A few weeks ago I met two Argentine women at an expat meetup in Las Cañitas. I was hoping to make some local friends and they were the kinds of women I wanted to get to know, so I was thrilled when they suggested that we get together. The three of us e-mailed back and forth a few times and decided that we’d meet around 6:30 in Palermo Hollywood, at Pani for merienda.
In New York my girlfriends and I used to meet after work around 7PM to grab a few drinks; a cocktail or a glass of wine that will lead to us having dinner somewhere afterwards. But it’s apparently not the case in Buenos Aires. My new friends wanted to meet for a snack (merienda) and had chosen a place where they serve toast, sandwiches, cakes, muffins, coffee, tea, etc. If it were around 3:30 or 4PM, I could understand it in terms of “afternoon tea” where you get a bit of something sweet and a cup of tea (would be mate, here), but at 6:30 or 7PM? Isn’t it almost dinner time? No. In Buenos Aires, there doesn’t seem to be so many options available at this time of the day. Most restaurants close between lunch and dinner service, and a lot of bars don’t open before 8PM. So I did what a local would have done. I met my Porteña friends for a snack at 6:30PM and then went to have dinner at 9:30PM. Of course that meant I didn’t get home until 2AM. How does one go to work and function like a normal human being the next day?!
Well, it turns out that not everyone goes out like this all the time and not every Argentine shows up late to an appointment. I was the last one of the three to arrive at our meeting place on this very hot and humid afternoon in Buenos Aires… to find Pani‘s iron gates shut and the place closed. Argh! They’re not open on Tuesdays. So we walked over two blocks to another cafe called Amenábar. Andrea had been there before and described it as being cute and less touristy than the nearby Oui Oui. I had to smile when she said that and told her indeed, Oui Oui is written up on a number of travel guides and that explains all the foreigners at both Oui Oui and at Almacén Oui Oui. On that note, they are rated terribly low by the locals (Guia Oleo = Yelp in the States) and I’m actually curious to find out why there is such a big difference in opinion and whether the Porteños have it right…
Back to the ladies and our snacks. Andrea, a woman after my own heart, appreciates a good deal and noted that Amenábar offers a 28 peso ($6.50 USD) breakfast special all day: toast, marmalade, cheese, coffee, and juice, or you could get scrambled eggs over toast with coffee and juice. Andrea and Karina ordered the specials, and clarified that it would likely be their dinner. It turns out they ARE more like me and have dinner early.
I thoroughly enjoyed talking to these two ladies; we covered everything from their views on the state of this country, travel plans, American TV shows, blogs we read, lack of recycling but daily trash pick up in BA (unlike NYC) and of course, what we like to eat, and the dining habits of those who live in Buenos Aires versus New York. I think I revealed that I had not yet had 1) a lick of ice cream from any one of the chain or artisanal ice cream shops all over town, 2) a bite of milanesa, 3) a single empanada, 4) a fork-full of Italian food, and have consumed only two slices of pizza in the 6 weeks I’ve been in Argentina. They were probably thinking “what has this girl been eating?” They promptly recommended where I should go to get ice cream, empanadas, and some authentic local Argentine grub. Oh, bless them.
They told me that they usually don’t go out to dinner very late unless it’s the weekend and also shared with me that it’s not common to tip very much. I’m so used to tipping 18%-20% in New York that tipping only 10% here makes me twitch a little every time I’m leaving a restaurant. They, in turn, each had a funny story about tipping mishaps in the U.S. and commented how it’s odd for them to consciously think about it.
We made plans to meet again in a few weeks at Cafe Tortoni (except I ended up going there the other day, more on that later). Until then, I’m keeping a mental list of all the things I want to ask them…
Amenábar: 2200 Dorrego (@ Amenábar), Palermo Hollywood, Buenos Aires