A bee had gotten in my bonnet. Sitting in my home in England, scribbling my travel wish list. I began to ponder...Why was a predominately cow consuming country sprouting a growing hub of vegan and vegetarian restaurants? What was the food culture of Argentina and could I uncover it (and devour a portion of it) in a month?
I'd carried out quite extensive research before took my first journey, over 5000 west, to South America. Upon arrival I clutched a list of restaurants to visit. With the ability to say hello and yes and not much else in Spanish tongue. It wasn't going to be easy getting the answers I sought.
In this article I'm going to begin to showcase the restaurants and their offerings. The quality of food I tried at these places bounced up and down the scale. I offer you a snapshot. A few of these places really got my attention and some of them agreed to answer a (long) list of preguntas (questions) my curious little head was filled with.
For now, here is what my tastebuds made of the meatless dining available in Buenos Aires. Many of the carni restaurants offered plant-based options but I had enough to fill my time (and tummy) with among the vegetarian/vegan/raw food joints that I chose to focus on those (with the exception of one which was the venue for meeting with my Spanish teacher…I've listed this one also).
All the places listed have different opening times and days. Check the websites before heading out. Prices are moderate. Based on an entree - between 40-75 ARS pesos / £5-9 / or $8-14 USD
This place had received great reviews on the internet. The owner Frederica has infused community into her colourful little restaurant, on the northern edges of Dorego in Villa Crespo. Over the four weeks I was in Buenos Aires. The cafes and streets around Dorego, the outer limits of Palermo Hollywood, was an area I returned to almost daily. Depending on my mood and chosen activity... writing, people watching or fuelling my body in the late spring sticky heat.
English speaking, Frederica was taking an evening off when i visited, but between me and the two waitresses we, after a fashion, managed to coax, and somewhat invent, a gluten free dish for me to try. The vegan part was easy enough but I parroted 'sin gluten' many times as different entrees where pointed at enthusiastically on the menu only for us to find it was 'con' (with) gluten and therefore not suitable for me. At these points a collective sigh and eye rolling flitted around our human triangle. Eventually, we agreed on a curry with lentils and coleslaw salad. The chef was very accommodating. But I wonder if I'd made him wary of my 'intolerances' resulting in a VERY mildly spiced curry with no visible coconut milk (did he misunderstand no dairy milk to mean coconut milk too?…I'll never know) and a tad over zealous with the oil. The veggies were fine, al-dente, succulent strips. I did find a few times the spicing of dishes a tad 'minimalist'. I think this is a national way. Much like eyeballing lots of bright powdered spices in Marrakech but finding their food spicing subtle to say the least. They did very kindly whip me up a little dish of hummus and raw carrot batons. Again, not the best on the block. The service and friendliness of this place was exceptional. I really enjoyed eating there for the experience of that…if not entirely the meal.
Naturaleza Sabia in San Telmo
I would recommend checking out this place when you visit the markets of San Telmo. Domingo (Sunday) and the antique street markets come alive. Drum beats, tango, colourful characters and tourists gather to wander, pick up a bargain or two and relax. Located just a few blocks from the main cobbled street in San Telmo is Naturaleza Sabia. The restaurant is on two floors and has a genteel atmosphere. Cozy yet open. The menu is extensive for a vegetarian, and they can adapt some of their dishes for vegans if you ask. Beware, the day I visited I was very grateful for my Argentinian companion. The staff speak little English so it was a little tricky.
The food is wholesome. Lots of aroz yamani (brown rice), lentil dishes and fresh salads. As a matter of course you get served a 'cover' dish, an amuse bouche. We had a delicious glass of curried lentil soup and a rice cake brochette with a broccoli/tahini pate which was flavoursome. Most places in Buenos Aires serve up a milanesa (breaded). Even though it seems everyone knows about 'sin gluten' gluten free foods in BA, I didn't find a libre gluten milanese so it is on my list to recreate in the comforts of my home kitchen.
Vegan gluten free brownies with a rich chocolate sauce combine well with the sweet and tart fruits. So good.
I recall Bio was my first eating venture in Buenos Aires. This totally vegan, with a few crudos (raw dishes) restaurant was serving only four other diners when I was there..RIDICULOUSLY early (7pm), according to Argentine time keeping. Hours I tried and failed to adopt as my British stomach likes to have finished eating for the day at a time when Argentines are partaking of a late lunch (6pm) or an afternoon pastry and cafe. Most restaurants are packed between 10 and 11pm. Which, to this British girl, was bordering on insanity! But I guess if you are not hitting the mattress until the wee hours then body clocks are tick toking at a different pace.
I ordered the rice pizza with wok vegetables. The base had a great texture (slightly chewy) and the vegetable topping was fresh and delicately flavoured. Good if you are gluten free, just get the idea of 'traditional' pizza out of your head.
Dessert - raw chestnut pie with raspberries. It was quite sweet with a chest nutty flavour (no surprises there). It was just ok.
In an ideal world you'd visit a place a few times to really get a 'taste' for it. I'd rate Bio as 'pleasant' on my one and only visit.
PICNIC Florida 102
Opened in 2012 as a fast food vegetarian restaurant, ready to serve breakfast and lunches Downtown. Their ethos is green and extends to their furnishes and low-energy lighting. The first fast food vegan restaurant in Buenos Aires serving healthy salads, wraps, sandwiches entrees and a range of smoothies and muffins, owned by an Argentine-Swedish couple.
I really wanted to like this place. I encountered some challenges (I wish my mastery of the Spanish language was up a few levels!) trying to get a raw food lunch and could only have the exact options displayed ( I usually like the freedom to mix things up). The really helpful manageress told me that the foods are mostly pre-prepared and not interchangeable, which I found surprising as it took 15 minutes for my meal to come.
I dined on a bowl of quinoa and vegetables with dips and a side of papatas (taters). The potatoes could have benefitted from some of seasoning from the over-salted quinoa. It was ok. Not great. Just ok. Not the sort of gastronomy that would turn a carnivore. The place was busy enough. Perhaps I chose the wrong dish.
The salads looked fresh. Situated on Florida, not far from the Casa Roja (the Presidential home) and lengthy shopping street, the huge windows make it a good place to people watch. As with a few of the places I visited in Buenos Aires, I thought they will probably benefit with the gift of hindsight, and improve their flavours as plant-based dining evolves in the capital.
I had to mention this cafe, situated in the heart of the uber chic Palermo Soho. It was where I hung out and had my Spanish lessons three times a week. It isn't vegan but there are vegan options. I like the atmosphere and the background music was good. The owners also have an organic blueberry farm (hence the name) and often popped little dishes of tiny blueberries at our tables.
I ordered this spinach salad with almonds and asado berenjana (roasted aubergine) served with a blueberry vinaigrette. Simple and perfect. Delicioso!
Buenos Aires will certainly NOT leave any vegan or gluten free body go hungry. In the past two years gluten free options and labelling has come into force. Perhaps not everyone I spoke to knew what a vegan was but they all understood 'sin TACC' or 'sin gluten'. I wonder how long it will be before the world discovers why, for sure, these food intollerances are now so part of our edible society.
In my next article I will be treating you to some interviews and small vignettes I had the pleasure to enjoy making with three more vegan eateries who are causing quite a stir in various ways in Buenos Aires. Join me then.
Hey, and please share with us in the comments below, your food jaunts to Buenos Aires should you go, or indeed are already there. It is thanks to a few notable bloggers, along with my pounding the streets and chatting to locals that I managed to piece together my culinary pathway in BA.
Bridges & Balloons - a couple from Britain who have set off on a journey where there feet and curiosity takes them. Working as they go.
Hungry Hungry Hippie - speaks for itself.
Pick Up the Fork - not a plant based dining blog but she has a great 'vegetarian' dining post.