Buenos Aires: Tango and Football

There were two very Argentine things that Jason and I both really wanted to do while in Buenos Aires: go watch a football game and enjoy Argentine tango.

The two couldn’t be more different but after watching both, I have to say they’re so similar that I wouldn’t be surprised if Argentine tango dancers started wearing jerseys and football players traded in their cleats for tango shoes. Okay, perhaps I’m being a little extreme, but hear me out.

Venue

We wanted to watch the Boca Juniors play in the La Bombenera stadium but since the Boca Juniors fans are crazy, it would be really difficult to get tickets to a game. Instead we watched the River Plate soccer club play at the River Plate stadium – a huge venue filled to capacity with enthusiastic fans.

River Plate Football Stadium in Buenos Aires

The River Plate Football Stadium. And yes, that’s a water cannon on top of a tank at the bottom of the picture.

Jason and I were lucky enough to visit Buenos Aires just as the World Tango Championships kicked off. We were even able to score tickets to the World Tango Finals

Buenos Aires World Tango Championship tickets

We scored tickets to World Tango Finals. We only had to line up for 1.5 hours for them!

Like football, the Tango Finals were held in Luna Park Stadium – a huge venue filled to capacity with enthusiastic fans

Luna Park Stadium in Buenos Aires

Luna Park Stadium – where the World Tango Finals took place

Athleticism

Watching the River Plate team was pretty impressive. They were obviously the better team and played their hearts out. Their display of endurance, speed, and agility was pure joy to watch. There was no question they were world-class athletes.

River Plate vs Colon football match

River plate vs. Colon

The tango finalists that we watched that night were spectacular. Even Jason was impressed with how technical and difficult the Tango was – especially when it came to the intricate footwork. As with the football players, the Tango dancers’ display of endurance, speed, and agility was exhilarating to watch. World-class athletes here too.

Passion

A lot of what makes a live football game so exciting to watch can be credited to the team’s fans. Football fans are the pure definition of the world: fanatics. They are in love with the game, the players, the excitement and are not afraid to let you know. The whole stadium shook when fans chanted, stomped, and sang in unison. The passion was palpable. Side note: if the River Plate fans are considered to be tamer than Boca Juniors fans, then I don’t think I ever want to get on the bad side of a Boca Juniors fan.

River Plate fans

Football fans take their sport VERY seriously

Like a football game, the passion is also palpable when watching a pair of tango dancers ooze desire all over the dance floor. The best tango dancers make you feel a little voyeuristic when watching them dance. It feels a little wrong watching that much passion exchanged between two people.

Buenos Aires World Tango Finals

A passionate embrace in between intense tango footwork

Acting Ability

Two world-class tango dancers will make you believe they are absolutely in love with each other. I would not be surprised if every single dance couple up there were actually romantically involved by the way they touched (and locked lips with) each other.

On the tango world stage

Putting on a show for the audience and judges

Like tango dancers, football players also possess an incredible acting ability. More times than I can count, two football players will barely make incidental contact and almost always, one of them will roll around on the ground in agony. They writhe in “pain” until they are certain the ref won’t be making a foul or penalty call. At that point, they jump up and rejoin the game as if nothing ever happened.

The fenced in seating in River Plate Stadium

There is, however, one big difference between the two displays of athleticism – Security

While the security guards at the Tango Finals just waved us through without so much as an extra glance, we were met with this when we tried to make our way into the football stadium:

Getting into a River Plate game

Some serious crowd control before the football match

Fans were funneled down certain streets by the stadium where they were then subjected to full body pat-downs and bag searches by riot gear-clad police officers.

Pat-downs and bag searches before the football match

Pat-downs and bag searches by police in full riot gear

After the initial search, your bag is subjected to 3 more searches at various checkpoints until you are finally allowed into the general area around the stadium. One final bag search when you reach your entrance gate and then you’re allowed inside into this:

Fenced-in seating area in River Plate Stadium

Our “box seats” for the River Plate game

A fenced-in seating area topped with barbed wire.

This area is where fans of the opposing team are seated. After the game, the entire stadium is locked down for 30 minutes to allow the opposing team to leave the stadium and surrounding area first. Crazy football fans!

So there you have it.  Really, other than the barbed wire seating area, Argentine Tango and football are like two peas in an Argentine pod.

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Buenos Aires: Fuudis Food Tour

One of the funnest and yummiest things we did in Buenos Aires is join a food tour.  This was all thanks to Jason – he read about Fuudis in a local events magazine.

Quoted from their website: “Fuudis is a brand new concept bringing together uber cool people who love looove food, and surprising dining experiences. We create ‘experiences’ for you to enjoy food in unusual settings, away from the norm, combining gastronomy and art in new creative spaces.”

Founded by food-loving Argentinian and Aussie business partners, Marine and Anne, Fuudis offers many food-themed events.  We decided to try their dinner food tour.

We emailed them right away and asked whether they had room on their next dinner food tour.  Unfortunately they were booked solid but they said they would add us to their waiting list.  The night before, they emailed saying that they had room for us!  Woohoo!

We were instructed to meet at an intersection in the Puerto Madero district at 8:30pm (an early dinner time for most Argentinians).  Puerto Madero is right on the canal and is Buenos Aires’ most modern neighbouhood, home to exclusive restaurants, luxury hotels, and expensive apartments.

Puerto Madero district (Buenos Aires)

Puerto Madero district

We met the group of foodies (or fuudis) and the organizers, Anne and Marina, who were so friendly and bubbly.

The co-founders of Fuudis - Anne & Marina

The co-founders of Fuudis – Anne & Marina. It was the only decent picture I was able to take of them – they were on the move all night

The group consisted mainly of locals but we were told that the mix changes from week to week.  We immediately struck up a conversation with a Brazilian man of Jewish descent who was serving in the Israeli army, and his Argentinian mother.  We all walked to the first restaurant together (Campo y Mar) for the appetizer course.

Campo y Mar

Our first restaurant

Once we got in, we were seated with three Argentinian locals: Tatiana; her mother, Sophia; and a Fuudi veteran, Evo.  It was Evo’s eighth food tour.

Sophia and Evo

Sophia and Evo

We had some great conversation about the food scene in Buenos Aires and enjoying food while travelling.  The good thing about being seated with locals is that we received lots of great local restaurant recommendations.

For our first course, we enjoyed marinated octopus and a refreshing glass of malbec rose.  The octopus was delicious – slightly tart and a perfect consistency.

Marinated octopus at Campo y Mar

Our first course: Marinated Octopus

On the way to the second course, we bumped into a Kiwi couple who had just arrived in Buenos Aires: Craig and Sarah.  We hit it off right away (being native English-speakers probably helped) and when we reached our second restaurant, La Rosa Nautica, we sat together to continue the conversation

Kiwi couple: Craig and Sarah

Kiwi couple: Craig and Sarah!

I had the whitefish with artichoke sauce and blue cheese cream and Jason had the BBQ beer-battered salmon.  And also a couple of glasses of Malbec.   Anne (one of the organizers), walked by and whispered: “the faster you finish your glass, the faster they’ll refill it” 😛

White fish with artichoke sauce and blue cheese cream

Second course: Whitefish with artichoke sauce and blue cheese cream

BBQ Beer-battered salmon

Second course: BBQ Beer-battered salmon

Jason won.  His salmon was delicious.

Our third and final stop was Bice for Italian desserts.

Third restaurant: Bice

Third restaurant: Bice

Last course: Italian desserts

Last course: Italian desserts

We were seated at a long table across from a hilarious Argentine lady who wanted to practice her English (Laura) and her husband (Paolo).  Laura was a doctor who loved food and travelling.  Her next travel destination was Prague, Czech Republic.

Argentine couple: Laura and San Paolo

Hilarious Argentine couple: Laura and San Paolo

Fuudis was such a great concept – a great opportunity to meet locals who share a passion for food, enjoy a delicious three-course meal, and have great conversation.  They held a draw at the end of the night and I even won a bottle of wine!  Great way to cap off a great night.

Winner of the draw

I won a bottle of wine! Party continues on the bus home 😛

Eating: Argentina

Before Jason and I arrived in Argentina, I emailed my colleague (who is Argentinian) to pick his brain on what to eat. He sent back an amazing list of what to eat and we pretty much followed it word for word. Actually it was so descriptive, I’m going to let him help me write about the awesome food in Buenos Aires (his words in italicized blue font).

Eat meat. It really is so different. Everything cooked on a parrilla. Here are some things to try:

Bife de lomo or bife de chorizo (cuts of steak, they don’t have t-bone etc)

Even though I’m not the biggest fan of meat, I really enjoyed the parilla restaurants in Buenos Aires. Parillas (Spanish for ‘grill’) basically serve grilled meat and animal parts. Our first visit to a parilla was to Las Cholas in the Las Canitas neighbourhood. It was probably our favourite parilla. They didn’t give us a choice as to how we wanted the steaks prepared (they prepared the steaks well-done), but it was still so delicious! It’s served with a side of Chimichurri sauce (a sauce of herbs, garlic, and vinegar) – which is perfect for the steaks. Never turn down Chimichurri sauce if you’re offered some.

Las Cholas, a delicious parilla in Buenos Aires

Las Cholas, a delicious parilla in Buenos Aires

Bife de Lomo

Jason got the Bife de Lomo – delicious cut of steak

Bife do Chorizo

I ordered the Bife de Chorizo. I won – it was so tasty, fatty, and delicious

We had parilla again a few weeks later at a restaurant called La Cabrera. They had an awesome happy hour deal where between 7-8pm, everything in the restaurant is 40% off. No one in Buenos Aires has dinner earlier than 8pm (with the exception of tourists), so it was a clever way for the restaurant to generate some additional business and a great deal for tourists. We had met a fun couple from California in Patagonia and we decided to meet up again in Buenos Aires for dinner and drinks. Christina and Scott had both just finished writing the Bar and were travelling for 7 weeks before starting their careers in law.

Dinner with Scott and Christina at La Cabrera

Dinner with Scott and Christina at La Cabrera

Ribeye steak (cooked medium) at La Cabrera

Jason and I ordered the ribeye steak. They even let us choose how wanted it prepared (medium).

Morcilla (blood sausage), mollejas (glands) and chinchullines (intestines) are all delicious

We had parilla again at our hotel in Puerto Iguaza, La Cantera. It’s a quiet hotel in the middle of the jungle in the city by Iguazu Falls. We met this interesting Dutch couple (Yoost and Guusha) who was travelling for four weeks before they moved from Holland to Ontario for work. We had a great time with them over dinner. The restaurant actually had to kick us out because we wouldn’t leave.

Dinner at our hotel restaurant (La Cantera)

Dinner with our new Dutch friends, Yoost and Guusha

We tried the blood sausage, glands, and intestines. Very interesting flavours – I liked the blood sausage and glands. The intestines were a little too weird for me. Guusha wouldn’t even touch the animal parts. Yoost was brave enough to try them out. He, too, thought the intestines were a bit weird.

DSC02281 (800x533)

Our giant meat platter

I liked the blood sausage so much that I tried it again when we were back in Buenos Aires.

Blood Sausage (Morcilla) at La Cabrera

Blood Sausage (Morcilla) at La Cabrera

The trick to eating the animal part is to not think about it too much. The more you think about the fact that the sausage is made out of blood or that you’re eating the throat glands of the cow, the more you psych yourself out. I have to admit though, my first thought after I ate the intestines was ‘I wonder if the cow ate something sandy before it became our dinner?

Choripan – sausage on a bun, street food…so good

This was divine. They weren’t as easy to find as street meat is in Toronto, but when we had our first one, we both let out a sigh of delight. Choripans are grilled sausages, covered in the magical Chimichurri sauce, and served on toasted buns. I think I’ll have to write to the city councillors in Toronto to petition for the replacement of all Toronto street meat with Choripan.

Choripan - street meat in Buenos Aires

Choripan – street meat in Buenos Aires

Choripan - street meat in Buenos Aires

You can see the delicious Chimichurri sauce in this picture.

Milanesas – my favourite of all, it’s like a schnitzel but tastes way better. I eat these for breakfast, lunch, and dinner

These are so good. I can see why it’s my colleague’s favourite. I, too, ate these for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No joke…I’ll show you:

Milanesas - like a schnitzel but better

Milanesas – like a schnitzel but better. I had these ones for breakfast – twice.

Milanesas - like schnitzel but better

I had this one for lunch one day.

Milanesas - like schnitzel but better

And this one I had for dinner.

Eat sweets. Again, so different and so good

You have to go eat ice cream from Freddo’s, you will be amazed that you have never eaten ice cream that good before.

Freddo's ice cream in Buenos Aires

Freddo’s ice cream

I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve had Freddo’s ice cream by now. It probably is the best ice cream we’ve ever had. Each time we had it, we ordered the 1/4 kilo serving. And each time, we wished we’d ordered the 1/2 kilo after we inhaled the 1/4 kilo in about 5 seconds flat.

Freddo's ice cream in Buenos Aires

This is a 1/4 kilo of heaven Dulce de Leche and Chocolate with Almonds ice cream.

Alfajores – the best ones hands down are Havanna. They have little stores you can find that sell these.

Yup, the best ones ARE Havanna. We stopped at a Havanna cafe in La Boca and ordered four alfajores. Don’t let the size of these little sweets fool you – they are very filling. We only finished two.

Havanna cafe in the El Caminito area

Havanna cafe

Dulce de leche – it’s everywhere and perfect

Along with the Havanna alfajores, we ordered coffee with dulce de leche. It really is perfect. Coming to Argentina, I didn’t have much of a sweet tooth but I am leaving this country with one (or five).

Havanna cafe in the El Caminito area

Alfajores and Dulce de Leche coffee. I think I got a cavity just from looking back at this picture.

Facturas – pastries but better. The ones filled with dulce de leche are my faves. Anything filled with dulce de leche is my fave.

My newly developed sweet tooth craved facturas all the time. They come in all different sizes and shapes and they’re all good.

Facturas in Buenos Aires

Facturas – delicious delicious Argentine pastries

In addition to the list my colleague provided, we also got a lot of recommendations from locals to eat lots of Argentine pizza and empanadas.

Argentines are very proud of their pizza. The immigration from Naples and Genoa at the end of the 19th century brought this food over, but since then Argentines have made it their own. There are two main types: Pizza a la piedre (on a stone oven) is similar to Neopolitan pizza. It has a crispy thin crust. Or the traditional pizza molde which has a spongey, chewy thick crust.

Senior Telmo pizza place in San Telmo (Buenos Aires)

Senior Telmo in Buenos Aires

For really good pizza a la piedre, we went to a popular little joint in San Telmo, called (what a surprise!) Senor Telmo.

Senor Telmo in Buenos Aires

Packed with locals – exactly how I like my restaurants

We arrived literally 2 minutes before the dinner rush (9:30pm). All the groups behind us had to wait over an hour for a table. We were seated within 10 minutes.

Senor Telmo in Buenos Aires

Arugula & Jamon Crudo and Pancetta & Mushrooms

We asked the server for two recommendations and we went with both: arugula & jamon crudo, and pancetta & mushrooms. They were delicious but I’ve been spoiled by the really good Neopolitan pizza joints in Toronto so I wasn’t that blown away.

For the traditional Argentine pizza molde, we were advised to go to El Palacio de la Pizza (The Palace of Pizza…I know, it’s cheesy! Get it? Cheesy, Pizza? haha). I typically like to enjoy my pizza with a cold beer, but Argentines love to enjoy it with wine. So we split a bottle of red.

El Palacio de la Pizza in Buenos Aires

El Palacio de la Pizza

We were also advised to order the provolone pizza. Thick, chewy, and smothered in infinite layers of provolone and mozzerrella. It was deliciously artery-clogging. We ordered a medium pizza and both of us couldn’t finish our second pieces.

Provolone pizza from El Palacio de le Pizza (Buenos Aires)

Provolone pizza. The medium size comes with 4 slices. Two people will likely only be able to finish 3.

It kind of reminded me of Chicago’s deep-dish pizza.

Provolone pizza from El Palacio de la Pizza

Side view of our pizza.

We stayed in the Montserrat neighbouhood for a couple of days, and our host (Ruy) recommended we go to a local pizza joint (closest intersection is Salta & Venezuela) for their empanadas. He described them as little cheesy pockets of pastry perfection. I ordered the Roquefort (which I highly recommend) and Jason ordered the ham & cheese.

Empanadas in Buenos Aires

Empanadas: little cheesy pockets of pastry perfection

Ruy wasn’t kidding – they were perfect. We’ve had dozens upon dozens of empanadas since that first one and none have measured up.

So there we have it: a rundown of all the delicious foods one must try in Argentina. Special shout-out to my Argentine colleague for his advice and letting me use his wise words in this blog post.

Buenos Aires: City of Neighbourhoods

Sunset over Buenes Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires is a wonderful city – probably one of our favourite cities in South America. It’s a city of beautiful French and Spanish architecture, fascinating political and cultural history, a vibrant arts scene, great restaurants – it makes for an incredibly liveable city. Jason and I have spent over 3 weeks in Buenos Aires – the longest we’ve stayed in just one city and we loved every moment of it.

Buenos Aires kind of reminds us of Toronto, or Paris, or New York – probably because it’s also a city of neighbourhoods. Each neighbourhood or district has its own unique look and feel. The posh refinement of Recoleta, trendy hip Palermo, gastronomic Las Canitas, the proud roots of La Boca, historical Montserrat…the list goes on. It’d take weeks to explore all the little nooks of Buenos Aires, and weeks we took.

Luckily, Buenos Aires has an excellent and inexpensive public transport system: a clean and efficient subway system (ARS$2.5 or CDN$0.50) and a very extensive city bus network (ARS$1.60 or CDN$0.30). We only used a cab twice the whole time we were there.

The Subte - the subway in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Las Cañitas

We stayed in a modern little apartment in Las Cañitas

Our modern apartment in Las Canitas neighbouhood

Our apartment for the 3 weeks in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Wedged between Palermo and Belgrano, Las Canitas is a pretty, tree-lined neighbourhood. It popped up in the 90s and quickly became a neighbourhood of signature restaurants and hip bars. Today, it possesses the highest concentration of restaurants and bars in the city.

At Las Cholas, one of the great restaurants in Las Canitas

At Las Cholas, one of the great restaurants in Las Canitas

Montserrat

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we also spent a few days in Montserrat. A place of historical significance, Montserrat is the district that holds Plaza de Mayo, the Cabildo (where Eva “Evita” Peron famously addressed the nation), and Casa Rosada.

The face of Evita on one of the buildings in Montserrat

The face of Evita on one of the buildings in Montserrat

San Telmo

Closeby is the neighbourhood of San Telmo. It’s a beautiful old neighbourhood – its history rooted in tango dancers pressed together on the cobblestone streets, colonial houses, and antique stores. Today, it’s one of Buenos Aires’ trendiest areas – full of hostels, refurbished old pubs, and independent designer boutiques.

Cobblestone streets in San Telmo

Cobblestone streets in San Telmo

On Sunday, many of the main streets close down for its weekly antique fair and is packed full of performers, artisans, and market stalls.

Sunday Antique Market in San Telmo

Sunday Antique Market in San Telmo

Performers in San Telmo

Artists & performers in San Telmo

Performers in San Telmo

Artists & performers in San Telmo

San Telmo was one of our favourite neighbourhoods. We frequented this neighbouhood often – returning to enjoy Argentine pizza, grab a microbrewed beer, or to wander through the market.

La Boca

Another neighbourhood steeped in history is La Boca. The old port (Vuelta de Rocha), is where thousands of European immigrants arrived at the end of the 19th century – bringing and instilling a very proud Italian subculture in the neighbouhood.

The old port in La Boca

The old port in La Boca

La Boca is also home to the rowdiest and craziest football club in Buenos Aires: the Boca Juniors. Fans are so rowdy (and sometimes violent) that tickets are no longer sold to visitors- only club members can purchase tickets to football games. We were told that the only way tourists can see a game is to either purchase tickets on game day through very sketchy scalpers (i.e. counterfeit tickets galore) or to go through a tour operator that charges USD$150/ticket. Jason REALLY wanted to see a football game while in Argentina. But we didn’t end up seeing the Boca Juniors.

La Bombenera: the Boca Juniors stadium

La Bombenera: the Boca Juniors stadium

La Boca can be pretty dangerous. We were advised, by our guide book and locals alike, to not wander off the beaten path and to always be aware of our surroundings. Luckily, the beaten path offers some very interesting sights.

El Caminito in La Boca (Buenos Aires)

El Caminito in La Boca

El Caminito in La Boca (Buenos Aires)

Colourful sheet metal houses in El Caminito

‘El Caminito’ is one-part tourist trap and one-part bohemian getaway. The picturesque streets are lined with colourful sheet metal houses and filled with (artists dressed like) tango dancers that want to take a picture with you (for a fee, of course!)

Belgrano

Belgrano is a quiet neighbourhood that’s also home to the city’s Chinatown. The stores here sell anything and everything; pungent smells waft from the fish markets; and barbecued duck and pig carcasses hang in the front of restaurants.

El Barrio Chino in Belgrano

El Barrio Chino (Chinatown) in Belgrano

I can see why there are no Asian people in the rest of the city – they all seem to congregate here. I also found my favourite comfort food here: a steaming bowl of noodle soup.

Noodle soup in El Barrio Chino

My favourite comfort food: noodle soup

Recoleta

Recoleta became the most exclusive area in the city in the late 1800s when a yellow fever epidemic forced the wealthy aristocrats from San Telmo to the tree-lined streets of this upper class neighbourhood.

Parks and walkways in Recoleta

Parks and walkways in Recoleta

One of the most exclusive addresses in the city can be found in Recoleta, but no one actually lives there: the Recoleta Cemetary. It’s a must-see for all visitors, especially during the week when it’s eerily empty and quiet.

Recoleta Cemetary

Spooky Recoleta Cemetary

Recoleta Cemetary

Looks like its ready for Halloween year-round

Recoleta Cemetary

Recoleta Cemetary: beautiful and eerie

Evita’s remains are buried here with her family, under her maiden name.

Eva 'Evita' Peron's final resting place

Eva ‘Evita’ Peron’s final resting place

The above were just a few of the neighbouhoods we visited and enjoyed. There are so many more neighbouhoods to explore. If you get a chance to visit other neighbouhoods in Buenos Aires, leave me a comment below and let me know about it. Or did I miss any of your favourite neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires? Tell me about them 🙂