1. The people of Buenos Aires are called ‘Porteños’ – People of the port.
2. Buenos Aires is the original home of Tango: In the 1880s, millions of Europeans arrived at the port of Buenos Aires, looking to escape the misery, wars and economic inequities of their homeland. The city became a melting pot of the immigrant cultures and the original culture of the Porteños. The newcomers brought with them the music from their homelands, their musical instruments and their dances. Afro Argentinean steps and rhythms started to mix with European music and choreography, and the tango was born.
We went to a tango show with Nick’s brother and his wife, Neil and Shirlatron. ‘Tango Rojo’, in the beautiful Hotel Feana designed by Philippe Stark in Puerto Madero, charts the history of tango from its beginnings. It was like stepping into the 1920s; the hotel oozes style, awash with red velvet and gold trim. The show wasn’t bad either, featuring no less than 3 world champion tango dancers.
(Whilst the show was incredible the free flow Malbec and the sebsequent bottle of rum we dispatched afterwards in the hotel bar meant we turned up 1.5 hours late to meet our Argentinian fixer to help us retrieve the motorbike from customs.)
3. Buenos Aires has the widest avenue in the world, Avenida 9 de Julio. Named after Argentina’s Independence Day, it is 110m wide. The avenue was conceived in 1888, when Porteños were obsessed with anything French and so mimicked Hausmann’s plans for Paris. It involved the demolition of an entire city block along its 1km length.
4. Buenos Aires is the place to take maximum advantage of the Argentine ‘Blue Dollar’ – See our earlier post The Colonia Dollar to learn all about it.
On Florida, a street in the center of town, literally hundreds of shady looking men shout “Cambio!” constantly at anyone that looks vaguely like a tourist.
Should you want to take advantage of this parallel exchange rate, head to Recoleta, the most upmarket neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, Posadas 1565, and change your money the way the locals do, with electronic counting machines and a security guard stationed at the entrance. Then sit back and enjoy delicious steaks and world-class red wine for two-thirds of the price.
5. Talking of food, our rapidly expanding waistlines are testament to the fact that food in Buenos Aires is top drawer. The European immigrants have definitely left their mark. A few highlights:
- ‘Medialunas’ (a bit like croissants). On average, Nick took down 3 or 4 on the walk to Spanish school every morning from our favourite Confiteria – ‘La Argentina’.
- ‘Heladerias’ (ice cream shops) on most streets; each selling about 20 or 30 different flavours. You can even get kilos of the stuff delivered to your door.
- ‘Dulce de Leche’; a bit like caramel, it is eaten as a spread with anything and everything.
- ‘Empanadas’ (like Cornish pasties), a handy snack filled with all sorts of different flavours. You’re not a Porteño unless you tuck away 1 or 2 each day.
- It goes without saying the steak is amazing. Whilst in Buenos Aires you have to go to a ‘Parilla’ (steak house) and marvel at the variety of cuts on offer, each lovingly barbecued to perfection. The key word you need when ordering is ‘jugoso‘ which translates as ‘juicy’ and ensures your steak arrives pink in the middle and slightly charred out the outside.
- There are shops selling just fresh pasta in all shapes and sizes for you take home and cook.
- Buenos Aires also boasts some spectacular fine dining restaurants. We went to ‘Aramburu’ for a 12 course molecular gastronomic extravaganza at the chef’s table, complete with Argentine wine pairing. It’s a tough life.
Porteños tend to eat dinner about 10 or 11pm but this allows them to crowbar in another whole extra meal called ‘Meriendes’, taken at about 5 or 6pm; just another opportunity to enjoy some more of the above.
6. Closed door restaurants are very popular in Buenos Aires. Essentially a blend between conventional restaurants and dinner parties, they are held in the chef’s house with, more often than not, a fixed price set menu. To satisfy our cravings for spices and South-East Asian food, we went to ‘Cocina Sunae’ with travel buddies, Winnie and Daniele, a closed door restaurant serving up Thai, Vietnamese and Phillippine dishes. Winnie’s beautiful photos and descriptions on her blog Olivia Oyster sum it up perfectly.
7. It seems everyone owes a dog in Buenos Aires, but no-one has neither the time, nor the inclination to walk them. Enter the professional dog-walker. They struggle through the streets of the more exclusive neighbourhoods with up to 25 dogs at a time, with the obvious result that you have watch your step when going for a walk!