Desperately seeking Sriracha or sweet chili sauce? Got a taste for tahini or fresh sushi rolls? Barrio Chino in Belgrano has the answer. Buenos Aires’ Chinatown gives you a greater variety of spicy, herby and healthy ingredients and products in two short blocks than you’ll find anywhere else in the city – you’ll even find peanut butter. Local dieteticas, Disco and Jumbo may match you a few of your food cravings but if you want to fill a basket to bursting and still walk out feeling like you should have bought more, Chinatown is your barrio. Tingling taste bud-heaven for foodies. Here’s where to go.
Casa China – Arribeños 2173
First stop on the Barrio Chino shopping tour is the long-standing leader; one of the most bustling supermarkets you’ll encounter in Buenos Aires with a varied blend of imported, organic, macrobiotic, and health food products on its regularly-stocked shelves. If you want to meet up with fellow expats, shopping at Casa China is better than hanging out at Gibraltar Bar, so popular is this Chinatown gourmet institution with the foreign community.
The sauce aisle is legendary by Buenos Aires standards. Soy sauce by the liter, sweet chili, Sriracha, jalapeño, dumpling sauce…
And you’ll find your heat fix in the form of wasabi and hot dressings just around the corner.
Both Casa China and Tina & Co (below) have the spices you need to make your own BBQ, fajita, chili and pasta seasonings, including gems like allspice – pimienta de Jamaica – and turmeric. Or you can skip the prep time and curb a craving for Mexican food with canned refried beans, salsa and guacamole in the Mexican section of the store.
Get ready to scoop because Casa China has a whole section devoted to dry beans, nuts, grains, and fruits that you serve yourself. A rare sight of pinto beans – porotos regina – is enough to make your day, and there are more varieties of lentils that you can possible use in any stew. Shelves of ramen, rice noodles, frozen wonton and dumplings, and delicate rice paper to make Vietnamese spring rolls complete the picture.
And milk? Forget Serenísima – find almond milk, oat milk, rice milk, soy milk, powdered goats milk, and any other kind of trendy milk currently chilling in dairy cabinets. Tea too –plenty of imported favorites.
Make a special trip to Casa China purely for the peanut butter (and several varieties of the sticky stuff, too, and stacks of sweet honey.) And when the stocks are in, Casa China is often the only place in town you can find evaporated milk.
For a quick treat after you’ve hauled your shopping bags to the cab, snack on a sushi roll or a nigiri from the fresh cabinet. Or a bag of kale chips, if you’re feeling virtuous.
“Like” their Facebook page and you’ll see occasional tastings and special offers: Casa China Facebook. Stock changes constantly so if you are going to make a special trip for one particular item it’s worth calling or posting a question on Facebook to check for its availability.
Tina & Co – Mendoza 1678
Just around the corner on Mendoza is the hot newcomer to the barrio, Tina & Co. Under the sparkling spotlights choose fresh, packaged and always intriguing products from all over the world. Tina & Co is the kind of place you’d expect to see Gwyneth Paltrow browsing for quinoa popcorn (if she ever made it to Buenos Aires). It’s not cheap, but it’s a gorgeous place to shop and packs a wide diversity of products inside its chichi walls.
The dairy section is enticing, with organic and flavorsome cheeses including goats cheese, and expat favorite La Choza natural organic yogurt in a variety of flavors. The deli produce section hosts Italian pastas and polenta, fat jars of tahini, organic brown sugar, panko, and a bunch of ready-made pastes including shrimp and black bean.
Tina & Co (as well as Casa China, which has a smaller selection) also boasts health products and oils including coconut oil, the hottest remedy for everything from lice to dry skin, in a variety of brands. You can even get coconut oil that doesn’t smell of coconuts, if that’s your thing. Almond oil and aloe juice and various detox and revitalizing concoctions can also tempt you if you’ve overindulged in the asado and vino tinto department. But my potion of choice is a simple, chilled green tea.
Tina & Co Facebook lists new arrivals and you can ask questions about what’s in stock.
Asia Oriental – Mendoza 1661
Across the road is an altogether more aromatic shopping experience. Asia Oriental is a no-nonsense supermarket with the best fresh fish selection in Barrio Chino and a pick of other strong-smelling products like fresh meat, exotic vegetables and imported fruits. Fish is a big draw. Fresh trout, plump calamari, sole and wild salmon glisten under the strip lights. Pick up ready-cut and packaged salmon steaks as well as oysters and king crab.
If you’re stocking up for the foreseeable future the industrial-sized bags of all the Asian ingredients you’ll ever need should be at the base of your shopping cart.
Take some time to navigate the aisles as this is the biggest store in the area. Many of the products are only labeled in Chinese but the pictures help. You’ll probably now need a break at the food counter with a bowl of freshly-wokked sesame noodles or stir-fried pork.
Ichiban and Sogo – Arribeños 2233 and 2257
The two supermercados on Arribeños close to Casa China often turn up some gems that the others lack, including wild raw shrimp, fresh mackerel, and okra, but you’ll need a fair amount of serendipity to find them. The vegetable selections are worth investigating, and both stores have towering aisles of random spicy sauces and elegantly-labeled accompaniments to your next Asian feast.
Practicalities: Find the entrance to Barrio Chino with the big archway at Juramento and Arribeños in Belgrano. The two blocks are pedestrianized. Don’t go in a car – parking is an exercise in frustration. Try the bus instead and get a cab back if you’re laden with bags.