Quilmes, etc.

May 21st 2010: Travel

(final chapter of the Guilty Pleasure Tales)

Compared to the other Argentinean vices, their smoking, their caffeine dependency, and their sweet tooth, this last one, alcohol, is the one they seem to indulge the least in. Or at least they don’t drive it to an extreme the way they seem to push the other ones. Sure, just like in the rest of the world, alcohol is everywhere and happily consumed. But unlike the inhabitants of other countries I have visited, Argentineans don’t seem to like the feeling of losing control, getting way too drunk to find your way home. Instead they prefer to rely on yet more caffeine to make sure the party goes on until sunrise. As a result, beer and wine and cocktails are consumed in more or less “healthy” moderations.

The local wine is cheap and excellent. I grew particularly fond of Malbec, a local red wine grape similar to Merlot that turned out to be just right, not too sweet, not too dry. Most of the Argentinean wine
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Sweetness

May 20th 2010: Travel

(third chapter of the Guilty Pleasure Tales)

In Argentina some flavors are hard to find while others come in overwhelming abundance. Like sugar and anything sweet. Not only are Argentineans running on coffee and mate, but they also appear to be on a constant sugar high. Everything that’s not savory tends to be overly sweet. In Patagonia I had a hot chocolate that was so incredibly sweet, to an almost disgusting degree, that you could barely drink it. And it was served with several (!) additional packs of sugar on the side, in case I found it too bland. This is not a rare example. The movie theatre popcorn is sweet, the morning croisants are all sugar glazed like donuts, plenty of sugar goes into your mate, and because they are made with real sugar and not with corn sirup, sodas are also fairly popular, while their diet (or light) versions seem to just be available for show (or for us dumb foreigners). The epiphany of the Argentinean sweet tooth, however, is Dulce de Leche, a milk caramel sauce made, according to wikipedia, essentially from condensed, sweet milk. It’s as ubiquitous as your standard chocolate flavor: anything you can imagine getting in chocolate exists down here soaked in Dulce de Leche (ice cream, Oreos, etc). It is another one of those national Argentinean staples you will not be able to escape.

I just found out that, due to international trade issues, sugar has become a rare commodity over the last few weeks with many stores either not selling it at all or limiting sales to one pack per family. I wonder what that will do to the local cuisine. And to the business of the hordes of dentists that must be making a killing down here.

Coffee, Mate

May 15th 2010: Travel

(second chapter of the Guilty Pleasure Tales)

No, no. The comma in the title is on purpose, not a typo. I don’t want to talk about that artificial creamer office managers buy in bulk and that, because barely anyone uses it, fills up cabinets over cabinets in the shared kitchen. And yes, we are still in Argentina, not Australia. After dealing with smoking, I want to dive into the much more pleasurable Argentinean vices centered around caffeine. There are two you should really be familiar with, that you will be exposed to within the first few hours after entering Buenos Aires: Coffee and Mate.

Coffee

Argentineans have a wonderful coffee culture. There are cafes at every street corner. I heard a number quoted somewhere: 8,000 cafes in Capital Federal, the heart of Buenos Aires, alone. These cafes are open at all hours of the day, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. And not only do they serve coffee,
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Light Up!

May 1st 2010: Travel

(first chapter of the Guilty Pleasure Tales)

Remember those times when you went out to a pub or a bar or a club and then you came home, late at night, after having a grand old time, you crash in your bed, barely able to get out of your clothing and sleep so deep and well, like a log, or like a German style rock? And the next morning you wake up bright and early and relaxed and still a tad hung-over. And then you smell your hair and that favorite shirt you wore the night before. And the gag reflex kicks in and you are more likely to throw up now from that nasty stench than you were the night before from the Tequila shots? Remember those days? Obviously I am talking about the time before smoking was banned in these … entertainment facilities. And when that ban came, at first you were surprised, didn’t see the point, reluctant to change, until that first time you went out after the ban had been instated and then, the next morning, you realized you smell like a fresh spring flower in an untouched forest near the snow covered mountains with Unicorns joyously trotting by. Basically what the snuggle bear must smell like. OK, maybe you didn’t smell quite like that, but you know what I mean. Well, Buenos Aires is going through that transition right now… and very slowly. At this point it is still smoker heaven with some minor annoyances, while as a non-smoker you are in partial hell. As occasional smoker you might just get by.
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