All Hail the Buenos Aires Bodegón

“What’s the identify of the girl that involves sing tango?” I ask. Oscar González’s eyebrows come collectively in the course of his brow as he stares pensively on the scene within the crowded restaurant, rolling via a psychological rolodex of various characters. He is been ready tables for the final 18 years at Miramar, a bodegón in Buenos Aires’ historic San Cristóbal neighborhood.

“Her identify is Ana,” he responds. However earlier than he can launch into an anecdote, Ana slinks into the eating room from a aspect entrance and instantly begins belting out a tango ballad: “Anoche, de nuevo te vieron mis ojos/anoche, de nuevo te tuve a mi lado” (“Final night time, my eyes noticed you once more/Final night time, I used to be again by your aspect.”) 

It’s 3 o’clock on a cold Tuesday afternoon and the packed lunch crowd’s loud murmur subsides to close silence instantly. It’s been a 12 months since my final go to right here—I favor to avoid wasting my cross-town pilgrimages to this restaurant for the winter to tuck right into a bowl of oxtail stew or mussels provenzal. Ana’s tune fills the room, accompanied at instances by a loud gush of air emitted by the espresso machine and noise of site visitors on the avenue exterior, after which it’s over; individuals applaud, pull a couple of payments from their wallets to deposit into Ana’s hat, and promptly return to their meals. The white noise of desk chatter and silverware clanging in opposition to ceramic plates returns, and Ana disappears again into the crowded road. 

Miramar has been a neighborhood staple and selection spot for artists, writers, and tango singers since 1950.

Severe Eats / Kevin Vaughn

“This place is tough to explain,” says Oscar. “It’s magic. Numerous new eating places attempt to imitate bodegones like this, however you possibly can’t create historical past out of nothing.” 

Bodegones are Italo-Hispano eating places that turned common in Buenos Aires starting across the Thirties and stay ubiquitous throughout town. They function a mirrored image of the large waves of immigrants that arrived in Argentina on the flip of the nineteenth century from all throughout Europe, significantly Italy and Spain, which performed an important function in constructing the nation’s capital out of a dusty provincial metropolis of the previous Spanish colony. Open a menu and also you’ll see the mark of those immigrants: There’s all the time a Spanish-esque tortilla served well-done or additional runny, Italian-ish recent pastas that splatter sauce in every single place, and one or two hidden dishes introduced over from the previous nation by the unique proprietor that make every restaurant its personal distinctive universe.

By the Nineteen Sixties, European immigration all however stopped, and the development of eating places like Miramar slowly petered out. They’re relics of one other time, as a quick look on the overwhelming majority of their clients would verify. Though an older crowd isn’t the whole thing of their buyer base, it’s definitely their most loyal.

There are solely two varieties of consumers: You are both a loyal patron that’s been coming for many years or a random diner who’s walked in off the road.

Except for the type of the delicacies, bodegones all deal with their clients the identical, and there are solely two varieties of consumers: You are both a loyal patron that’s been coming for many years or a random diner who’s walked in off the road. The proprietor of a well-liked Italian cantina (who most popular to not be named for this text) as soon as summed up the perspective of the bodegón like this: “We give the service we’re required to—nothing extra and nothing much less. We’re right here to make good meals and take it from the kitchen to your desk. Some individuals get irritated that we don’t hold round and chat or cater to them.” 

Her evaluation, nevertheless, is a bit overexaggerated. Going to a bodegón for the primary time is sort of a first go to with the in-laws: everyone seems to be cordial, and the vibe is homey and will even be heat. However if you wish to be handled like household, it’s important to maintain exhibiting up. When you show that you just’re in it for the long term, you’re in. 

“Loads of my good associates began as clients,” explains Oscar shortly after Ana disappears. “There is a buyer that lets me use his seaside home in the summertime. I take my daughters. He may cost lots for that however will not cost me.”

Oscar excuses himself to seize an order from the kitchen. Earlier than he may get there, he’s intercepted by a desk of 4 older males. “How are you?” one yells. “We’ve been ready all afternoon to speak to you.” 

Miramar opened in 1950. Previous to that, it was a hat store that counted acclaimed tango singer Carlos Gardel amongst its most loyal clients. For almost 5 a long time, Miramar initially functioned as a rotisería, a neighborhood take-out spot that served homey Italo-Hispano dishes. The primary head chef, Cabaleiro, labored the kitchen effectively into his 80s; immediately, his protégé, Richard Llanos, continues making the identical actual dishes, however to dine-in. 

A tortilla Española ready with dry chorizo and served babé, or additional yolky.

Severe Eats / Kevin Vaughn

Within the early aughts, Miramar expanded from a take-out joint right into a full-blown bodegón, identified across the metropolis for its Galician delicacies. On the wall, indicators encourage you to PIDA CARACOLES (“Order the Snails”) or emphatically announce RABO DE TORO: ESPECIALIDAD DE LA CASA (“Oxtail: The Home Specialty”). This time round, I order the snails. Whereas I sip on a Mendozan Chardonnay with whiffs of lemongrass, I tease the snails out of their shell with a toothpick, every erupting together with squirts of a tomato and wine broth that depart grey and crimson spots on a pressed white tablecloth already dirtied with breadcrumbs. The bodegón is a sublime mess—if you happen to haven’t stained the tablecloth, did you actually have a good meal? 

I’ve all the time been fascinated by locations like this, and never simply due to the communities they domesticate, nor the aura of nostalgia they supply within the type of pressed tablecloths, wooden paneled partitions, and posters of the previous nation. The headline of a framed restaurant assessment hanging on a darkish wood column at Miramar reads, “The Method Our Grandparents Ate.” Whereas that phrase will get thrown round lots when individuals speak about bodegones, as if this meals belongs to some long-lost technology, I disagree. Bodegones fascinate me as a result of the meals they serve isn’t caught in time; it transcends it. Regardless of how a lot town grows and meals tradition expands, you possibly can all the time end up a seat at a bodegón—your bodegón—and the meals is all the time there, simply as you bear in mind it. This isn’t the meals of los abuelos, or grandparents; it’s the meals of the individuals of Buenos Aires—los Porteños. 

That nostalgia does a disservice to bodegones and their meals, a lot as the outline of Buenos Aires as a European metropolis in South America—repeated by each foreigners and locals alike—flattens town’s character, as if Paris was copied and pasted onto the seashores of the Río de la Plata. Neither acknowledges the confluence of immigrants from throughout the globe, nor the way in which that multi-generation Porteños have blended and created a tradition that is distinctive.

Regardless of how a lot town grows and meals tradition expands, you possibly can all the time end up a seat at a bodegón—your bodegón—and the meals is all the time there, simply as you bear in mind it.

“Immigrants arrived from world wide and needed to talk in damaged Spanish peppered with phrases from their homeland,” explains Mariana Radisic Koliren, proprietor of the sustainable journey firm Lunfarda Trave, named after the nation’s attribute slang. “These phrases turned the bottom for our slang, Lunfardo, the intersection and assembly level for the range of Argentina. European languages merged with phrases from Indigenous and African origins. Lunfardo turned the residing testomony of the mosaic of cultures that Buenos Aires turned within the late 1800s.”

Lunfardo and the bodegón are each types of communication and reaffirmation—the previous, an outward expression of belonging to the idiosyncrasies of this particular place; the latter, the ingestion of our metropolis between bites of bread and sips of wine, a Eucharist that additionally features a big plate of noodles doused in crimson sauce. 

Any thick, leather-bound menu you open at a bodegón will depart you confronted with a culinary dialect, a language each acquainted and international that one should follow to be able to develop into fluent. Anyone can inform you the distinction between a pesto and bolognesa; solely probably the most studious have a breadth of pasta sauce information to decide on between puttanesca, Parisienne, scarparo, rosa, fileto, or principe di Napoli. What are sardines de vigo? And the way are sea bass a la Vasca, a la Veneciana, and a la Lyonessa totally different? Why are milanesas denoted by geography? Would you want one a la Napolitana, Suiza, or Maryland (topped with tomato sauce, ham and cheese; served with a mustard-induced cream and cheese sauce; or accompanied with a fried banana and creamed corn, respectively). Clearly, all people is aware of that the latter is just made with hen—at Don Ignacio, a dive devoted completely to beef milanesas (32 of them), they checked out me cock-eyed after I requested concerning the absence of the Maryland, as if beef was the odd ingredient. 

Menu staples nod to the bodegón’s Spanish roots: oxtail, snails, and tortilla Españolas.

Severe Eats / Kevin Vaughn

“Watch out about calling this meals European,” warns historian and meals scholar Carina Perticone. “They could have European roots, however we now have modified them a lot that there’s solely a hint of European-ness left. There are many dishes that seem European however are fully distinctive to right here. These meals are American, they’re Argentine-American, they’re Rioplatenses.” 

I considered my go-to neighborhood bodegón, the German-owned Gambrinus. I typically have a tough time deciding between a matambre a la pizza—a troublesome minimize of meat that interprets to “kill starvation,” which was given to butchers after a protracted day’s work, and is immediately served with tomato sauce and cheese on prime—or pork stewed in a sticky plum sauce (French? Umbrian? Romanian? Not one of the above?) served with creamy mashed potatoes, or gnocchis piled with a thick, paprika-heavy goulash. 


It’s simply previous 11 p.m. on a chilly Thursday night time and I’m sitting at a desk within the again nook of Bar Norte, a bodegón that has been common in Buenos Aires’ tribunal district because it was opened by a bunch of Spanish immigrants in 1975. By day, it’s sparsely stuffed with fits and ties; by night time, it has the identical fits with loosened ties—with bottles of Coke swapped out for bottles of wine—alongside neighborhood patrons, and {couples} and associates who’re making their manner in or out of one of many two theaters that sit on the opposite aspect of the plaza. 

The place is packed. I’m squeezed right into a chair that’s been jammed between the desk and an armoire that homes bottles of salad dressing, stacks of folded tablecloths, and silverware that lets off a loud, metallic echo every time a brand new desk is about. When the crew of middle-aged waiters aren’t reaching behind my head for a wine glass, they’re dashing previous me with plates stacked like towers: ñoquis topped with maroon-red stewed beef estofado and milanesas that droop over both finish of their plates; tortillas Españolas that sit in a shallow mote of runny yolk, and lengthy strings of spaghetti that wait to be combined with one of many 26 salsas on the menu, which supplies clear discover that “the SAUCES are charged individually.” 

The home recommends snails in a tomato-rich broth.

Severe Eats / Kevin Vaughn

“You’ve been right here earlier than, proper?” asks the waiter. I had—4 instances, to be actual. On every event, I used to be waited on by this identical older man, aside from the time that I sat on the desk adjoining to him whereas he took his lunch break; me with a tenderloin and mushroom sauce with noisette potatoes, him with a grilled fish and salad. 

His query catches me off guard. Not due to the boisterous scene in entrance of me however as a result of it looks like the beginning of an initiation. He introduces himself as Pancho, and I can’t assist however really feel excited; a degree up, the start of my initiation as a daily. “Yeah, I’ve been right here a couple of instances,” I reply with my finest feigned nonchalance, and lengthen my hand. “I’m Kevin.”

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