Buenos Aires: San Telmo

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Back to the beautiful memory that is Argentina. 

By far the biggest chunk of our time in BA was spent in the neighborhood of San Telmo. This wasn’t planned, but a series of events and coincidences kept taking us back there. 

According to the guidebooks, the area has had a long history of ups and downs – mostly downs, perhaps.  The ups allowed for some for the wealthy to add build beautiful houses in the area. The downs brought disease and crime, but also created windows for immigrants and artists to come in and infuse the area with bohemian color.   This also was one of the cradles for the tango.  (Depending what source you look at, it is sometimes credited as its birthplace; San Telmo usually completes with La Boca for that honor.)  

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 The area’s history is readily visible in the beautiful yet crumbling buildings. There have also been efforts at renovation, which have restored a lot of the area’s charms.  Nowadays, its cobblestone streets are lined with cafes, boutiques, art galleries, antique shops, and funky street art.  And of course, it is still a good place to watch some tango.

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Feria de San Telmo/ San Telmo Street Market

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On Sundays, San Telmo plays host to a giant street market. I love markets and have been to my share, but this one is particularly impressive. It is huge. 

The market is centered around Plaza Dorrego, radiates out around it, and then stretches down Calle Defensa for many blocks.  It is definitely touristy, but also a great place to pick up your gifts and souvenirs, as you’ll find more antiques, artisan crafts, leather goods, and interesting jewelry, rather than your average “I Love Buenos Aires” T-shirt.

Market Finds
My spoils.

If you can’t make it on a Sunday, you can find a much smaller version condensed into the San Telmo Market.

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The market’s building is worth seeing in and of itself for its dramatic wrought-iron beams, but you’ll also find food stalls and antiques of all kinds. 

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Eats

It is easy to find good eats in San Telmo.  If you’re planning on spending the day at the market on Sunday, I’d recommend fueling up on a delicious choripan and a beer right there in the middle of the market.

Chorizo on the grill 

A choripan is one of those foods that is incredibly simple, and yet incredibly delicious and satisfying in its simplicity.  All it is an Argentine chorizo on French bread.  (“Chori” of Chorizo, and “pan” which just means bread.)  Argentine chorizo is a little different than Mexican, Spanish, or any other Latin country’s chorizo, as they’re all a little different.  It has less heat than the Mexican version, for example, but is nonetheless very flavorful. The French bread is the perfect vehicle to convey this sausage, as it will soak up any juices that attempt to escape. (Note: In Argentine steakhouses you will also find a cut of steak called Bife de Chorizo, which is like a strip steak or porterhouse, and not to be confused with the sausage.) 

Tommy Dives In
Our buddy, Tommy, dives into his choripan.

If you find yourself roaming around San Telmo on a weekday afternoon, when crowds and vendor stalls don’t have the rule of the place, stop at Plaza Dorrego and grab a table from one of the several cafes on the plaza.  This is the perfect place to lounge for a while with a picada and a drink.  A picada is a selection of finger foods to graze on, kind of like an antipasto or charcuterie platter.  While you nibble and drink, you can watch street performers dance a tango.

Picada and Clerico at Todo Mundo!
Picada and clerico, which is very similar to sangria at Todo Mundo, on Plaza Dorrego.

Tango on the Plaza

There’s also a plethora of café’s and finer dining options in San Telmo. We had two lovely meals at restaurants in the area.  Our very first dinner in BA was at La Brigada, one of the most classic parrillas in the city.  (A parrilla is an Argentine steakhouse.  Technically the word means “grill,” so it can also be used to reference the actual grill.) 

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Waiting for the restaurant to open.

After a long flight and nap to ease the jetlag, we were starving by normal American dinnertime—roughly 8 p.m. This, of course, meant that we had absolutely no problem getting a table, because Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) don’t eat until at least 10 p.m. We were literally the first people in the joint.

Bife de Chorizo 

The food was great and the service here was friendly and on point. (Not the case across the board in Argentina, but more on that later.)  The steaks and chorizo were predictably delicious, but one more appetizer recommendation would be the provoleta—which is basically a grilled, melty hunk of provolone cheese. What’s not to like?

Provoleta

A quick note about ordering steak in Argentina: the default cooking level here is close to well done.  Most finer dinning restaurants and touristy spots will ask for your preference.  If not asked, make sure to specify.  The term “jugoso” is used in Argentina to indicate rare, and “a punto” is medium. (Check out this helpful link for more on ordering steak in Argentina.)

We also had a wonderful lunch at El Historico, an Italian restaurant in a historic colonial home in San Telmo.  The food was very solid—I particularly enjoyed this salmon and shrimp ravioli and their garlicky broccoli.

Salmon and Shrimp Ravioli

Broccoli w. garlic and olive oil

Most dishes were easily big enough to share.  Again the service here was wonderful, but the ambiance was probably the biggest selling point, as the patio and rooms are beautifully decorated.  The house, the internet has taught me, belongs to the Society of Argentine Writers, which makes it all the more appropriate that we enjoyed our meal in a room that looked very much like a rich person’s library. 

El Historico - Interior

El Historico - Interior


Here are a couple more restaurants in San Telmo that were recommended to us by friends in the know, that we just didn’t have time to make it to. If you make it to one of these, please share your opinions and pics:

Aldo’s: Noted for having a particularly good wine selection. 
Street Address: Moreno 372 Phone: 5291-2380

Aramburu: Molecular gastronomy, which is so far uncommon in Buenos Aires. 
Street Address: Salta 1050 Phone: 4305-0439.

Here's another useful link on the area:

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