Buenos Aires is a large city but its Chinatown, Barrio Chino, is quite small. A few days after I arrived here I went to Barrio Chino for the Lunar New Year celebrations. It was so hot and packed with thousands of Porteños that I didn’t really get to see much of the neighborhood and returned home after just an hour or so. Because there were so many people there for New Years I really shouldn’t be too surprised to find that others had also gone to Chinatown that day; so far, I’ve met 4 other people who were there but of course I didn’t know them at the time.
Since that hot and sticky Sunday, I hadn’t gone back to Belgrano or to Barrio Chino. But last week, a lively Australian organized a group of us to walk to Chinatown (for me, a good hour away) to have lunch and do some grocery shopping. It was yet another sunny and humid day, but we power-walked over to Belgrano and arrived at the Chinatown gates by noon. During my previous visit I had noted several grocery stores (Casa China, Ichiban, etc) but our fearless leader/ frequent visitor to Chinatown had us march straight into a large store on Mendoza, called “Asia Oriental.” How original! I found it comical but I was too hungry to stop to take a photo.
This grocery store had all the usual Asian condiments, snacks, tea, vegetables, fish, etc. but what set this one apart from all the others was their small in-house noodle bar. There, next to the aisle with chopsticks and woks for sale, you can order yourself a large plate of stir fried noodles. An efficient staff working behind a sheet of plated glass will sort out your order, cook it up in a flash, and deliver it to you a few steps away to a shared table that seats about 8 people (you can also squeeze in front of the counter). We were early enough to score the coveted seats at the tall table and the four of us happily munched on stir fried rice noodles with a variety of different ingredients (you can ask for seafood, chicken, beef, vegetables, etc). Oh, and there was a large container of ground hot peppers in oil on the table. I’ve had some really great meals here in BA but this spicy pot of chili goodness made me very happy.
What made me even happier was finding a nice selection of green veggies, some good looking ginger, and oyster sauce,
which allowed me to make my version of stir fried vegetables with rice noodles. In addition to what I bought in Chinatown, I put in some garlic, red bell peppers, salt, pepper, and a generous sprinkle of dried hot pepper flakes. I like using oyster sauce for my stir fries but if you’re a pure vegetarian, soy sauce will do just as well. I looked for dried shiitake mushrooms to reconstitute and use for this (and I was thinking about doing a mushroom risotto) but I didn’t like the way they looked (sad and anemic); may try fresh crimini mushrooms instead…
It was light, healthy, and delicious. I went back to Chinatown yesterday to get some more Chinese broccoli and bok choy, and I got a packet of Shinramen, a spicy Korean instant noodles. I know, I know, it’s terribly bad for you. But it’s for when I need an emergency spicy hot noodle fix. Next stop on my off the beaten path/trying to live like a local in Buenos Aires is Koreatown. Chef Mun (of Casa Mun, a closed-door restaurant here in BA) gave me a list of places to check out. I’ll post about Casa Mun and my future visit to Koreatown soon.