A food festival like Bocas Abiertas reveals all that is interesting, delicious, and above all fun about modern Argentine cuisine. On any given Sunday in Argentina the sweet smell of asado drifts towards your nostrils. But this Sunday, here in San Isidro, other enticing scents are in the air.
This was the third edition of the foodie festival Bocas Abiertas in San Isidro, Buenos Aires. The festival ran from Thursday 24th to Sunday 27th September at the Centro Municipal de Exposiciones and in that time I can only imagine how many platefuls of food and cups of wine are gleefully consumed.
In the relaxed, open-air atmosphere 40 stalls ranging from old caravans to neon-lit bars serve mouthwatering morsels to food lovers and people that love hanging out with friends in warm sunshine. On hay bales and picnic tables, everywhere you look, people are eating. Here’s what tasted the best at Bocas Abiertas.
On first entering the straw-strewn foodie arena you walk through the market area where you can pick up everything you need for the perfect picada. An Argentine picada is finger food at its finest – an appetizer plate of cold cuts, ham, salami, pâté, olives, bread and as much cheese as you can handle. This being a food festival, there’s none of your limp, shrink-wrapped ham on offer here. Instead you find sharp, delicious cheddar, goat’s cheese, spicy salame de ciervo (venison salami), sundried tomatoes and fresh-baked breads. Once you’ve collected your provisions, and tasted as many of the samples as you’re allowed, it’s time for the main event.
Fresh Fish in Buenos Aires
First the fish course. River fish are the top choice in Buenos Aires and one of the best gourmet options in the entire fair is the fishy offering from chef Martín Lukesch. Fat trout fillets come with fresh peas, onion pickle and a delicate emulsíón de límón. if you want something less fancy there are fishcakes with salsa verde, and salmon in a Caesar dressing with criolla de maiz (a type of corn side), ceviche, and salmon bagels.
And you cannot go wrong with a cardboard cone of rabas (calamari), fresh from the fryer and ready to soak up a garlic mayo dip and the all-important lemon juice drenching.
Argentina may be infamous for its lack of interest in spicy foods, but Bocas Abiertas doesn’t disappoint those looking for Asian flavors, although the heat level is not quite at top whack (unless you ask for it extra picante). From Captain Cook South Asian Food you’ve got Pad Thai (with tofu or the decadent choice, langostinos) and red curry with carrots and baby potatoes from Thailand, pork meatballs with homemade salsa teriyaki from Vietnam, and Dim Sum with classic chicken and vegetables from China.
Travel in Argentina for any length of time and you may be forgiven for thinking a sandwich only comes with ham and cheese or a florescent-colored hot dog stuck inside its limp white slices. Luckily Bocas Abiertas supplies the necessary delicacies between fresh-baked bread that you easily consume as you’re walking round the feria or picking up another cup of wine from the drinks stand.
Chef of the moment Felicitas Pizarro’s sandwich was made famous by Jaime Oliver, no less, when the young Argentine won his Food Tube Search For A Star competition. This is a powerhouse of a sandwich with asado (steak) meat braised in red wine and spices, served with a dollop of her trademark chimichurri and salsa criolla. Perfect for sunny day dining in the open air.
I couldn’t pick a favorite sandwich out of the other options. I’ll leave it to you to decide between goat’s cheese with coriander and spices, a wholefoods wrap with mushrooms, sweet onions, melted cheese and zucchini, tender matambrito (flank steak) with mango and cabbage salsa, or roasted pork baguette with mustard and honey dressing.
And on the back of the surge in popularity of raw food, vegan and wholefood tastes, you have a healthy option in “raw” gluten-free rolls made from spinach and apple, filled with raw vegetables. Or how about a “raw” pizza on a seed base with tomato salsa, queso de cajú, rocket and caramelized onions? Or a polenta and chickpea muffin stuffed with goat’s cheese and tomato chutney.
Main Course: Meat
The barbeque – asado – is probably THE defining culinary landmark in Argentine cuisine. At Bocas Abiertas we sampled something a little different from the traditional sit-down asado with a quick-eat take on this meaty classic – ribs with roasted batatas (sweet potato) and ketchup oriental, and crunchy sweetbreads with onion puree, pickled garlic and almonds – tasty and quick to eat (too quick…)
And while spring is definitely in the air (just look at that glorious blue sky peeping through a rush of white clouds) there’s nothing wrong with a hearty stew even as the weather heats up. Sample Pipón de Ragú – tender beef stew cooked in a Malbec reduction.
Which brings us neatly to the wine, because a Buenos Aires food festival couldn’t exist without Malbec.
Walk the Wine Route
Bodega Argento is manning the stalls in the “wine patio” – the place to be to sample some characteristic Argentine favorites. A deep-purple gulp of Malbec with its fruity finish is followed by a taste of raspberry-infused Bonarda, and later a sip of lively, floral Extra Brut. For a broader exploration of the country’s grape varieties, the “wine walk” with uniformed wine waiters takes you through a pick of Argentina’s finest.
For a cocktail kick, Skyy vodka is served from a pop-up bar strewn with fresh flowers and the herbs the bartenders use to flavor your drinks. And artisanal beers flow to wash down the last plate you promise you’ll buy.
Round off a productive day of snacking with a smooth dessert. For the ultimate indulgence, get the Chocotorta Full with an oozing center of chocolate sauce and caramel, topped with coco flakes. Need more? We leave you with a Bocas Abiertas crème brûlée packed with blueberries, ginger and candied orange (another gourmet offering from Martín Lukesch). ¡Buen provecho!