Tuesday, June 19, 2012

7 Things To Know About Eating & Traveling in Argentina

I like to research the heck out of a place before arriving in a new destination. At the same time, you can't know everything beforehand. You've just got to experience it. That's how I felt about some of the situations we experienced in Argentina, so I thought I'd share them with you.

1. Internal flights can be expensive - If you are a non-Argentine, finding cheap flights in Argentina is downright difficult. When buying a domestic airline ticket online from outside of Argentina, the prices are different than for locals. That includes buying them within the country. To get a reduced rate, you either need a DNI (Documento Nacional de Identidad/National Identification Document) number or need a credit card issued from an Argentinian bank, which......requires a DNI number. One of the main reasons for expensive flights is that there is no competition between airlines for domestic air travel. There are really only two to choose from, Aerolineas Argentinas and LAN. I hear that the high-end buses are amazing and relatively affordable. If you choose traveling by bus, know that Argentina is a vast country, and there are long distances between major areas.

2. You may need to send up smoke signals to get your waiter's attention. Sometimes I get a little miffed when wait staff here in New York City drop the check on your table and say "Whenever you're ready...." while I'm still eating dessert. In Argentina, I felt like I had to send up flares to get the wait staff to notice us, especially at the end of the meal. People lounge over food or even a very small cup of coffee, so don't be in a rush per se (you're supposed to be relaxing anyway). We weren't necessarily in a rush at all of our meals, but sometimes we did want to actually get back to our hotel.

El Cabildo in downtown Buenos Aires

3. Vegetarians, be wary - Argentine cuisine isn't exactly known for its meat-free options and vegetable cookery. Even if you say you don't eat meat at a restaurant, wait staff might just think you don't eat RED meat. I would suggest asking for things specifically without carne (meat as in red meat), pollo (chicken), etc. Spell it out, if you must. Because of the strong influence of early 20th century Italian migrants, Argentina really has great Italian cuisine. Pizza and pasta are always good bets. Buenos Aires also has a Koreatown and a Chinatown, which may have great veggie options (didn't get to check them out). In Patagonia, it was harder to find good vegetarian fare, although I do recommend Pura Vida in El Calafate. Vegans, I don't know what to tell you because everything had cheese on it. Buena suerte (Good luck!). :(

I enjoyed taste testing empanadas wherever we went in Argentina. Every place has their own recipe and style. Vegetarians, try the spinach ones!

4. Watch your money - I mean literally examine it closely. Counterfeit money is a real issue in Argentina, and it is very much a part of the monetary system. You may get some fake funds from unlikely places: shops, restaurants and maybe even your hotel (although most places like this take great pains to weed out bad money). I have heard that taxi drivers can be some of the biggest culprits, but I'm not going to throw shade on a whole profession. Here's a good link to know if you've got the right money.

5. You may know Spanish, but the Argentine usages are different - I've heard lots of jokes about bringing together Spanish speakers from different countries in one room, and many of them not being able to understand each other because of regional word usage. Argentina uses some words that I haven't heard before for common nouns. Sanitario = bathroom, coletivo = bus are a few that come to mind. You can still use the Spanish vocabulary you know, but just know that Argentines occasionally call things by a different name.

U.N. Plaza, Buenos Aires

6.  You can get by without Spanish, but it sure does help. In most destinations around the world, making a feeble attempt at the local language is going to get you far with local staff. Both Buenos Aires and El Calafate (where we were based for our time in Patagonia), were major tourist centers, so many people spoke English.  Yet they weren't always totally fluent, and sometimes it was easier for me and for them if I just spoke Spanish. I think I'm trying to give myself props, but at times I think we also got better service because of it. Ok fine, I'm probably just dreaming, but I believe my knowledge of Spanish helped us. If you can use some basic phrases or learn even a few key vocabulary words before your trip, it might help.

An iceberg in Lago Argentino in Patagonia

7. Argentine men are flirty (at least with me) - I got quite a few (okay, many) winks and even a few catcalls. I wasn't exactly expecting that.  I suspect it's because I'm a little exotic looking there? (Unlike its neighbor, Brazil, Argentina has almost no Black people) Actually, I think it's just an Argentinian man thing and probably nothing to do with me. :) In case you're wondering, Argentines are pretty good looking.

Are there any details you wish you had known prior to your last trip to a new place? 


Erin said...

Great post! Fascinating about the counterfeit money! Lounging after a meal is also very common in Italy and I had a similar problem getting the check when we actually wanted to leave.

But as to your actual question ;) I wish I had known beforehand that in China it is really, really hard to cross the street (I swear the drivers wanted to hit pedestrians). I also wish I'd known that cab drivers in China have no interest in using maps when you want to point out a destination (because you don't speak the language); this hadn't been a problem in other countries. We had to start remembering to have our hotels write out the address in Chinese for the cab drivers.

lavenderpug said...

great tips! if only i had some concrete plans to actually go there someday (would love to). okay now all i can think about is a spinach empanada...

Monique said...

Thanks for the tips. I WILL get to Argentina one day. I think smoke signals are needed for wait staff anyplace outside of America. BTW, props for your Spanish-speaking and man-catching skills, mamacita. ;-)

Try Anything Once Terri said...

@LavenderPug - Love empanadas.Yummm...We've got a good truck near us here in Brooklyn. They aren't Argentinian style, but I still like them.

@Monique - That's true re: wait staff. I think I can be a little too impatient as a NYer. :) LOL re: man-catching. I told Husband J that he needs to watch out. I may move to B.A. :)

@Erin - I hear you on crossing streets. Same thing in India. I thought I'd lose my life a few times.


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