Staff writer E.R. Pulgar will be based in Buenos Aires, Argentina until January writing a bi-monthly column for Journiest called Buenos Aires Beat. In its second iteration, he takes us through the porteño diet and the quest for the perfect mate.
I've never been very big on food, and by that I mean I'm terrible at feeding myself when I travel because I'm usually focused on other things. Most of my time is taken up with exploration, with walking, and with scouring whatever city I find myself in for the little nooks and crannies. I've been criticized for enjoying the search more than the things I find—often, people go on these searches looking for little hole-in-the-wall restaurants.
When I came to Argentina, I had mate on my mind and, never big on steak—mostly because a good steak in the U.S. could run your wallet to ruin—was on the search for asado. Argentine meat is known the world over, and I can tell you right now that it is absolutely the real deal. Meat aside, the Argentine diet is very much Italian: carbs on carbs on carbs on pizzas on pastas on empanadas. For someone who didn't even buy bread back in New York, this was a new thing to accustom to. Thankfully, I've not gained a lot of weight; shoutout to non-processed grains and generally healthier agriculture anywhere outside of the U.S.
Perhaps the most important thing I noticed about Argentine food culture is what surrounds the meals: the people you share it with. Maybe this isn't a new concept to a lot of us; how many times have we gotten coffee or organized dinners with friends to catch up? Over here, it's something that's absolutely integral. As important as consuming the top-quality beef is cooking it and talking smack and blasting music with the person at the grill. As important as the medialunas (think croissants, but better)is the fact that mid-day meriandas are a thing and giving your friends the attention and the invitation matters. As important as drinking mate when it's fresh is making sure you have someone to pass the cup to. It's for that reason that I didn't drink mate my first month here, waiting for the right group of locals to share it with.
I take most of my meals alone. In the tumult of New York City, how else does one do it? You get your coffee, you scarf a bagel into your mouth, you head to work, you repeat. Here, people made fun of me for walking fast with an apple hanging out of my mouth. It's important to sit down and actually take in a meal, and to share that experience with the people you love. It's an important disconnect, it's a central aspect of the Argentine attitude: going about your daily life, but being calm.
Then there was the first night I was ever hungover in Buenos Aires. I woke up in a strange bed, a strange house that I only vaguely remembered. I went downstairs and recognized my friend passed out on the couch. In the kitchen, the host who graciously let me drunkenly take his bed despite not knowing me very long was in the kitchen.
"Buenos dias, princesa."
I laughed. In his hand was a cup of mate, with the straw already in it, melding with fresh hot water from a plastic canister. He offered it to me as the sun began to fill the room, waking up my friend on the sofa and bringing some warmth into the room.