From my experiences, I have always found that the places that exemplified a city the most are those where food, coffee and beer are served. Perhaps it is because these locations take on the attitude and rhythm of life of its patrons because, after all, these are the locations where people go to relax after a long day at work and spend time with friends. Buenos Aires is no exception as these places, along with their city, all follow the same common wavelength; European and laid back.
The cafes of Buenos Aires are probably the most distinctive trait that the city shares with its European counterparts as the ambience and menus scream “old continent”. From menu options such as café cortados, medialunas and tostados con jamon (toast and ham), you might have a hard time realizing that you are indeed in Buenos Aires, Argentina rather than Paris or Barcelona. For those sweet tooth’s out there, you’ll find yourself in luck as most of the breakfast/merienda menus not only come with coffee and medialunas, but also include cookies, an alfajor (think chocolate dipped Oreos on steroids) as well as orange juice and sparkling water. No matter what you find yourself ordering, you can be sure that you will find yourself staying for much longer than you initially planned.
Restaurants vary from tiny corner parrillas (or steakhouses) with sidewalk seating to high-end dining where the waiters tend to your every need. One thing that struck me as different was that the portions of dishes are always bigger than either the menu or waiter tells you they are. For example, the number one thing that I suggest to first time visitors of Buenos Aires is ordering a parrillada; a smorgasbord that includes such meats as kidney, cow intestines and blood sausage that comes served on a tiny grill that’s placed right in front of you. Every time that I have ordered this, whether it be alone or with 6 fellow diners, the amount of food has always exceeded the will to eat said food. This “rule” applies to almost everything (pizza, pasta, milanesas) where you and your companions will try to finish every last bite while always ending up with leftovers to take home. However, strangely enough, this rule never applies to “refreshments”.
Speaking of refreshments, the bars in BsAs are something of an oddity, especially compared to those in the United States. As a seasoned veteran of pubs back in my home state of Wisconsin, my first impression of the bars in Buenos Aires was that they were essentially cafes that served beer or other spirits as there wasn´t much mingling between different groups of patrons and everyone is seated at their own respective tables. However, after only a couple of weeks I came to find out that porteños treat the bar scene as more of an “after office” or “pre-party” scene rather than an end in itself. This again ties into the laidback feeling of the city as there is no rush (especially with the non-existent bar-time that us Yankees are used to) to get adequately prepared for the bumping nightclubs that Buenos Aires boasts (more on this topic in a later blog piece).