As a non-native Spanish-speaker, one of the first things I did upon moving to Buenos Aires was enroll in group Spanish lessons. Best decision ever. Not only for the obvious reason: being able to communicate is preferable to being clueless and crying at the supermarket. (Shut up, it happens).
But the relationships, perspectives and experiences that I gained in those classes were invaluable. And of course, there was the opportunity to feed groups of people who’d never had chocolate chip cookies before.
It was Anouke, an incredibly thoughtful free spirit from Holland trekking her way through South America, who insisted I check out Barrio Chino. With tales of an extensive fish market and barrels of spices and grains, I was quickly convinced that even though Buenos Aires’ Chinatown was far from my neighborhood and I’m lazy like that (#realtalk) it was vale la pena.
In the cities I’ve called home stateside, I took for granted the easy, close access to…well, pretty much everything. So after a journey that takes an hour on public transit, when I find myself face to face with an array of products that used to be available at my local supermarket or with the click of a button online, it’s uhhhhh-mazing! I pretty much danced through the aisles, stocking up on all the random items that I’d never realized I could miss so much, while Gaspar silently (smart man) questioned how and why we would possibly need that much hoison sauce.
Barrio Chino is small, a mere handful of blocks. But what it lacks in space it makes up for with an intense barrage of flavors, colors and smells…for better (Peking duck!) or worse (ewww, fish market). I just love browsing through all the shops, you can always find something new.
So before we get to the smelly stuff, my favorite stop in Barrio Chino is Casa China, a dry goods store that I love to wander through. They stock everything from sauces, spices and curries to grains and noodles to the most extensive selection of dried beans and mushrooms I’ve ever seen. You can also find cocoa powder, rice and wheat flours, and other goodies lining the shelves that you won’t find at the local supermercado.
Another one of my favorite things in Barrio Chino: sushi burritos. They’re not actually burritos, but it’s the best description I have for these massive, un-cut rolls of sushi that we always just end up eating as if they were burritos from a street vendor. More civilized people may take them home and cut them up properly, but where’s the fun in that? When your other hand is clutching a warm import beer you’ve never heard of, it’s no time to worry about appearances.
As anyone who loves raw fish and lives in Buenos Aires can attest, sushi here is generally carísimo ($$$) and often smothered in cream cheese. While there are some cream cheesy options available in Barrio Chino, these hefty rolls include the straightforward options you may be craving, and are a steal at $15 – 30 pesos a pop.
Okay, now for the sort of gross stuff. If you’re vegetarian or quick to get nauseous, chau chau, thanks for reading, now run along. As previously noted, the markets in Barrio Chino are awash with…shall we say, “interesting” smells, partly due to items for sale that the delicate norteamericano psyche may not be accustomed to. Most of the markets have what I like to call the “animal parts” section. This may range from whole chickens with their faces, feets and all wrapped in plastic, to bins full of the various parts and organs that most North Americans don’t like to think about. I’m not generally squeamish about this stuff, and plan to test out some recipes in the near future with some of these options. So if anyone’s completely grossed out or for some reason offended, I just say hey, we are eating animals. There’s no way around that, so it’s better not to be wasteful. And if you’re craving some crispy chicken feet, there’s a pile full of them just waiting to be fried up.
I think I just lost a few subscribers.
On to the seafood! Perhaps Barrio Chino’s true claim to fame, the selection of seafood is pretty outstanding. It smells like….well, let’s not dwell on that, it’s outstanding nonetheless. Despite it’s location directly on the coast, Buenos Aires is not even remotely known as a seafood-lover’s destination. In fact, finding quality seafood options can be hit-or-miss and expensive as import regulations fluctuate. It’s a mystery to me why popular options like salmon must be imported. But I’ve learned to stop asking questions. Es lo que hay.
This is just a slice of what Barrio Chino has to offer, but you guys don’t need pictures of Sriracha sauce, soba and rice noodles, and coconut milk to get the picture. Suffice it to say, if you live in Buenos Aires and love flavorful food, Barrio Chino is non-negotiable. You must go. Just breathe through your mouth.