Hunting down groceries in Buenos Aires seemed a little complicated and intimidating at first. While there are large chain supermarkets, they’re not always easily accessible and the freshness/quality levels of certain products can be suspect. But you get used to making several stops on a regular basis. Verdulerías for veggies & fruits, carnicerías for meat, granjerías for poultry, eggs and such, and pescaderías for fish and seafood. Then there are dietéticas for healthy/natural food options like gluten-free products, quinoa, nuts and grains, real vanilla, azucar rubia, etc. And of course the supermercados chinos – locally referred to simply as chinos because (facepalm) they’re usually owned by Asians – for your basic everyday needs like milk, bread and wine. Yes, basic everyday needs are subjective.
So I’m incredibly grateful for the fact that we live a few blocks from the glorious Mercado de San Telmo, which combines almost all of these options in a raucous space that spans a square block. I don’t think it’s possible for me to overstate my adoration of this place. Most people think of the Mercado as an antiques flea market. Which it is. But it’s so much more.
The selection and quality of the fruits and vegetables here is the absolute best and most reliable I’ve found in the city. Yes, the prices are a bit higher as a result. But you get what you pay for, and if you’re a regular customer you tend to get better deals. Plus, the vendors are super helpful and have infinite patience. My favorite puesto is the one right next to the butcher, because they always give me candy with my change. Yes, I’m easily won over, but they also have fair prices and give receipts so you can keep track of inflation for yourself. If someone doesn’t have an item you’re looking for, chances are you can find it at a nearby stall, so don’t hesitate to shop around. Check out my list of fruits and vegetables in castellano Rioplatense if you find yourself at a loss for words.
The Mercado’s also the best spot I’ve found in San Telmo for chicken, meats and eggs. There are two granjerías that sell a variety of eggs along with whole chickens and your standard breasts, wings, thighs and legs. They also have trocitos de pollo, which I find are excellent for dishes like paella that require small flavorful pieces of dark meat and save you all the bone-removing awkwardness. Plus, these puestos can fill orders for rabbit, duck and turkey.
The main butcher stalls are a sight to behold. On any given day there will be whole pigs hanging out (literally), alongside various hooves, tongues, piles of intestines, and yes, even brains. I gape, briefly consider how I would prepare such a thing, and end up ordering pork chops. But truly, any meat product you can imagine, they’ve got it. From bacon and sausages to filet mignon to liver and innards, just ask and ye shall receive. The carniceros are well-versed in their trade, a blessing for someone who both sucks at math and can’t always articulate exactly what she’s looking for. “Cómo vas a prepararlo? Para cuántas personas? Bueno, sugiero un medio kilo de entraña.” I may not be sure if I’m getting skirt steak or entrails, but it’s part of the adventure.
For those of us who fancy a huge selection of cheeses, cured meats and other picada-type foods, there’s a puesto for that. Again, knowing your measurements is key. But I couldn’t complain about finding myself with a half-kilo of manchego to polish off.
And for a wide variety of spices and grains, there’s a puesto tucked next to one of the entrances on Humberto Primo with stacks of jars full of….everything. Dried herbs and spices, varieties of sugars, flours, nuts, grains, vanilla beans, etc.
If you live in San Telmo and are doing your shopping at Carrefour or Disco, get thee to the Mercado. Even if you’re not from the neighborhood, it’s worth the trip. Avoid Sundays for the best prices and wait times.
MERCADO DE SAN TELMO – between Defensa & Bolivar, and Carlos Calvo & Humberto Primo