Different Sides of the Tracks

2005.Jul.20 Wednesday · 1 comment

in Life

Buenos Aires – Quite literally, there is a divide between neighborhoods on opposite sides of the tracks. I set out originally planning to check out two places for empanadas from the Tucumán area in the northwest. I’ve been following the guidance in selecting places of both recommendations of friends and the writings of Dereck Foster, food and wine writer for the local English language newspaper, the Buenos Aires Herald. High rise office buildings in San NicholasThe two spots closest to each other that he’d recommended were in the San Nicholas area and the Retiro neighborhood. Unfortunately the former has been replaced by a shoe store and I couldn’t find the latter. More empanadas another day.

San Nicholas is basically the “downtown” of Buenos Aires. It is predominately office buildings, including many high-rises that house the headquarters of companies like IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Movistar (major cellphone company here). There are numerous restaurants, many oriented around the business traveller, offering quick but tasty lunches from a variety of international cuisines, and dinners at somewhat earlier hours than the rest of the city. That said, I should note that it’s not unusual in BA for restaurants not to open for dinner until 8 or even 9 o’clock in the evening. Retiro Train StationMost locals won’t be caught out eating prior to about 10 p.m. and it’s not out of the ordinary to end up with dinner plans an hour or two after that!

Wandering down Esmeralda Street (how could I not head to an, umm, “bewitching” restaurant on that street?) I ran firmly into the train tracks and the Retiro train station. As the number I was looking for looked to be a few more blocks on, I circled the gigantic train and bus station and found myself in another world (in which I couldn’t find Esmeralda again). Retiro shopsRetiro is a neighborhood I know very little about – it’s listed as a tourist destination by most guidebooks, but with little said about it other than it’s a place to purchase authentic artesanal items… whatever that means. While I only saw a few square blocks of the neighborhood, that part of it (behind the train/bus station) was quite poverty stricken, with collapsing buildings, dirt streets, abandoned cars, and a very cheap flea market that seems mostly frequented by the local poor. I can’t say that I felt unsafe skirting the area, but I wouldn’t have wanted to venture far into the winding paths without someone local who I trusted.

Papas Andinas - Andean PotatoesI didn’t see much in the way of artesanal items, but there were some wonderful little vegetable stands, and I took advantage of spotting some items I haven’t seen in other markets and bought a couple of different types of papas andinas, or Andean potatoes. I’ll talk a bit more about these after I actually try them out, and maybe find out exactly what varieties they are (I tried a couple of google image searches just to match pictures and didn’t see the particular ones I bought). Though I’m pretty sure the young lady who packed up my potatoes for me (and gave me full kilos of each rather than the half kilos I asked for) charged me a bit more than she’d have charged someone who looked a bit poorer, I paid less than a dollar per kilo and didn’t begrudge her any extra.

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