Monday, March 10, 2008


The vagaries of world economics tend to pass me by a little. It is not that I am not interested, more that I am, well just a bit dim when it comes to stock markets, inflationary indicators and trade agreements.

However, there are times when the differences between countries, and their economic fortunes and misfortunes, hits you where you feel it most, in the wallet. That can be bad, if you are an American travelling just about anywhere these days or good if you are a Brit or a European with a decent hard currency in your pocket.

It is particularly favourable if your next port of call is, as mine was, Argentina. A number of years ago, the economy of this notoriously unstable Latin American shattered into a million disappointed dreams. It is recovering slowly, but still leaving many people disenfranchised and impoverished. For the visitor, it offers a opportunity to experience the country and the capital of Buenos Aires at prices that would scarcely cover a round of drinks back in London.

To put it into context, a three course meal at a good restaurant in the decent neighbourhood of Palermo which included a pre-lunch beer, a jug of very acceptable wine and a little something afterwards cost less that $15.

But, more of this later. First I had to get there which involved a tortuous trip from Mexico City’s dilapidated International terminal to the equally dreadful one in Argentina’s capital.

With a bit of internet good fortune, I had found a lovely little self contained apartment slap bang in Microcentro, which, for $20 a night provided everything I needed in a great location to explore the city by foot and by its reasonable and efficient taxi service.

After a welcome shower and an even more welcome few hours kippage, I headed out for a pre-lunchtime walk, which saw me ending up in the well to do neighbourhood of St Telmo, which is packed full of restaurants and bars. One of the most well known was Desnivel and it was here that I had my first experience, at source as it were, of the thing that makes Argentina so famous. It’s beef.

Beef in Argentina is rightly prized as some of the best in the world and is quite different from that you find in the US or UK. In Argentina, beef is served fresh rather than aged and the difference is all in the taste and the texture.

My meal of Morcilla, Bife De Chorizo was washed down with a jug of local Malbec, which was served in what the locals call a “Pinguinos” a jug shaped like a Penguin. I never quite figured out why and no one was ever able to give me a proper explanation. So, any clues?

The cost of a meal was a lowly £4 which selfishly struck me as a bit of a result until I began to walk back to my apartment and saw a large protest from locals who had lost every last penny of their pensions. It is, as they say, an ill wind.

Another staple of Argentinean cooking is the empenada. Very different from its Galician namesake, empenada in Argentina are plump little pasties filled with meat, fish or vegetables and considered the perfect accompaniment to a bottle of the local brew, Quilmes.

After a sizeable lunch and with my digestive system playing all kinds of tricks following my flight, I could not face another big meal so walked up to the ritzy area of Recoleta, filled with bars and restaurants alongside palatial residences and sought out El Sanjuanino. It is widely regarded as the best place for empenada in the city and I can see why. When I arrived, it was already filling up with locals and I squeezed myself into a seat for one and ordered a handful of pasties. With meat, with cheese & vegetables and with sardine. They were exceptional and those who said they were the perfect foil to a nice cold one were not wrong.

I could easily have stayed there for more, but the place was heaving by now and it was getting hard to hear myself think as the locals gabbled about the horrors of their day. On top of which, I was beginning to wilt, so took the opportunity to walk home and have an early night.

I did, after all, have a lot more meat to eat in the next few days.

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