Some fantastic markets can be found across the Buenos Aires landscape, so if it’s organic produce, antiques, a souvenir mate gourd or freshly cooked Peruvian picarones you’re after, the hardest part is choosing where to start first.
If you’re visiting BA for the first time, San Telmo barrio (neighbourhood) may be a consideration. It’s one of the city’s oldest barrios, it’s full of character, grit, cobbled streets and grand old buildings.
It’s here in San Telmo that you’ll find the aptly named Mercado de San Telmo – a block-sized space built in the late 1890’s where, at its centre, you’ll discover fresh fruit and vegetable vendors, butchers, bric-a-brac stores and a handful of places to grab a bite.
At its peripheries, the bulk of the goods are dusty old antiques and collectible – a hoarders paradise of old coins, records, skeleton keys, picture frames, books and so much more.
If dusty old things aren’t of interest, then how about some freshly baked breads, cakes and pastries? Panaderia Galleteria Manolito in the market has some fantastic breads that are unlike the usual South American varieties you see just about everywhere.
Located beneath the wrought iron dome of the market is where you can get yourself one of the best coffees in Buenos Aires. They’re open nice and early, so caffeine addicts can get their fill at the central kiosk right at the heart of Mercado de San Telmo.
While you’re sipping your morning coffee, you can sit and watch some of the nearby butchers display their knife skills on the giant beasts that get delivered each day.
There’s nothing to hide here. Bones get tossed into a shopping trolley, brains and intestines are in full view and smells of butchered cows waft around the stalls.
Most days of the week the market seems desolate and lifeless, but come Sunday morning it picks up thanks to more vendors opening their doors and the other market (Feria de San Telmo) that’s in full swing nearby.
Now here’s a market that people come far and wide for. This is the big mama when it comes to markets in this town and it’s best tackled at its beating heart – Plaza Dorrego. It’s here at this small plaza that Feria de San Telmo began back in 1970, where a bunch of vendors grouped together to sell antiques to anyone that was willing to purchase.
Today, the same plaza is congested with stands overflowing with antiques and collectibles like copperware, colourful soda dispensers, ironwork, printing stamps and a whole heap more.
From here the feria spans the length of Defensa, almost all the way up to Plaza de Mayo. Antiques and bric-a-brac give way to mate gourds, picture frames, jewellery and hundreds of other bits and pieces.
It’s crowded, vibrant, loud and a little on the repetitive side as you walk the eight or-so blocks it covers.
One thing I was hoping to see a little more of was food, but there’s not a great deal of that around. Aside from taking a seat at one of the numerous cafes that line Plaza Dorrego and the length of Defensa, there are only a couple of places to pick up a breakfast pastry, freshly sugared almonds or my favourite – the parrilla laden with chunky sausages and hunks of beef.
It was as if the gods knew we were hankering some market food the entire time we battled the crowds at Feria de San Telmo. As soon as we hit Avenida de Mayo up in Centro we stumbled upon exactly what we were quietly craving. And more.
That’s the great thing about a city like Buenos Aires. You never know what you’re going to discover when you turn the next corner.
Here we are in the thick of some kind of international food fair. A couple of dozen stands representing what appeared to be mainly latino countries and some of the edibles they produce.
Colombia, Brazil, Afro-Argentina, Spain, Guayana, Mexico, Haiti, Paraguay, Chile, Cuba and the Dominican Republic – it was a feast for the eyes and the appetite.
More empanadas than you could poke a stick at and in virtually endless shapes, sizes, fillings and folding techniques. Slow-roasted sides of pork, shredded toppings for tacos, corn cakes, breakfast wraps, deep-fried anything and everything and a few desserts.
We tried empanadas from three different places and fell head over heels with one particular variety – salteñas, from Bolivia.
I got my fill on a tasty arepa, some street snackage you find in Venezuela and Colombia. A ground maize bun is lightly charred and filled with sautéed meat, onions and lots of cheese. All I can say is, this Venezuelan arepa was pretty damn fine!