Buenos Aires, Argentina
Within but a few blocks of my apartment here in Buenos Aires, there are three Chinese restaurants. No surprise really; Chinese food can be found the world over. But the same cannot be said of Argentine cuisine. Indeed, in the American Pacific Northwest where I hail from, cooking inspired by this country is experienced as often as a Sasquatch sighting.
The sad fact of the matter is that the food here is simply not popular in the world outside of Mongolian forced labor camps, and even there the Geneva Convention limits the servings to one meal a day.
What is the reason for this? To discover the answer, one must first visit a typical neighborhood sandwich shop in Buenos Aires. The offerings will likely be: cheese, ham, cheese & ham or ham & cheese. Detect a subtle pattern emerging here? There also are places called Pizzerías, but instead of including such toppings as pepperoni, sausage and onions (the way God meant for pizza to be served), their idea of a wild time is grudgingly tossing a few olives on top of the cheese. And if you visit a supermarket, the Exotic Spices Section will be stocked with mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard.
Personally, this has been hard to adjust to. The other day I caught myself trying to ship a box of Seattle’s Dick’s Delux Burgers (which as you know can sit for weeks under heat lamps and not lose their flavor) down to Buenos Aires via Zoom Cargo, a local freight forwarding outfit. I do not know which is more disturbing, my choice of food or freight forwarder.
Yet this does not explain the reason behind the puzzling blandness of the food. Perhaps over the past century mini ozone holes have opened up over the country, frying the Argentinians’ taste buds.
Or maybe it has to do with their dining habits. The average Buenos Aires resident has four meals a day: breakfast, lunch, “merienda” and dinner. Merienda takes place around 5:00 p.m. and is a light meal consisting of tea or coffee, a bit of bread, and a few cookies. By the time their dinner is ready, often well after eight o’clock, the person has crashed from his or her sugar high and hasn’t had a solid meal for nearly seven hours. (I am speaking from experience here. I tried a few crackers and cookies once in the late afternoon and by the time evening rolled around, felt like a Donner Party survivor.) After such a long fast, even hospital food would have gourmet-like appeal. Little wonder therefore that flavor is in such low demand. The entire country has a borderline eating disorder.
When tourists return to their home country, they used to kiss the ground upon exiting the airplane as a sign of their happiness to be back. For me, I’m going straight to Jalisco’s, a favorite Mexican restaurant of mine near the Space Needle, to kiss the Tabasco bottles. And when they bring those chips and salsa, you’re going to see a grown man weep with gratitude.