Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world, hovering at the southernmost tip of South America, pointing to Antarctica. It was settled first by the Spanish, who ignored then largely eliminated the indigenous peoples over the course of a century or two. It had a flurry of immigration from Europe, oddly attracting a sizeable colony of Welsh people as well as other Europeans, and recently has become a colony for Japanese and Chinese settlers. Its recent history
has included brutal dictatorships that caused thousands of dissidents to "disappear" before and during the Falklands War. It currently has a female president and enjoys relative stability and democracy. Its cities are built in the European grand style and are known for a modern, sophisticated ambience that attracts many visitors to the country. Argentina's means of survival initially was the taming of the great desert region known as the Pampas, which included the development of the romantic
gaucho, or cowboy, culture of nomadic cattle workers. Bringing in foreign beef cattle and feeding them on grass gave Argentina the basis of its cuisine - it's all about the beef.
Dereck Foster is a native Argentine journalist who specializes in food and works as the
Buenos Aires Herald's Food and Wine columnist. He has paired his talents with those of Richard Tripp, a North Carolinian whose U.S. Naval service took him all around the world, including Buenos Aires. The two have created a small pocket-style book that is easy to carry, colorful, fact-filled, and would serve well as a guide both to a tourist in Argentina and to someone settling in for a longer stay.
One of the most useful chapters in the book concerns "Eating Out." It' not a guide to restaurants or menu items, but rather an explanation of dining customs which can be far more daunting to a stranger than simply pointing to something and hoping it tastes good. Footsore budget travelers will be happy to learn that the price of one espresso buys you a table to sit at for hours at a time in any café or
confitería. If you're on the road, do what Americans used to do before the age of fast food and easy interstate exits – look for where the truckers are parked, and don't be put off by simple rustic décor. Don't be surprised if you get food with your drinks (though not with a glass of wine, for some reason) and drinks with your food – these are free and present no obligation to the diner other than to enjoy. With tipping recommended at just 10
percent, Argentina seems like a gourmand's paradise.
Another helpful segment of this book concerns how to shop. There are many excellent
supermercados that make the process easier for a foreigner, but if you plan to entrench yourself in the local culture, the authors recommend shopping as many locals do. Get your bread at the
panadería, your meat at the carnicería, and your fruit and veggies from specialty vendors whose shops abound in every neighborhood. Dealing with a real person will augment your language skills, too. The book also contains lists of Spanish terms for cuts of meat and other necessary terms to use in your shopping ventures.
For the even more venturesome long-term visitor, there are recipes for common Argentine dishes such as flan,
puchero, and bifes a la criolla. Measurements are given in cup and teaspoons, but be aware that food in Argentina is sold using the metric system.
If I had had a book like this when I went to live in Spain or Kenya – or even England – I'm sure I would have navigated the mysterious world of dining and shopping with far more ease. I am hoping this is a part of a series created by the publishers, Aromas y Sabores, which will benefit people traveling not just to Argentina but other countries as well.