This week I was able to meet up with a very good friend of mine from Italy, Lena, and her boyfriend Seb. None of us are actually Italian, that’s just where we met. Lena is originally from La Plata, just outside of Buenos Aires. Seb grew up in Melbourne, Australia, which is where Lena and Seb currently live. We had the great fortune of having our time in Buenos Aires overlap. I came back for the love of the city, Lena came back to visit family, and Seb, well he came along with Lena.
Before coming-, make sure you read my post on things to do before coming to Buenos Aires. You can read it here.
What to Eat at Cafe Rivas
We met in the late morning on a Tuesday at a cafe in San Telmo, called Cafe Rivas. A corner cafe with a covered side patio, hidden from the street by plants and shrubs. We wanted to start the day out with cafe con leche y media lunas. It’s the traditional Argentine breakfast if you don’t know what to eat. A media luna literally means ‘half moon,’ which is apparent by the crescent shape of the pastry. I longed for a quiet cafe breakfast of cafe con leche y tres media lunas for years after leaving Buenos Aires the first time. There is something so nostalgic and magical about these simple moments in the city. This time was particularly sweet, as we all enjoyed our media lunas while catching up on the past three years since we’d seen each other- three May’s ago when Lena and Seb left Florence.
Argentina has a large European influence, as you can easily see when you come here. Buenos Aires is often said to be the “Paris of South America,” and nearly everyone you meet has a Spanish or Italian passport. With the European influence, comes the European pastry.
After finishing our standard Argentine breakfast, we headed to the Parque Lezama, near San Telmo. But first, of course, we had to make a quick stop at the car to pick up the mate supplies, and warm empanadas on the way!
Yerba mate has a long history in the region (Argentina, Paraguay, and the South of Brazil, where it is called ‘chimarrão’), but essentially began in Paraguay by the indigenous Guaraní. If you have ever been to Argentina, you know that the drinking of mate is widespread and if you don’t know what else to drink, will be recommended. You’ll see parks full of people with mate, people drinking it in the car, drinking it at the office, or at home while relaxing.
What You Need for Mate
There are 4 essential items for the mate tradition: The thermos (for the hot water), the bombilla (metal straw), the mate (the cup, usually made of wood or pumpkin), and of course, the yerba (herbs). Drinking mate is not only a fun past time- There are several rules in this tradition that must be followed!
Sebador for Mate
There is first and foremost, a master of the mate, the sebador (ironically as Seb was our sebador for the day). The one who cleans out the mate from the last round, then prepares the new mate, sets in the straw, and takes the first sips to test the water and the taste. This sebador pours in the mate, leaving space at the top, then covers the mate with their hand and shakes to loosen up the herbs and get rid of the finer dust. Once the bombilla is inserted into the mate, it remains there on the side; it should not be moved or stirred. Once the sebador tastes the mate to ensure its quality, they fill up the mate again with water and passes it to the next person, who should definitely not say “gracias” unless they are completely done and don’t want anymore. Each person must take one entire turn, and then pass the mate back to the sebador in order to refill and pass to the next person.
Yerba mate and Chats
It was a beautiful day in Buenos Aires as we continued our long overdue chats, and drank mate and empanadas in the park. I tried my first humita empanada, which is corn with bechamel cream. Definitely a new favorite. If you don’t know what to eat, I recommend a humita empanada.
After we were sufficiently mate’d, we packed up our blankets, put the items back into their specific mate bag, and headed back into the center of San Telmo.
Lunchtime: What to Eat in San Telmo
This time for lunch. The San Telmo market sits between the streets of Defensa and Bolivar, and is filled with several different booths and restaurants for parrilla (meat on the grill), alfajores (dessert), pasta (that Italian influence), or beers and other cocktails. We chose to head to “Hierro Parrilla San Telmo,” which according to Chicho, one of their chefs, is the second best restaurant in Argentina, but first in parrilla.
It definitely held up to the expectations Chicho claimed- we each ordered a different cut of steak, I had the ojo de bife, and we all split the provoletta, a bowl of warm and melted cheese- absolute perfection. We, of course, paired our steaks with Malbec wine – a wine that is produced in different regions all over Argentina. I would agree that it’s the best red wine out there!
Alfajor: What to Eat for Dessert
Even though we were absolutely full from lunch, we, like everyone, knows there is always a second stomach for dessert. So we decided to stop off at a couple different alfajor places inside the San Telmo Market. We got the ‘alfajor maicena,’ which is a ‘naked’ alfajor made with maicena flour, and bits of coconut. We also got a ‘clasico,’ which is the standard alfajor- two cookies with dulce de leche in the middle, covered with a chocolate outside covering. We walked the next couple blocks to Plaza Dorrego for the official taste test. While the alfajor maicena was good, the unanimous winner was the clasico. You really can’t beat the dulce de leche covered in chocolate.
Merienda A.K.A the 6pm Snack
We spent the next hour watching spontaneous tango in the plaza while we enjoyed our snacks, before deciding it was time for ‘merienda.’ Merienda means ‘snack,’ but it is what Argentines eat at around 6pm. Because dinner is so late here, a snack is necessary. If you don’t know what to eat here are some options: it can often come in the form of media lunas (yes, more!), a coffee, a small sandwich, or other smaller items. Or, in our case, a beer.
We went back in the direction of the San Telmo market, and found a very cute bar, attached to the market, with outdoor seating in the street. Very Argentine. We all ordered a local artisan blonde ale (the ipa was out, but was my first choice). I’m generally not a huge fan of blondes, but I will say, this one was fantastic. The rubia by Libertadores.
Finally our time together had come to an end. A fantastic day of catching up, recalling memories, and jokes, and eating fantastic traditional Argentine food. I was sad to say goodbye to my friends, but so grateful we at least had this chance to meet once again.