Photography by Marc van der Aa
“Less is more” goes a long way in Buenos Aires. The average Argentine showers their taste buds in simplistic pleasures. A sandwich equals white bread, ham and cheese (no crust please). A salad could consist of just a single vegetable, sliced and dressed with olive oil. Dinner, for a number of friends of mine, is typically Milanesa con papas (breaded chicken, fried or baked, with some variation of potato) repeated regularly throughout the week and rotated between cheesy pizzas, steaks and pastas. But what the Argentine appetite lacks in complexity it makes up for in time tested, unpretentious and absolutely delicious plates. And when you want just a little bit more, you can always count on your local bodegón to fill your stomach.
Cruise down any block in the city and you will most definitely come across a bodegón, a family-style restaurant that is both extremely simple and totally perplexing for its variance in form. In one of the historical neighborhoods, your local bodegón might be in an antiquated French building, with a cute atmosphere, attentive service and waiters dressed in sharp white outfits and bow-ties. Walk down another street, and the bodegón on the corner could be a poorly lit dive, with Maradona´s portrait hung up in place of (or beside) the Virgin Mary, walls decked out in jerseys and waiters that ignore you (with that unique porteño charm).
Like all of the world´s best restaurants, it´s advised to go with a group of people in order to get the crème de la crème, the parrillada. Somewhere in the restaurant there should me a man toiling over an open fire and more cuts of meat than you know to distinguish. Your own personal parilla with half a dozen juicy cuts will be delivered straight to your table where friends quickly turn into enemies. Drench everything in fresh chimichurri or salsa criolla, and don´t let them jip you on the best part, papas fritas (French fries), which can be served plain or a la provenzal, topped with fresh parsley, garlic and olive oil.
Stock up on the bread because sides should never be overlooked. Spread that loaf with some provoleta, provolone cheese flavored with herbs and olive oil heated to melty perfection over the grill, or some morrones a la parilla, bell peppers that have been grilled and topped with olive oil and garlic. And don´t skip out on the escabeche, a style of preserving food with vinegar and spices. Both the vegetarian version with berenjena (eggplant) and the pescatarian friendly merluza (hake) are excellent.
If you´re looking for a different kind of overload, treat yourself to some carbs. Homemade ravioli, spaghetti, gnocchi, lasagna or cannelloni, flavored with your choice of one of a dozen sauces, makes the Italian ancestry suddenly apparent. Navigating the enormous list of dishes never ceases to intimidate, so get chummy with your waiter (who has probably worked their most of his adult life) who can proudly guide you through all of the houses specialties. Drink it all down with a nice bottle of wine, drunk solo or mixed with soda water for those humid summer afternoons.
By the end of your plentiful food fest, it´s not going to be so easy to move. Why people spend entire Sundays there is suddenly so clear.
Check out some of our favorite Bodegónes:
La Lechuza @ Uriarte 1980, Palermo
La Viña del Abasto @ San Luis 3007, Abasto
Los Laureles Bar @ Av. Iriarte 2290 Barracas
Café Margot @ Av. Boedo 857, Boedo
Cantina Los Amigos @ Loyola 701, Villa Crespo
WHAT'S UP BUENOS AIRES
by Kevin Vaughn