Buenos Aires – I’ve been hearing about the “Gaucho Fair” in the western barrio of Mataderos since I first came here as a tourist, but somehow never made it there. It sounded so far away, and so, well, touristy. But over the last couple of months I’ve heard from friends and acquaintances that it is actually worth the trip, so yesterday morning I decided it was time to go see some local cowboys. To get to the Feria de Mataderos requires a fairly long trip by colectivo (unless you happen to have your own car, or want to hire a remis). I know there’s a train to Mataderos as well, but on the map it looks like a significant walk to the fair. Yesterday the fair’s website (click above) was advertising a special folklore music and dance festival, so Henry was in, and we called up friends Elizabeth and Carlos to join us. The trip on the 180 colectivo out to the wild west took a little over an hour, winding its way through various neighborhoods, and in the end, dropping us off literally right at the entrance to the fair.
There aren’t a whole lot of gauchos, or cowboys, at the fair. There are a few wandering around providing color for the tourists. The fair is pretty good sized – the heart of it creating a “T” on the two streets of Lisandro de la Torre (named for a famous lawyer and politician from the late 19th/early 20th centuries) and Avenida de los Corrales, and extending a block or two in each of the three directions. There’s also a small flea market down the street on Lisandro de la Torre for folks, I would guess, who can’t afford to rent a booth in the fair. Like most of these weekend fairs in Buenos Aires, this is setup for the tourist trade. What I liked about this one in particular were two things. First, most of the booths in the main fair were offering actual artesanal goods, as opposed to just selling a lot of either flea market type junk or bulk nonsense like refrigerator magnets and “I ♥ Argentina” t-shirts. There were terracotta pots, hand-painted clothing, hand-woven clothing, and a ton of various art objects.
The second thing was the abundance of food stands. Most of the fairs seem to have a few scattered carts offering things like cotton candy, caramelized peanuts, and maybe hotdogs. At the Feria de Mataderos, food is central. There are multiple stands that are offering various grilled meats – the most common being the choripan, or grilled chorizo sandwich, and the sandwich de vacio, or steak sandwich. The grills range from makeshift parrillas using split oil drums, that one sees all over Buenos Aires, to large open coal pits with grill racks set above.
There are dozens and dozens of stands beyond the parrillas, offering everything from baked goods, to empanadas, tamales, stews, and other savory foods, to ice cream and pastry stands. They even provide places to sit down and enjoy. The offerings at the parrillas were quite good, and we even went back for a second round. The other things were variable – the tamale and locro just sort of average, the empanadas quite good, the churros a little on the hard side, and the mbeju (the flat bread in the middle of the picture, made from tapioca, cheese, butter, and milk) flavorful and chewy.
Of course, there was the show. Two hours worth of dancers, musicians, and singers entertaining on stage. In addition, throughout the day, various groups of dancers and musicians take to the streets, just enjoying themselves and delighting visitors. Our usual visits to weekend fairs involve about 30-45 minutes of wandering, maybe buying some little trinket, and then heading somewhere else for a bite to eat. At the Feria de Mataderos we spent about three hours wandering, eating, and just enjoying ourselves. It may be setup for the tourist trade, but it’s well done, and worth the hour trip both ways.