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A visit to the Supermarket

13-Mar-2008

Ok, so the title of this article might not sound awe-inspiring but a visit to a supermarket in a foreign country can actually be quite interesting (really..!)

Packets of Yerba

I've found supermarkets in Buenos Aires to be much smaller than what I'm used to back in NZ, but then real estate prices per square metre must be higher in the big city and many people walk to the supermarket so the average purchase is likely much smaller.

Still, a supermarket is a supermarket and the main difference with Argentinian supermarkets is the selection of groceries on offer.

The many colourful packets of yerba-mate are one product that stand out as being a bit different. Mate is the national drink and there is a huge variety of different brands and blends of yerba to suit any Argentinian's taste.

Many of the locals buy their yerba with palo - i.e. small bits of stem are mixed in with the semi-ground dried leaves in order to create a milder taste, but packets of yerba sin palo are also available, along with packets mixed with a multitude of herbs and other flavourings.

Selection of Dulce de Leche

Dulce de Leche is another product that stands out as being typically Argentinian. It is a sort of sweetened, caramelised milk product which is used for spreading on toast, cakes or pretty much anything else sweet. Dulce de Leche spooned on peaches is one of my favourites.

I'm sure you can find this product in many other countries too, but I'd be surprised if you found such a large selection of it as you do here in Argentina. There seem to be three different methods of producing dulce de leche, each with a subtlely different taste and once you multiply out the different methods with the many different brands you end up with a big long row of jars, pottles and other containers to tempt you on your way to the cashier.

Vino Terrazas de los Andes

Of course two other products really stand out in Argentinian supermarkets: meat and wine.

Argentinians are avid meat-eaters and when they're not enjoying a large beef steak for dinner they'll make do with chorizo, milanesas (schnitzel), chicken, pork or a traditional asado (barbeque) which can contain large cuts of all of those meats plus lamb.

To compliment their appetite for red meats Argentinians love to enjoy a red wine. You'll find hundreds of different bottles at the supermarket, 95% of which are locally made. Wines here are (for the most part) exceptionally good value with a typical bottle of decent wine costing only US$3-4. Prices go down to US$1 for the budget concious and generally peak at US$10-20 except for a few premium vintages.

Being smaller the supermarkets don't offer quite the same variety of imported foods that you'll encounter overseas but you'll have no problems finding most ingredients. As an added convienience, the major supermarket chains offer delivery of your purchase for a small fee but what sounds like a good idea can sometimes be a hindrance - make sure you go to the "15 items or less" isle if you're in a hurry!


Fire in barrio Once

18-Feb-2008

Figherfighters in action
Burning building

There was big news in Buenos Aires today - a fire started in a building in barrio Once, forcing the closure of several blocks of streets as over 80 firefighters struggled to control the blaze.

Hospitals in the area were put on alert to cope with an influx of patients inhaling the toxic smoke from the incendio.

Lots of smoke

The fire started at around 3pm on the fifth floor of a building on calle Lavalle 2257 and it quickly spread as some of the floors were used to store aerosol cans, carnival costumes and other products made from flamable substances.

I happened to be staying in Once this week and for me the first sign of something going on was the persistant sound of a helicopter hovering nearby. Later we got a phone call from a friend asking if everything was ok since they'd seen on the news that there was a large fire only a block or two away.

Sure enough, once I walked out of the building it was clear there was a fire as thick plumes of smoke were blowing out of a building further down our street. Police had closed off the area at the end of our block so I walked around to the intersection of calles Lavalle and Uriburu for a better look.

Things were fairly tense for many of Once's residents as there was a large blast in the amia here last decade, causing the death of many people. This fire though would appear to be completely unconnected.

Camión de Bomberos

It's about midnight as I'm writing this and the reports on the TV show that the fire is still ablaze and firefighters are expecting to be up for much of the night trying to get it under control. Due to the mixture of chemicals in the building they're pretty much limited to using water to fight the blaze.

Reporters also advise everyone living within a kilometre or so of the fire to keep their windows closed tonight as any change of wind could blow toxic fumes into their apartments.

Firefighters have also warned that there's a risk of some of the building falling onto the nearby street so expect the area to be closed off for quite some time.

I'm sure the TV crews will be covering the news throughout the night.


TV station filming the fire

Planetario Galileo Galilei

2-Feb-2008

If you're in Buenos Aires and disappointed that you can't see the night sky of the Southern Hemisphere or if you're here with kids and are looking for something educational to do then why not plan a visit to the Planetario de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires in the Palermo parks area.


El Planetario de Buenos Aires

During the weekend there are currently five screenings per day:

  • Collar de estrellas at 15:00 and 16:00
  • Viaje por el cosmos at 17:00, 18:00 and 19:00

I went along to see viaje por el cosmos and arrived at 16:40 to see a long queue of people starting inside the building and going out past the entrance gates. There was a second queue to the left where tickets could be purchased. Not to worry, at 16:55 the doors opened and I think that everyone managed to get in ok.

The show lasted for about an hour and consisted of educational material (in Spanish) about the solar system and galaxies over the backdrop of the Buenos Aires night sky. If you're from the Northern Hemisphere then it's sure to be interesting to have the Southern Hemisphere constellations pointed out to you so that you can recognise them yourself.

At only $4 pesos per person the Planetario is good value for money and offers something interesting to do during a trip to the Palermo parks.


Caminando en Caminito

23-Jan-2008

One place high on the list of tourist must-sees in Buenos Aires is Caminito in the barrio of La Boca. Caminito is a colourful jewel in the middle of what is otherwise a fairly rundown neighbourhood.

Caminito Tango

It is said that the patchwork of colours on the buildings resulted from the poor Italian immigrants of the 19th century using whatever materials and paints they could afford to build their homes.

Colourful Caminito

Buildings throughout La Boca were once constructed with a mixture of paints and styles but many were replaced with concrete buildings as time went on. Seeing a need to preserve the history of the area, the famous Argentinian painter Benito Quinquela Martín created Caminito in 1959 from remnants of the original immigrant conventillos and spruced them up to show off the vivid chroma that was once widespread in the area.

Caminito means "little walk" or "little path" in Spanish and Quinquela Martín chose this fitting name for the street in honour of a tango by the same name written in the early 1900's by fellow La Boca resident Juan de Dios Filiberto.


Tango at Café La Rueda

Today many tourists visit Caminito to view the colourful buildings and admire the work of the numerous artists that make this area their home. You can't leave Buenos Aires without buying an authentic painting of the city and there are plenty to choose from as you walk along La Boca's most famous street.

Afterwards, relax in one of the nearby cafés and enjoy a cold drink while watching live tango dancers perform in front of your table. If you're lucky (and bold) you may even be asked to join in!

Although some say it is too touristy, Caminito really does have a unique feel and is well worth a visit for every traveller to Buenos Aires.


Fresh juice with a difference

15-Jan-2008

There's a place I walked past loads of times during the winter but never stopped by. It's a tiny juice bar called Pura Vida, located at Uriburu 1489 between Peña and French.

Drinking fresh juice sounded like a refreshingly nice idea on a day like today so I thought it was time to give it a go and wandered over to see what they have on offer.

It's very small inside but has a nice ambiance with a bit of a reggae feel. I squeezed past some people to have a look at the menu; There's so much to choose from... Licuados Pura Vida, Licuados Lacteos, Licuados Poderosos, Jugos, Limonadas - those are just some of the categories.

I tried a Proteina Pura Vida with a mix of interesting ingredients including maca (a plant from the Andes) and spirulina (supposedly consumed by the Aztecs), while my daughter tried a Tango Tropical with pineapple, strawberry, banana, papaya and orange juice. They were both very tasty and just what was needed for a hot day!


More empanadas, this time mine!

13-Jan-2008

As you read a couple of days ago, I really love Argentinian empanadas. "Maybe we can make them ourselves," I thought after our last delivery, and that's exactly what we did yesterday.

I've documented the full process in an article about making empanadas, but in the meantime, here's a photo of the end result!

Did they work? Were they tasty? You bet! If you've got the time you should give it a go yourself.

You might have problems finding the right pastry though if you don't live in Argentina. You really want pastry that's similar to that used for meat pies but slightly more bread-like (i.e. not pastry that puffs up a lot when cooked.) Also you'll need to cut the pastry into circles that are about 10 to 15cm in diameter (ok, make it 12.5cm! That's just under 5 inches for those of you up north).

Empanadas up close

Empanadas de la Aguada

11-Jan-2008

Empanadas, I love them. They're tasty, convenient, come in lots of flavours and can be delivered to your apartment at almost any time of day or night.

Normally we order from El Noble Repulgue - one of the more famous empanada chains in the city and one of favourites. But last night we thought we'd try something different and went for a more artesenal style. La Aguada (Billinghurst 1862) was the answer - they're a restaurant with cocina regional, or regional food.

Empanadas de la Aguada

We ordered a selection of their empanadas especiales such as the Albahaca (basel, mozzarella, tomates and black olives), Tambo (8 types of cheese including roquefort) and De la Huerta de Andres (8 different vegetables mixed in a fresh herb sauce). Delicious! They seemed more authentic and probably healthier than the Noble's deep-fried empanadas.

I see from the menu card they left us that La Aguada can also deliver a selection of other traditional and regional foods like Locro, Carbonada and Mondongo so I'll have to give them a try some day too. Or better yet maybe I'll make a trip down to their establishment and soak up some of the atmosphere aswell.


Air-condition me

8-Jan-2008

air condition me

With another scorcher today (reaching over 38 degrees with a sensación térmica of up to 42 degrees), Buenos Aires was not the most pleasant place to be.

I try to avoid cooling the apartment too often but when temperatures are that hot you don't have much choice. Around the city air conditioners are working overtime this week and more and more people without them are having them installed in their apartments. So many in fact that air conditioner venders and installers can't keep up with the demand (see article by La Nacion in Spanish).


weather on crónica TV

In another article by La Nacion, mention is made of how close the city is to overloading its electrical system. Demand peaked today at 17.7 gigawatts and analysts predict that the system will be at risk at levels of 18 gigawatts. I Assume this is the main reason why Argentina hurriedly decided to implement a change to summer time a couple of weeks back - having people start and finish work an hour earlier could cut down on daytime air-conditioning needs.

Brownouts of some suburbs occured back in the winter as electricity use surged for heating and it seems that a similar event is dangerously close to happening in the summer aswell. It's a bit surprising though, since it feels like half of the population of Buenos Aires has left the city and headed to the coast over January. If they were all back here in Buenos Aires then there would really be a problem.

Visit the Servicio Meterológico Nacional for up-to-date temperatures and forecasts in Argentina.


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