Saturday, October 15, 2011

Beyond Beef: Buenos Aires Fruit & Veg

In poorer neighborhoods of large US cities, franchise fast food burgers and other junk food are easy available, but it’s often hard to find fresh fruit and vegetables. The diet of their residents suffers accordingly, and obesity is rampant. Surprisingly, that’s not the case in Buenos Aires and other large Argentine cities, where there seems to be a greengrocer on almost every corner – even if, ideologically speaking, rich and poor alike are carnivores. As the photograph above (taken in La Boca, one of BA’s poorest neighborhoods) shows, there’s an abundance of fresh produce.

Traditionally, green salads are an Argentine staple; apples, oranges, grapes, pears, strawberries and the like are standards of the household diet, and also serve as the basis of many restaurant dishes and desserts. Now, though, according to the city daily Clarín, the offerings are getting more diverse. Items such as mangos, passion fruit, and plantains are appearing on corner fruit stands well as adventurous restaurants. In my own prosperous Palermo neighborhood, tasty red bananas have begun to complement the everyday yellow Cavendish that’s the world’s most common variety.

In part, according to the article, this new diversity is a function of immigration from tropical South American countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela. Peruvian cuisine, in particular, has had a powerful impact on the Buenos Aires dining scene; the same is true in Santiago de Chile, though Argentines and Chileans can’t handle spicy food as well as the Peruvians can.

Possibly the best place to see what’s available is Caballito’s Mercado del Progreso (pictured above and below), where chefs from around Buenos Aires come to acquire items still not easily found elsewhere. One of the city’s last full-block markets, it dates from 1889 and couldn’t boast electricity until the 1950s. Today, in addition to the usual meats and cheeses, and common produce, it displays countless crates of Andean oca, arugula, baby spinach, daikons, seriously hot peppers and turnip greens, among other items. Those aren’t usually associated with Argentine cuisine, but they’re working their way in.

Moon Patagonia on the Road
Starting Tuesday, I will take the new third edition of Moon Handbooks Patagonia on the road, with a series of digital slide presentations on southernmost South America. In addition to covering the capitals of Buenos Aires and Santiago, the gateway cities to Patagonia, I will offer a visual tour of the Chilean and Argentine lakes districts, Argentina's wildlife-rich coastline and Chile's forested fjords, the magnificent Andean peaks of the Fitz Roy range and Torres del Paine, and the uttermost part of the Earth in Tierra del Fuego. I will also include the Falkland Islands, with their abundant sub-Antarctic wildlife.

The first event will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday night, October 18, at Wide World Books (7 p.m), 4411 Wallingford Avenue North, Seattle, Washington 98103, tel. 206/634-3453.  The following night, I will be Village Books, 1200 Eleventh Street, Bellingham, Washington 98225, tel. 360/671-2626, also at 7 p.m. On Friday October 21 at 6:30 p.m., I will be at the San Mateo County Library, 620 Correas Street, Half Moon Bay, California 94019, tel. 650/726-2316. On Saturday the 22nd, at 5 p.m., I will be at the Travel Bug, 839 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501, tel. 505/992-0418.

For those planning trips to the south, there be will be ample time for questions and answers. Books, including my other titles on Argentina, Chile and Buenos Aires, will be on sale at all the events. Admission is free but seating is limited, so it’s a good idea to get there early.

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