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Easy Living: Buenos Aires Shopping Survival Guide

Coming from the U.S., I’m used to having to drive everywhere or shlep my shopping bags around on the bus when I want to go out. Even living in mid-sized cities like Seattle, you can expect to have to travel quite a ways to find what you need to make dinner, treat a cold, or find a decent coffee. Often, people will make a weekly or biweekly drive to a giant one-size-fits-all supermarket/pharmacy/housewares store and stock up on groceries and everything else they need to survive without leaving the house.

Living in Buenos Aires, I’ve found that I have to change my shopping habits a little bit – but for the better, I think! In my neighborhood, San Telmo, there are tiny shops on every block where you can buy fruits & veggies, meat, bread and pastries, medicine, or snack foods. Many of these shops are basically identical to each other at first sight, but vary in quality when you get to know them. I’ve developed a loyalty to a certain verduleria that I swear always has the best peaches. You can try and find your favorite, or you can just pick whichever is most conveniently located! There is sure to be one type of every shop within a few blocks of wherever you are staying.

Kiosco – Convenience Store

These are literally everywhere, and I am using literally in the traditional sense of actually there are probably 4 on every single block. Kioscos are usually a little hole in the wall places where you can buy junk food, candy, drinks, gum, cigarettes, beer… you name it. Many also sell cheap cell phones and SUBE cards (to be used on the subte, bus, and train), and have stations where you can add credit to both phones and cards. Sometimes you will see a “maxi-kiosco” or “super-kiosco,” which usually means they also sell panchos (hot dogs) and maybe have a few tables and chairs to sit down and eat. Kioscos often close their gates at a certain time every night, but this doesn’t mean they are closed! You just ask the clerk for whatever you want and they will bring it to you at the little window.

Verdulerías – Fruits & Vegetables

Exactly what it sounds like. This is where you find fresh fruits and vegetables. Surprisingly enough, you can also find high-quality produce at Carrefour (a grocery store chain sort of reminiscent of QFC or Stop & Shop). The verdulerias are sometimes more expensive than Carrefour, but they are so darned cute and convenient! Some are self-serve, and some of them ask you to wait outside and tell them what you want (per kilo). I prefer the self-serve places because I like to pick out my own fruit (especially with peaches and avocados). There are also ferias itinerants, which are sort of like farmer’s markets. Sometimes these can be much cheaper, but the quality isn’t necessarily better.

Panaderías – Bakeries

Your local source for delightful pastries (facturas) and daily bread! The bread here is usually sold in rolls or small oval-ish loaves and is basically just white bread. The most common pastry is the medialuna. I prefer the medialuna de grasa, which is long and skinny and less sweet. Often panaderias are shockingly cheap – you can buy a small bread and a few pastries for $15 pesos (at current exchange rates, this comes out to about $1.50 USD). Of course, the quality varies immensely – fancy places will of course charge more.

Carnicería – Meat

Very simple. These shops sell meat by the kilo. Popular cuts include lomo, bife de chorizo, and ojo de bife. Some carnicerias also sell sausages (chorizo comun, which is beef, or chorizo de cerdo, which is pork). I have heard that Carrefour has decent meat as well, which can be cheaper.

Farmacia – Pharmacy

There is the local chain Farmacity, which is EVERYWHERE, and there are small corner shops as well. Here you can find everything you would expect to find at a pharmacy, as well as toiletries, cleaning products, herbal teas, etc.

Heladería – Ice Cream Shop

Instead of buying Ben & Jerry’s at the supermarket (not knocking Ben & Jerry’s here, just suggesting something else), peep your local artisanal ice cream shop – in addition to selling the traditional cones, they also sell ice cream to take home buy the ¼ kilo, ½ kilo, and kilo! You can ask for as many flavors as they can fit into the tub. Many places also deliver.

Mercado – Small Generic Supermarket

They often have blue metal gates. More like a convenience store than a kiosco really, because kioscos are usually just tiny stands. These markets often have a huge selection of very cheap Argentine wine (and beer – Quilmes, of course). They also sell basic dry and canned goods, some housewares, toiletries, etc. Quality is not super great and sometimes they can be strangely expensive, but a definite must stock up on cheap house wine. If you bring your empty beer bottles back, you get a few pesos knocked off a new bottle.

Lavandería – Laundromat

For $28 pesos, you can haul a bag of laundry to a lavandería, hand it through the window, and pick it up the next day washed, dried, folded, and placed into a bag.