Tango and tamales at the locals' market

Lorraine Elliot is treated to tango over empanadas and wine at the 'locals' market'.

Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, samples delightful empanadas and tamales at Buenos Aires' Mataderos Market.

Names are evocative. Some conjure up images merely by being spoken. And when we’re told our next destination in Buenos Aires Mataderos Market, which means 'place where they kill the cow', I get the feeling that we’re in for something rather fascinating.

Today is our final day in Buenos Aires and already the five of us are completely captured by its spell. It is undeniably the Paris of Latin America, with a curious mix of people and a divide between the wealthy areas and the poorer. But food is a uniting force, no matter what postcode you live in.

Held every Sunday, the Mataderos markets are said to be a real local’s market. Luciano and Francisco from Cultura Cercana tell us that this is where the locals visit because it is further away than other downtown markets (it is about 20 minutes away by car).

But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t put on a good show for visitors as Gauchos (Argentinian cowboys), tango dancers and ballroom dancers twirl while ponies balance dogs on their back and llamas stand alongside ponies.

Tango dancers

It is a bit of a trek via public transport and you are advised to exercise caution in this area and getting there, so it’s ideally visited with guides. It is earylish, but we are on a mission. A food related one, as you may have guessed!

Luciano and Francisco, as regulars to this market, know that there is one stall that we must visit before the lunch rush. There will be standing room only as people line up for empanadas filled, crimped and deep fried in a flash.

We order long plates of hot deep fried empanadas and red wine. There are several different flavours, all in slightly different shapes and with crimped edges. All are delicious but the ones that I particularly like are the spicy meat ones.

The spice refers mainly to spices rather than chili heat. This one is particularly saucy and delicious, with a lovely thin outer encasing a scrumptious pocket of saucy meat. My other favourite is the cheese and onion filled with mozzarella cheese and diced onion.

Tamales are made using masa around a filling of either meat or corn and wrapped in corn husks. There is one filled with pork meat and it is good, but my absolute favourite is a gluten free, corn-filled one, with the sweet corn encased inside pervading the whole tamale with its sweet perfume and flavour.

Last but not least is a dish called 'locro' that is only served on May 25. It is a lightly flavoured, filling stew with corn, beans, beef, hominy and other vegetables.

Francisco shows me more of the items available at the market and these include cute little containers that are made out of citrus fruit. The lemon is particularly lovely and the lady that makes them tells us that she uses the same method used in leather making to preserve the skins.

There is a stand with popcorn covered toffee apples and interesting looking sticks. They’re dried figs that have been coated with toffee and then popcorn stuck to them. They’re and crunchy.


Figs dipped in toffee and rolled in popcorn

And what is the difference between empanada and empanadilla? The latter is filled with a sweet filling – in this case, a sweet potato filling. I try one and it’s not bad, with a distinct flavour of sweet potato, but I prefer the savoury ones that are freshly cooked.

Most of the items are artisanal products and there are plenty of goodies to try or take home. The vendors are generous with samples and the prices are very good.

Chipa are little dough balls that are flavoured with cheese and baked. They are eaten as an afternoon snack to fill the tummy.

Another dough stand has a sign for “pan caliente”, which means hot bread, and there is a sign with the time when the next loaves of bread will emerge out of the oven.

Our last meal in Buenos Aires is a five course progressive dinner across the charming Palermo area of Buenos Aires. Fuudis and these progressive meals are the brainchild of Australian Anne Reynolds and Argentinian Marina Ponzi, who combined their skills and experiences to bring visitors and locals hand-picked food experiences.

Our first stop in our Fuudis tour is at the restaurant Guido’s on Boulevard Cervino, which is lined with bars, restaurants and cafes. People walk along holding all sorts of little dogs.

Guido’s has been operating for twelve years and serves Italian food in an atmospheric setting. Its walls are lined with photos of icons and movie stars, from Marilyn Monroe to Monica Belluci. The tables are set with red and white checked tablecloths, while red lights cast a warm and cozy glow. There is an outdoor courtyard and a bar area.

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