Of porteño street foodPosted: June 8, 2011
Loving, as I so deeply do, all things edible and adoring, as I so truly do, all things urban there is little in the world that pleases me more than street food. By this I mean any sort of vittles you can buy on a downtown corner, from a truck or a cart, served from baskets or coolers, out of trunks or passed through windows.
Here in Buenos Aires there are a handful of street foods that I like to nosh on as I stroll about the city. For your reading pleasure I detail my top picks below.
First and foremost among the urban edibles here in the port city is garrapiñada, pictured above. Men and women set up blue carts all around Buenos Aires (though the highest concentration of vendors of this urban delicacy seems to be in and around the Plaza de Mayo). In round copper pots they cook a pile of sugar until it melts and boils and then mix in peanuts or almonds and stir until the nuts are coated in caramel-colored, crispy goodness. The going rate for a small bag of garrapiñada de maní is two pesos. If you want almendra, three. This stuff is radically addictive, especially because when you’re walking around you can get whiffs of the boiling sugar and it leads you, powerless against its olfactory magnetism, to the nearest bubbling pot. They’re best enjoyed calentita.
A very close relative of these nutty little treats is tutuca. This isn’t actually prepared on the street but there you can find it, usually right alongside garrapiñata. It’s sweetened, puffed corn. Imagine a sort of simpler version of Corn Pops that taste more like Honey Smacks. Sometimes the vendors have big trash-bags full of the stuff that they’ll divvy into smaller, take-away sizes. So airy and delicious and just the right amount of sweet. I’d say Kellogg’s is in for a run for its money.
Pan relleno is another must-try metropolitan treat. A little harder to find on your average weekday, but always available from a variety of bakers who stroll the weekend markets with baskets full of them, warm and fresh. This is literally just stuffed bread–easily encountered are the typically Argentine gustos, jamon y queso; queso, tomate y albahaca; or the ubiquitous carne. I myself prefer the more thrilling flavor combination that is zapallito, choclo y cebollo. If you want the best pan relleno I’ve tried in this wonderful place, hit the Sunday fair at San Telmo and look for a young man with long curly hair who ties a huge basket of his freshly made and portable feasts to the front of his bicycle. Usually ten to twelve pesitos and well worth every centavo.
Finally I must commend the industrious coffee slingers who walk the markets, the corners, the busiest streets. They usually have a plastic crate equipped with shoulder straps in which sit five or six thermoses of coffee. This java may not be of the creamy cortado quality you find in the city’s notable cafés, but it’s to-go and will do in a pinch. Warning, though: if you ask for it black you’ll get some sugar already in the mix. A sad fact about Argentine street coffee is that they mix the sugar in with the grounds. Just no way around it.
And, finally, speaking of sweets: porteños love sugar and all the ways you can consume it. This means that at every market and anywhere folks are selling foodstuffs you can find someone offering churros filled with dulce de leche, doughnuts rolled in white sugar, slices of cake and more. Just the other day I was walking up the steps of a subte exit and a couple was offering these little postres for a couple of pesos a piece.
All this means, of course, that if you’ve got some spare change and a little shoe leather to spare, you can spend a fine, palate-pleasuring time in this city without ever setting foot in a restaurant. Fast food made friendly.