Photos of La Rica Vicky
The word alone, “Abasto”, normally provokes some pretty sketched out faces: noses scrunched, eyebrows furled, eyes looking at you twisted. “You live there?” people ask me, politely dumbfounded, “But it’s so loud and scary.” Abasto may be one of Buenos Aires’s most misunderstood neighborhoods. Its reputation for being home to squatters, thieves and prostitutes precedes its current reality: a burgeoning zone in the midst of gentrification that mixes a strong cultural history with bustling sidewalks, bohemian sensibilities, and my favorite, cheap and delicious food.
It is an unofficial micro-barrio on the northwest point of Balvanera, and an uncommon melting pot of peoples and faces in a city that is rather homogeneous by most international metropolis standards. Located in central Buenos Aires, it is lodged between the über-upscale Recoleta to the north and the working class market district, Once to the east and south. The two inverse worlds meet in Abasto, where quick contrasts of socio-economic climates have mingled and transformed this small borough into one of the most diverse corners of the city. Traditionally dominated by Orthodox Jews, the area has adapted into a conglomerate of working class Bolivians, Peruvians and Chinese, middle class Argentines, and a more recent boom of African populations from the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Somalia.
‘Cheap and delicious’ is readily found in every Peruvian eatery, which is easily the neighborhood’s largest culinary endowment. The neighborhood is flooded with them. They are spiced all along the central avenue - la Avenida Corrientes - and amongst the lesser ventured side streets. And they come in all shapes and sizes, evolving in scale as more outsiders begin to frequent the zone. Cash rich Recoleta has started to shake hands with lower class Once, Abasto in the middle of it all. Investment has poured in with sleek high rises adding new textures to an area which has become home to one of the city’s most popular cultural centers, one of its largest shopping malls and a budding theater district. As Abasto experiences real changes, the evolution of the Peruvian restaurant is pure aesthetics. Everyone shares nearly the same menu, and more importantly, the cheapest lunch you will find in the entire city.
The lunch I’m referring to is the slightly hidden Menú del día. For between 15 and 25 pesos (3.50 GBP or 5.50 USD) you score a large chicken soup, a main course of your choice and a cup of chicha morada, a dark drink made from sweet, unfermented purple corn. For 25 pesos it’s difficult enough to make a meal at home and eating out at that price is nearly unfathomable. Most restaurants don’t readily advertise the deal and won’t even mention it to you when you take a seat. This isn’t a trick to get you to order that 80 peso ceviche - you’re either in the know or you’re not.
Every day each restaurant sees what they have in excess and will sell their extra dishes at nearly half the price. The typical options are normally fried fish, chow-mien style noodles with chicken, or, the prince of all princes, el seco de carne. By now, the waiter at my local spot (I choose grimey and loud at La Rica Vicky, Ecuador 467, for just $18 pesos) has stopped asking me my order and plops my plate of choice in front of me with little more than a simple acknowledging smile. When new waiters try to hand me the menu, he’ll interject with a dry and polite, “He’s a regular, get the boy some seco.”
” The seco is a slowly cooked beef loin warmed to juicy perfection that tears to pieces with the slightest prick of the knife. The sauce - with hints of cumin, tomato and chilies - sloppily bathe the refried pinto beans and rice with a juice that can only be described as inebriating. I lather everything in freshly made salsas, which generally come in plain plastic squeeze bottles that make me feel like I’ve returned to the humble Mexican taco stands of my childhood. My favorites are the Huacatay, a thick pastel green sauce that contains ricotta cheese, evaporated milk, rocoto chiles and Huacatay (black mint) leaves, or the Crema de Rocoto, rocoto chilies blended with lemon juice, vinegar, onion, leeks and celery. The rocoto, a fat little bell with potent black seeds, is the hottest chili you will find at the local veggie vendor, and when they tell you that it’s picante they mean it. Coupled with the large chicken soup, it’s a heavy meal to take down in the early afternoon, but just try to stop yourself from licking it all up. And if you just so happen to pass into a food coma, I see a brief power nap as a guilt-free dessert.
WHAT'S UP BUENOS AIRES
by Kevin Vaughn