Buenos Aires and Visa Renewal–Food in Buenos Aires

We spent a few days in Buenos Aires in February to renew our visas…and I’m just now getting around to posting some of our pictures and information!

Since we’re only temporary residents, we need to take the annual trek to Inmigraciones to have Argentinian officials okay us for another year.  Blessedly, between a combination of incredibly diligent fixers and the fact that we’re just renewing, the process was quick, easy, and painless.

However… if you’re looking for advice on how to get through Argentinian Inmigraciones, we are not the droids you’re looking for. We’re exceeding lucky to 1) have a company sponsoring our employment, 2) to be both employed by said company, 3) to have said company pay for some very nice fixers to speak rapid-fire Spanish at the very grumpy Argentinian criminal records people on our behalf. The DNI (Argentinian National Document–sort of a cross between a drivers license and a passport) is an elusive thing for most extranjeros, and we recognize we’re incredibly lucky to have the process go so smoothly.  Now, on to the process of actually getting the new, renewed DNIs! I’m sure this will involve several hours in a waiting room…

We brought our new coworker (also American) with us to Buenos Aires this time so he could get his paperwork started. It was a nice change to be able to share all of our knowledge about Buenos Aires and Argentina in general with someone else.  Since we had meetings during the day, we stole away once in a while to do some sightseeing close to the hotel.We were right on Avenida Florida, the main shopping thoroughfare, so we did a little bit of window shopping while we hunted down some of the more “exotic for Argentina” cuisine.

Because we’ve been working so much since the BsAs trip and doing absolutely nothing interesting as a result, I’m going to split up my posts a little bit. T took a LOT of great photos, and I don’t want to just throw them all in one post.

So here, in a nutshell, are the places we’ve eaten (and enjoyed) in Buenos Aires.

 

California Burrito–What do you get when American expats really miss Chipotle? California Burrito. Okay, so it’s not exactly the same thing–but it’s close enough to get our mouths watering. Burritos and quesdillas are on the menu here, with some guacamole and tortilla chips. We make it a tradition to always go here the first night. Feels so much like home. 

Filo–Nice Italian food in a very nice atmosphere. (Although watch out for the manikin as you walk in… she can be a little handsy when you walk into her.) Good pizzas, good pastas, and a nice mix of casual and nice. They’ll always have the futbol match on the TV, and I hear the place can get a little loud at the “normal Argentinian eating time” (ie, 10pm).  We’ve always eaten either lunch or “American” dinner (8pm), so that’s never been a problem for us.

Magdalena’s Pantry–Located in the hip neighborhood of Palermo Hollywood, we found this restaurant by searching for where all the expats hang out in BsAs.

Palacio de la Papa Frita— With a name that literally translates into French Fry Palace, you know this place has to be fun! Surprisingly formal for a place whose claim to fame is endless plates of delicious homemade french fries, we enjoyed our steak here (that can be cut with a spoon!) and obviously several plates of papas fritas.  Word to the wise–the portions are huge! It’s definitely possible to cut costs by splitting a meal.

_DSC1489

If we’re going to be honest, though, we often grab some food in the food court of Galerias Pacificos on Florida. A mall food court doesn’t sound exciting–but we’ve always enjoyed the options here. For the homesick foreigner, there’s a Subway that smells just like home (whether that’s a good or bad thing, that’s your call)–and it looks like a KFC will be opening up in there soon! We’ve tried the salad place (that actually does some very nice hot dishes too), the burger place (mediocre at best), and the Chinese place (passable, but nothing to write home about).  We’ve enjoyed the speedy WiFi and plenty of seating in an air conditioned area while we plot our next moves for the day.

_DSC1220 _DSC1229 _DSC1232 _DSC1520

As always, we stayed in a Sheraton hotel–the Sheraton Libertador.  If you’re looking for an American-style hotel in Buenos Aires, I would highly recommend either Sheraton property.

_DSC1284 _DSC1595

Our First Asado

In the 13.5  months we’ve been in Argentina, we’ve been to a lot of asados (barbeques).  They’re such a key part of Argentinian/Paraguayan culture (especially rural culture) that it would be impossible to avoid them. Every Sunday, the entire neighborhood smells strongly of burning charcoal and roasting meat.

Although we’ve previously hosted little asados just for one or two of our American guests, we hadn’t hosted our own asado yet.  We decided to kick off 2015 by changing that. Here’s some helpful, handy tips for hosting your own asado, Argentinian-style.

Buy your meat first. The recommendation is essentially two pounds of meat per person, so buy a LOT. We tend to follow the Argentinian standard for what types of meat to buy:

_DSC1075 _DSC1072 _DSC1073_DSC1071(Yes, I know all of our photos do a lovely job of showing how cluttered our kitchen is, and how terrible we are at putting away dishes.)

Salchicha–Sausages that are often in a coil and are one of the first meats to come off the grill. Makes for a good picada (or appetizer/finger food)

Chorizo–No, Americans, it’s not what you think. These are just the fat sausage links–and they are not nearly as spicy as their counterparts in American supermarket. Most often served on a roll cut in half for choripan (a mix of chorizo and pan, or bread).

Morcilla–Blood sausage. Definitely an acquired taste–but we’ve found it’s better if you spread it on bread.

Costilla–Beef ribs. Seasoned with just a little salt.

Vacio–One of the last cuts to come off of the grill, we let this flank cut slowly roast for hours to bring out the best flavors.

Ojo de bife–the prized cut of meat. We got this as a special addition to our asado, and it got rave reviews.

Argentinians are also fond of the “sweet meats,” or things like chincurines (small intestine) and other organs. We’re not big organ eaters, so we tend to skip these.

All meats can ONLY be salted, per Argentinian standard. The addition of any other seasonings will automatically tag you as muy extranjero (very much the foreigner).

When you make your fire, buy a couple bags of carbon (charcoal) at the local supermercado. They’re incredibly cheap, and this is real charcoal–no briquettes here. T uses an electric fire starter we picked up at Easy in Buenos Aires (Argentinian Home Depot–you can find them all over town, but our preferred one is in Palermo). You can also use good, old fashioned matches, but it’s all a matter of personal preference.

The key to the fire is to get it good and hot, and then throw the meat onto the grill. However, Argentinian customs indicate no fire should ever touch the meet–completely contrary to US standard. This tends to be where one of your adept (and always male) Argentinian guests will hop up and fix your grill and fire for you.

_DSC1080 _DSC1084

In terms of those guests… invite however many people you feel comfortable with! Argentinians (at least where we are) are used to sharing cups, plates, and utensils, even with strangers, at parties–so no need to really have a cup, plate, and utensils for every single person. We still try to anyway because we are muy estadounidenses and clearly have germ issues that Argentinians and Paraguayans don’t care about. Grab as many chairs as you can, and drag the dining room table to your back patio, and you’re set.

The only other important thing to have is LOTS of cutting boards. The meat comes off fast and furious, and it can be difficult sometimes to find enough space for everything. In that vein, bring out a couple rolls of paper towels, and be prepared for things to get messy. We got a tablecloth to just toss in the washing machine after the party so we didn’t trash the table with all of the grease and meat juice.

_DSC1079 _DSC1078

Common drinks at an asado are beer (of course–buy some Quilmes or Brahma for local options, or spring for the slightly more exotic Heineken), wine (always red, and preferably an Argentinian Malbec), Coca Cola, Sprite, and Coke and Fernet. (Fernet is an digestive liquor from Italy that is heavily used in Argentina. It’s very bitter, and one of those things we just haven’t become accustomed to. However, be aware if someone randomly hands you a glass of Coke at a party, it probably has Fernet in it too.) We try to add in some bubbly water and regular water (because, again, we’re Americans).

Asados, at least in our neck of the woods, tend to start around 8 or 9pm. Typical with Argentinian and Paraguayans, if you say it starts at 8, they’ll show up at 8:30. (However, we have a group of coworkers that are very much aware of US customs, so they’ll show up on time for us… but not for anyone else.) They’ll last as long as the meat and beer hold out, and by 1am or 2am, they’re ready to go to open up the club. (Yes, the clubs down here don’t OPEN until 1am or 2am–and going to the club at 1am is like the person in the States who is sitting in the club at 8pm.)

_DSC1081 _DSC1083

Our first asado was deemed a rousing success. We invited all of our coworkers and their significant others and friends, and although we got a lot of help from a few friends (one of whom is a caterer, so this is his life) we think we pulled it off pretty well. We managed to make it to the 1am end time–but didn’t make it out to the club, since we were beat by then. Someday we’ll go full Argentinian and party all night until 7am like they do!

One last note–give your leftovers to the neighborhood dogs and cats. If you don’t, they’ll just rip through your garbage bags for it anyway, and they’ll love you for setting out some tasty scraps.

The Actual Expat Thanksgiving

It’s been a busy week at work, plus we’ve been trying to do some online shopping for the holidays! However, on Sunday we managed to figure out an Argentinian version of Thanksgiving. We invited over one of our coworkers, and we ended up making a feast of roast chicken (no turkeys in Argentina!), stuffing (smuggled for the States), mashed potatoes, and green beans.  We were supposed to have brownies for dessert, but I’m still getting used to baking in Argentina. Not only did I not have a brownie pan, but it’s just a dial on the oven without any numbers–so everything was a guess. The end result? A bit of a burned brownie. Oh well, guess we’re just going to have to put it on top of some of our famous banana ice cream.

_DSC0590 _DSC0593A belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Foz de Igaucu, Brazil

We knew that a trip to the Falls wasn’t complete until you had seen it from both sides (Argentina AND Brazil).  However, being US citizens, we needed a visa to get into Brazil. Thankfully, Puerto Iguazu in Argentina has a Brazilian consulate that grants quick visas.

Since the process is ever-changing (hello, South American official paperwork) and the information in the internet is slim, here’s our process. Fill out your Brazilian visa form online here, print out the form (and make sure you save a copy of your confirmation number!), and attach your approved passport photo. Remember–no smiling, needs to be a white background, and adhere strictly to the size limits.  The online form is experimenting with uploading some documents, but it’s still in beta stage, and assume you’ll still need to bring your documents and paperwork with you. Also, when they ask for your hotel information in Brazil, we just chose a random hotel. They never checked to see if we actually had a reservation, and I assume most people coming through are day trippers.

If you’re a tourist: bring a copy of your driver’s license (front and back), a copy of your passport (including a copy of the page with your Argentinian entrance stamp), and  a copy of your bank records proving sufficient funds.  Also, we brought along a copy of our birth certificates, a copy of our marriage license, and, of course, our reciprocity fee papers. To be honest, the workers at the consulate just seemed impressed that we had all of our ducks in a row prior to coming in. (Insert some sort of grumbling about “if it was clear online, maybe there wouldn’t be that many problems” here.)

If you’re a temporary resident of Argentina: all of the above, PLUS a copy of your DNI (front and back), a copy of your residencia temporaria legal papers, and we brought along our precarias just to be safe. Also note, Argentine temporary residents–if you have your own car in Argentina, make sure with your car insurance company that it has the optional “MERCOSUR” insurance that allows it into Brazil. That is one thing that the Argentinian aduana was diligent in checking.

You can pay your fee, which is somewhere around the line of $160USD, in either pesos (subject to Brazil’s current feeling on what a peso is worth) or in reais. We paid in pesos and had absolutely no problem. Just be sure to have exact change (or as close as you can be. I think a 5 is okay if you have a bill that’s 32, but they won’t exchange 100 peso notes. If you need it, there’s a Macro bank in the city center of Puerto Iguazu, about four blocks away from the consulate, that has four clean, well-maintained ATMs. As usual in Argentina, stock in said ATMs will probably be lower around the 1st and 15th of every month as people get their government payouts on their EBTs. So plan accordingly.

So, we submitted all of our paperwork, paid all of our money, and left our passports with the nice Brazilians overnight and picked it up the next day.  And, honestly? Although I had heard some stories about how the Brazilian consulate can be a madhouse of backpackers, tourists, and generally Americans behaving badly on a Friday–we were the only ones there besides the consulate employees. It was a pleasant experience, and not much of a hassle.

We have our own car down here in Argentina, and we double checked to make sure it has the optional MERCOSUR insurance upgrade that allows it to drive into any MERCOSUR country without a problem. There are plenty of buses in Puerto Iguazu that go to the falls everyday, and even more travel companies happy to take your money in exchange for a ride and a tour of the Brazilian side.  We easily drove through customs (although we always get funny looks when the customs agent sees “EXTRANJERO” or foreigner printed on our national ID cards) and made it into Brazil.

Here’s where I talk about the seedy portion of all of this. The border between Argentina and Brazil at Iguazu/Iguacu is not terribly well patrolled for bus patrons. We’ve been told several times that it is absolutely easy for people to just ride a bus and go over to the other side without getting a visa, and without legally exiting/entering either Brazil or Argentina.  Because we work down here, and we’d prefer to not have to call our employer for them to bail us out  of the customs pokey, we chose to go the legal route, and thus, I have no comments about the whole “sneaking across the border” part of Iguazu.

In many ways, Foz de Iguacu is like Puerto Iguacu–all about the tourists. Shops and people selling their wares on the side of the road. And as always, poverty–the likes of which probably shocks those from the First World, but is sadly part of our landscape now. However, in many ways, the Brazilian side is radically different. Brazil has a much more open economy than Argentina. As a result, there are many more imported products–the motorcycles are Harleys and Hyabusas as opposed to bicycles that someone attached a lawnmower engine to. There’s Hershey’s chocolate and clothes from China. (In Argentina, one of the more draconian rules is that it’s incredibly difficult and expensive to import clothing for sale. As a result, easily 95% of the clothes are made in Argentina, with the exception of a few giants like Nike, Reebok, and LaCoste.)  Everything just looks a little bit nicer, a little bit more commercial… a little bit more American. Whereas Puerto Iguazu feels exactly like an Argentinian/South American tourist town without any recognizable fast food brands or chains, Foz de Iguacu felt more like South America’s Myrtle Beach… with waterfalls!

This feel extended to the Foz de Iguacu park itself. With a modern parking lot (paved versus Argentina’s dirt), the ability to pay with a credit card (versus Argentina’s cash-only policy), and modern buses taking tourists from the fancy queues and gift shops to the actual falls (versus a train in Argentina… or a hike), it just felt more like an American Six Flags safari than Argentina’s side did. This is both good and bad.  We loved the efficiency of just paying for parking when you bought your ticket, being able to easily use your credit card, clean public bathrooms, and obviously announcements in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. But it definitely felt less like a great South American adventure… and more like any other trip to an American tourist attraction.

However–the falls were beautiful! Whereas the Argentinian side  lets you get up close and personal with the falls, the Brazilian side offers some great panoramic views. A concrete pathway winds along the side of the cliff–be careful, it’s much more crowded on the Brazilian side than we ever encountered in Argentina! But, you get some gorgeous photos of the Falls in their full glory–and they have a great concrete walkway that leads right into the mist of some of the falls–great for photo opportunities!

_DSC0299 _DSC0320 _DSC0342 _DSC0345 _DSC0346 _DSC0353 _DSC0357 _DSC0376 _DSC0402 _DSC0403 DSC_7231 DSC_7236 DSC_7240 DSC_7258 DSC_7298 _DSC0331 _DSC0365 _DSC0385 _DSC0412 DSC_7220 DSC_7238 _DSC0296 DSC_7265 DSC_7234 DSC_7209

We grabbed lots of great photos, and saw even more coati trying to steal food from the tourists, but ultimately didn’t spend as much time on the Brazilian side. There are lots of side adventures run by private companies to partake in–zodiac boats, rock climbing, bike tours, white water rafting, ziplining–but the weather was starting to turn, and we didn’t feel like forking over $80 per person just to do a few little activities, most likely in the rain.  Ultimately, we made the right decision: it was drizzling when we made it back to our car, and full-on pouring buckets of water by the time we made it to the border. We’re planning on coming back to Iguazu again before we leave South America–so we figured leave some of the fun activities for the next time!

We didn’t hang out in the town of Foz de Iguacu much this time–but there are definitely some nice-looking hotels and resorts in the area, if you’re looking to stay on that side. We did briefly try to follow the signs for the tres fronteras marker in Brazil, but ended up in a not-so-nice neighborhood bordering on a favela, or shantytown, and decided to call it quits on that.

If you’re in Iguazu, definitely go to the Brazil side if you have the time and visa! It’s worth it to get the panoramic views and to see just how different two countries can be, just on the other side of the border.

Since November 1st was our *real* anniversary (we got married in a courthouse before we got married in the “white dress and tux” sense), we decided to go to Bocamora in Puerto Iguazu for a celebratory dinner. Situated essentially on a cliff on the costanera, or coastline, it is an incredibly romantic location overlooking the Tres Fronteras area. The menu was diverse, as was the wine list, the service was great, and the view was incomparable. We enjoyed a really nice meal on their back patio and toasted to two years! T got the ojo de bife (a very nice cut of meat), and I got a pork loin, both of which were delicious. We aren’t normally “that couple” who takes pictures of their food, but it looked pretty spectacular, so we couldn’t help ourselves.

_DSC0444 _DSC0443

 

Adventuras en la carniceria

I’ll start this post off with a warning:  If you are not a fan of raw meat, and are one of those people that prefers not thinking about how your steak once moo’ed… this is not your post. Sorry.

One of our favorite things down here is shopping for meat. Unlike in the United States, there are virtually no prepackaged cuts of steaks or pork chops or what have you. Instead, you make friends with your neighborhood butcher, or carniceria.

Ours is lovely–they always have a variety of delicious looking beef and pork, with some chicken. They tolerate our language barrier, and we always learn something new when we visit them. The butcher has been one of the hardest parts of language learning down here–all of the cuts are slightly differently butchered, and have a very different name! T has made it his personal goal to learn all about Argentinian beef while down here, and to cook the best steak ever.

We had a great steak at The Argentina Experience in Buenos Aires, where T grilled our hosts about exactly how they cooked the meat. He’s determined to duplicate the process, so we decided to buy some meat in bulk the other day.

Essentially, we bought a hunk of meat as long as a cow. Officially, in English it was short loin 8 ribs, and in Spanish bife angosto con lomo 8 costillas.  Whatever you call it, it was a LOT of meat.

_DSC0325 _DSC0328

T is the resident meat expert, and has done a lot of research into not only how Argentinian cuts of beef are different from their American counterparts, but how to best cook them, Argentina-style.

After we dragged our HUGE bag of meat home…

T cut the bife ancho (rib meat, or rib-eye steaks) and angosto (strip loin) into fat steaks for our fancy cooking technique he wanted to try. (More on that later!)

_DSC0330 _DSC0332 _DSC0334_DSC0336 _DSC0335

Then, T cut up the lomo, or tenderloin into smaller steaks. This is the part of the cow where filet mignon comes from–it’s naturally tender.

_DSC0338 _DSC0343 _DSC0344

The only quibble we had with our meat was the lack of marbling–which is almost entirely due to the fact that cows down here are entirely free-range and grass fed. No corn or sugar finishing for these cows! It’s nice that the ground beef we get is so lean (and great for our diets!) but still means a slightly less tasty steak sometimes.

_DSC0337 _DSC0340

After we had successfully packaged up the meat,  T took some of the lomo, or tenderloin, steaks, set them on a cookie sheet with a rack, and air cured them in our fridge for 24 hours.

 

After that, he coated them in coarse salt, and then cooked then, 20 seconds per side, in a cast iron frying pan filled with vegetable oil until al punto, or medium rare.  The result? A crispy outside with a juicy center. Delicious.

_DSC0352

Thank you, T for helping me write this post! I admittedly am not that great about remembering all of the cuts, much less in Spanish. I tend to do a lot of smiling and pointing at things that look vaguely familiar when I’m at the butcher.  We’re looking forward to doing so many more cooking experiments while we’re down here–and hopefully we’ll remember to take photos and share what we learn along the way!

Buenos Aires–The Argentine Experience

I’d like to put in my plug here for Viator.  No, I’m not being paid to do this.  I’ve just found their site, and their tours, to be super-helpful.  In English (with options in other languages), you can search out activities and trips by country, city, and region. We did a Viator on our honeymoon in Amsterdam last year and had a wonderful time at the Amsterdam Dungeon and on a Halloween-themed dinner cruise.  Because we were getting kind of desperate to talk in English to people, we decided to do two Viator activities in Buenos Aires. The first one was The Argentine Experience.

Sort of billed as a “closed-door” restaurant, the Argentine Experience is part restaurant, part cooking class, and part fiesta. It was started by several ex-pats who wanted to find a way to teach the tourists more about how to make Argentinian cuisine, and was financially backed by a famous Argentinian poker player. Located in the stylish Palermo neighborhood, it is a beautiful bar on the first floor for mixology classes, and a kitchen and long farmers’ style tables on the second floor.

We started the evening with a delicious cocktail made from malbec and fruit juices, and the very nice staff kept our wine glass filled the entire night.

Empanadas are generally translated into English as “turnovers,” although I’m not quite sure I would call them that. Empanadas are a staple in Argentinian cuisine. I think we did a rough estimate at some point and said that T and I have eaten over 1,000 empanadas since we got here in January. That’s a lot of empanadas. (They’re small–that’s why the number is so large.) If you’re unfamiliar, empanadas are pastries filled with meat, cheese, and/or vegetables. They’re generally the size of your palm, and they’re great and inexpensive street food.  The tricks to having a good empanada: 1) good ingredients put into them (in our case, a beautifully marinated pulled beef, some delicious cheese, and some malbec-cooked onions), 2) filling it with the correct amount of filling so it doesn’t leak out and leaves 2 cm around the entire circle of pastry, and 3) doing the repulgue correctly. Repulgue is one of those words that has no real English equivalent. It’s used specifically to describe the action taken to seal up the empanada and get it ready for cooking. Repulgue is an art form… which I am not fantastic at.

_DSC0258

After we made our “normal” empanada (and ate a bunch of the meat and onions on their own… oops), we had the creative empanada contest, where each person had to take two pastry sheets and make something interesting with their empanada.  It is well known that I am not a great artist. I do not free draw, I do not paint (unless it is a wall–I can do that), and I do not sculpt. It’s just not in my wheelhouse. Imagine my surprise when I was chosen as the winner for my “bear-pig-wombat” empanada.  (In reality, it was supposed to be a carpincho/capybara, but clearly my artistic skills were lacking.) I am now a social media star on The Argentine Experience Facebook page.

_DSC0268_DSC0270

We had the absolute best steak we’ve had in Argentina–and apparently it’s all about how to cook it. They have a special method that T took copious notes on–but it involves cooking it for a long time with two sources of heat (one on either side) and minimal flipping of the meat. Regardless, it was absolutely delicious–and I’m still salivating just thinking about it. The sides of vegetables (the absolute first time we have seen steamed vegetables as a side in Argentina, ever) and the mashed potatoes were awesome.

Then, on to some Argentinian phrases and hand gestures! (No, they didn’t teach us any of the dirty ones.) Basically, it was a great crash course in “things your taxi driver will probably say and do while navigating the insane traffic of Buenos Aires.”  It ended with us yelling “Que te pasa!” as loud as we could. (Essentially, “what the heck are you doing?!?” in Spanish.)  It was presented with a great deal of humor–and in terms that all of the Americans could understand.

Then–onto dessert! We made alfajores–which you’ll remember seeing in this blog post. Alfajores are different to every province, but the ones we made were essentially two vanilla wafers with a healthy dollop of dulce de leche in between them, rolled in coconut shavings, and dipped into chocolate. Heavenly.  And of course, because it is Argentina, we had mate.  They make mate a bit differently in Buenos Aires than they do in Corrientes/Misiones. In Buenos Aires, sugar is a required part of mate, since the drink can be so bitter. We were the only Americans who 1) knew what mate was, 2) had drank it before, and 3) had a vague idea how to prepare it. We definitely got the master class here, and drank a few delicious cups of it to end our meal!

_DSC0264 _DSC0273

Overall: Total Win. We met a lot of awesome people–both fellow customers and the staff. It was great to share our experience, and to hear what other people were doing in Buenos Aires–and get great recommendations from the staff about where to get the best tacos. (Thanks, Fernando, for the  Fabrica del Taco rec–it was amazing!)  All in all–do it, especially if you’re only in Argentina for a bit and want to meet some of the great people on staff (who speak English) and learn a bit about Argentinian culinary customs.

We wandered around the Palermo neighborhood a bit after our dinner to soak in the great nightlife–it’s a really hopping place, with some fantastic bars and restaurants. (It was way too early for the nightclubs to even think about being open yet–although we saw some burly looking guys hanging around outside a club called Moscow.) We eventually grabbed a taxi back to the hotel, but got caught in a sea of people who were apparently coming back from a concert, or recital. We must have sat in the middle of an intersection for ten minutes until we found a moment to keep driving!

_DSC0276 _DSC0721

Want to learn more about The Argentine Experience? Here’s their website, which includes recipes and fun blog posts.  Also, here’s the site for Viator. They do fun trips in lots of cities, and are a lovely way to do a structured tour or outing when you’re not entirely how to book it yourself–often with door to door service. And nope, not compensated by either of these awesome entities.

Final note: I apologize for these pictures–I do not look good in a chef’s hat, but it’s a requirement of the gig.

 

T’s Argentinian Birthday Celebration

T has apparently never been one for big birthday celebrations. He definitely hasn’t been as long as I have known him! One year, I asked him what sort of cake he wanted, and he said, “I prefer pie.”  He then refused to tell me what variety of pie he preferred… resulting in him getting six different types of pie.

The word leaked out that T’s birthday was on August 16 (I know, late post!), and Argentinians love celebrating birthdays. I was in a business meeting a few months ago where one of  my American coworkers visiting down here mentioned it was his birthday. By the end of the meeting, someone had sent their secretary into town, and brought back a gorgeous birthday cake. For a town that is comprised of only a few thousand people, there are at least five stores that I know of that sell party supplies.

So, once they found out that T had an upcoming birthday, they were flummoxed that he wasn’t all that into celebrating it–but they decided that he should anyway. Our coworkers threw a lovely asado for him, inviting some of the people we’ve met so far in town, as well as a few others. They stocked the fridge and bought a pile of meat!

_DSC0002We started off with some picados, or appetizers. Not the greatest photo, but it was cheese, bread, salami, and sausages.

_DSC0003

 

 

It was a very traditional asado, including a lot of the more “adventurous” parts of the cow. Argentinians love to eat the stomach, intestines, etc. We haven’t quite hopped onto that bandwagon.

_DSC0004 _DSC0008 _DSC0011 _DSC0012 _DSC0013

 

The night was topped off with a beautiful ice cream cake topped with candles and a huge sparkling firecracker! (It didn’t actually explode, but it was very intense!) Sadly, I have no photos of that–just a video on WhatsApp that I’m not sure how to transfer.

T says he loved the celebration–and it was just low-key enough to not seem like too much of a big to-do about his birthday!

 

The beginnings of the garden…

T and I have been wowed by the abundance of beautiful, cheap as dirt produce here in Argentina. It seems like every week we go to the grocery store, there’s something new and exciting and beautiful to bring home. This week’s experiment was blueberry juice. The verdict? Odd, cloyingly sweet, and too syrupy. Oh well, it was a nice try, and it looked so pretty in the bottle!

One of the things we’ve had a hard time finding, however, is the fresh herbs we use in our cooking all the time in the States. They don’t seem to sell bunches of basil or thyme or rosemary. We’ve only seen parsley! So, we’ve decided to try our hand at gardening. The climate down here is so temperate (there is NEVER snow!) that we’re hoping that we can have some success. Here are our results so far!

The basil (both traditional green and some fun purple basil) is growing so well! In Spanish, this is albahaca.

_DSC3323

 

_DSC3324

Our tomatoes (tomates) are doing well, and so are the spinach (espinacas)! You can’t really see it, but the thyme (tomillo) is slowly growing. I’ve nearly given up hope on the strawberries (fresas), peppers (pimientos) and rosemary (romero).

Here’s a bonus picture of what we thought was a lime tree, and now we’re not so sure… we think it may be a lemon tree. Lemons down here can be orange!

_DSC3326

We’re hoping to expand the garden a little bit more every few months–I have a whole collection of seed packets with various veggies. We just wanted to start small and see how these went first.

Chipas

Since T and I have been working almost non-stop for weeks, it felt good to take an (unintentional) three day weekend. T got sick, and we both were exhausted, so we called it in on Saturday and had off Sunday/Monday for Father’s Day.  We slept (a lot!), caught up on our TiVo, and ate lots of good (pretty healthy!) foods.

A few weeks ago at our last Libertad run I had picked up a bag of chipas mix. Chipas are round little cheesy biscuits that are sold everywhere. There’s a chipas guy outside of every grocery store, a couple of kids selling chipas on the beach, and occasionally one rings our doorbell to see if we’re hungry.  I was excited to see if I could make them on my own.

I’ll admit–the mix made it easy. All I did was add eggs and water to the mix and make the little balls of dough.

wpid-img_20140614_122359.jpg

(Please excuse the random lightbulb. It was a reminder to change one in the other room, since that’s right next to the door.)

Then, we baked them for about 20 minutes in our gas oven. I’m still getting used to it, since it doesn’t have a temperature gauge. I just turn the knob and hope the temperature is good enough!

wpid-img_20140614_122928-1.jpg.jpeg

While they were baking, I decided to give a sneak peak of our kitchen–one of the few rooms in the house I think are pretty much “done.” A lot of the rest of the house is still a mishmash of half-unpacked boxes.

wpid-img_20140614_122952.jpg

One thing I desperately miss from the States? A dishwasher!

The final result? Beautiful, golden chipas.

wpid-img_20140614_124216-1.jpg.jpeg

Want to make your own from scratch? You can try any of the recipes here, here, or here.

Just your typical Saturday night in small-town Argentina

We’re slowly getting more accepted here (and, for our part, more comfortable socializing). On Saturday, we had a LOT of socializing. Our subcontractor invited us to their weekly asado.

Let’s not pull any punches here. This was not a tony affair. The meal was served in the middle of a sad-looking field, next to the remnants of a burn pile with a herd of stray cats running around.  The meat itself was served in slab form on a door that was wiped off and used as a table. There were probably 20 people there, and only two sets of utensils and four cups for Coca Cola.  So, there is not the same level of hygiene as we are used to in the States. Given that… the meat was fantastic. Chorizo (fat, spicy-ish sausage) that you can either eat on its own, or as choripan, where you cut the sausage in half and stick it between bread. Vacio which is some variety of cow, and is absolutely delicious. Perfectly cooked, always juicy–just wonderful. Then, pollo, or chicken. There were apparently some ribs as well–but I seemed to have missed those. Just in general, and bunch of construction guys enjoying the Saturday afternoon sun. There was a lot of kicking the cats away when they tried to steal food and people were playing music on their phones–Bob Marley was a big winner there. T tried to explain to them how he had lived in Jamaica for a little bit–but I think all they got out of it was that they now think he lived in Bob Marley’s house.  Oh, lost in translation…

By the end of the afternoon, we were invited to a barbeque at a coworker’s house that night. (All we do now is eat meat…) Some of the Paraguayans were going to come over to our side to celebrate one of them getting their engineering certificate. I’m not sure if there is a difference between a certificate and a degree… but regardless, if a capybara sneezed, I’m sure someone would consider it a reason to party.

We live in a kind of interesting DMZ between Paraguay and Argentina. With our work badges, we can go over the border to Ayolas, Paraguay (although we haven’t tried it yet), and the Paraguayans can come on over to Ituzaingo.  I’m told that, if you were really feeling adventurous, you could probably sneak beyond the borders of the town with no big problems… but it’s not recommended. I have no urge to spend time in a Paraguayan jail, so we’ll hold off on that. At some point, we are going to get our Paraguayan visas, but that requires handing over our passports to their embassy in Posadas for a week–and any minute I don’t have my passport on me makes me itchy. It is interesting, though, to see so many interactions between the two countries. People who live in MERCOSUR countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela are the big members, with Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Suriname as junior members) can go in between all of these countries just using their national ID card and a slip of paper that essentially notes what day they entered and gets punched when they go back to their country of origin. For Americans, even though we will (eventually, someday) have DNIs, we still count as non-MERCOSUR, and therefore have to jump through their sometimes crazy visa processes. I’m sure as we go through that nonsense, I’ll be able to detail it further on the blog.

Back to socializing… we were told that they would probably start grilling at 8pm. Now, we should have known better because we’ve been here for almost five months. Argentinians are notoriously late. And not in the “eh, traffic was bad, I’ll be there in 15 minutes” sense. They are epically late–by hours, days, weeks.  So we run out, grab some cervezas to share with everyone (because we have no idea what else to bring to an asado, and you can never go wrong with something alcoholic), and decide we’ll stop by around 8:15.  Thankfully, the party was just the next block over, so we swing by on our way back from the supermercado.  No one’s there. We go back to the house, watch the end of “Herbie: Fully Loaded” on Disney Channel, and try again at 9pm. No luck still. We finally get a text at 9:30 that the first set of people have just arrived, so we head on over.

Everyone grabs a chair, sits in a circle near the grill, and grabs a beer. The parrillador or GrillMaster hangs out by the grill the whole time, and throws all of the meat on. When the meat is ready, he pulls it off, puts it on a cutting board, cuts it into bite-size chunks, and walks it around to each person. This continues for hours of eating meat, drinking beer, and talking. I’m understanding most of what is said at this point, but T’s still a bit in the dark. Once the talk turns to specific soccer teams and plays, I’m out–whether it’s in English or Spanish.

They’re revving up for the World Cup in June/July down here–and everyone is going to be watching it, even though the Paraguayan team didn’t make it. The Argentinians were put in a group that pretty much gaurantees that they’ll make it beyond their group and into the top 16, if not even further. We’re putting the dates of each game on our calendar, and hope to catch one or two while we’re down here. We’ll probably just go to a local bar and watch with the locals. They are super–passionate about their teams, so it’s best to always know where your emergency exits are in case of a fight.

There were a good mix of people at the asado, and we try to mix the Spanish we know, and the English they know into some form of conversation. They always have lots of questions about American holidays and American customs. US tv shows are everywhere down here (Big Bang Theory, Bones, Family Guy, Simpsons, etc) so they see a lot of the quintessential American-isms. Lots of questions about how we handle Christmas, how Easter is different (remember, no bunnies down here!), and endless questions about colleges and college life (particularly fraternities and sororities).

Argentina deals with post-secondary education in an entirely different way from the US. If you want to go to college, you go. All of the national colleges are completely free of charge as long as you maintain somewhat reasonable grades. You don’t have a part time job or anything while you study–and it is expected that your parents entirely financially support you while you are in college. It absolutely blows their mind the amount that people in the US spend on a college education–and they can’t imagine having that sort of debt when they graduate.  Even more, once they graduate, they live with their parents until they are married–and a lot of the time, their mothers will cook, clean, do their laundry up until the day they move out. Craziness.  They’re enchanted by the idea of fraternities and sororities–understandable considering the amount of American cinema and television devoted to that particular facet of college life. T’s regaled them with stories from college, and I’ve explained sororities–although girl drama isn’t nearly as interesting as themed parties and giant cookouts.

We finally gave up and went home at 1:30am–just as the Argentinians were ready to head out to the club. I still need to work myself up to that level of energy!