in Argentina differ depending on the region they hail from. At Pedro Telmo, we were served traditional baked empanadas unique to Buenos Aires that were filled with beef, green onion and a touch of cumin. While other countries such as Colombia will fry their empanadas, Argentina is known for their crisp, baked treats that is a comfort food favorite.
Having lived in New York, I have an ingrained love of street food and the simple pleasures that can come from a food truck or street stall. In my travels, I often flock to the streets to find the best representation of the culture’s cuisine. In Cartagena, I fell in love with the food of a local arepa lady who spent 40 years perfecting the art of arepas con huevos. In France, I was introduced to kebabs and how Parisians flock to this treat (especially after a night of drinking!) and in Panama I enjoyed ready-to-eat ceviche. In Buenos Aires, I quickly learned that the idea of street food doesn’t jive with how the city approaches meals; while a lunch in NYC is often inhaled, Argentines enjoy savoring their food and taking their time.
In place of food trucks, Argentina’s answer to street food are parrillas. Named after the grills typically used for cooking asado (barbecue), parrillas serve classic bites like choripan. To know what choripan is, you need only look to the name which is a combination of “chorizo” and “pan” (bread) that is a type of sandwich popular among locals. Often served with chimichurri, the sandwich is delicious, simple and packed with flavor.
For our tour, David took us to Lo de Osvaldo (Bolivar 956). Owned by a former accountant who decided to open the parrilla as a nod to his love for food, Lo de Oslvaldo is the type of place you could blink and miss if you didn’t know to look for it.
Provoleta and Argentine Steak
Restaurante Don Ernesto (Carlos Calvo 242) is a testament to time’s transformative powers! What was once an armory then an antique shop visited by the Peróns, is now a family owned restaurant with writing covered walls and delicious food.
We started our meal with provoleta, a grilled provolone cheese often topped with chili and oregano and sinfully delicious! The appetizer was followed by–of course–a hearty serving of steak accompanied by potatoes and the classic chimichurri blend. Unlike the bright green, parsley-based chimichurri we often find in the United States, chimichurri in Argentina is actually made with dried herbs and oils and is packed with more flavor than its North American counterpart could possibly achieve. As things go in Argentina, our meal was served with a bottle of Malbec to compliment the steak before ending our tour with an Argentine favorite–ice cream.
Say it Like you Eat it
Nonna Bianca (Estados Unidos 425) is a traditional ice cream shop serving up an array of artisanal ice cream in flavors ranging from coconut to coffee. I was surprised to learn that ice cream is more than a treat in Argentina, it is a way of life. Italian immigrants brought the style of gelato to Argentina, which blended perfectly with the high quality milk to create a luxuriously creamy dessert that blows anything you’ve had from Baskin Robbins out of the water!
The traditional flavor of choice (and my favorite) is dulce de leche–which can best be compared to caramel. As I gobbled up my ice cream and tried my first sip of traditional mate, I tried to imagine how I would begin to recount the flavors enjoyed on my Parrilla Tour with David. I now know I need only to say it like I ate that spiced choripan, enjoyed that indulgent provoleta and savored smooth that dulce de leche ice cream in San Telmo.
*You can book a tour with Parrilla Tour Buenos Aires here or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for details. I was invited for a complimentary tour with Parrilla Tours in exchange for editorial coverage. As always, all opinions expressed on The Pin the Map Project are unbiased and my own.