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Argentina is world-famous for its meat, so it’s no wonder that visiting a steakhouse is usually high on visitors’ lists. But most guidebooks recommend the same set of trendy parrillas (Argentinean grill restaurants), and while some are deserving of their fame, many tend to be touristy and overpriced.
The reality is that Buenos Aires is filled with high quality, authentic parrillas, where family and friends gather to enjoy delicacies like morcilla (blood sausage) and chinchulines (cow small intestines). As there are thousands of these places, ranging from hole-in-the-wall joints to upmarket establishments, the new Parrilla Tour is a great way for travellers to sample the variety of local cuisine.
Started in May by American expat David Carlisle and local resident Santiago Palermo, this culinary-themed walking tour follows two routes: one in the restaurant and nightlife neighbourhood of Las Cañitas and the other in traditional San Telmo, Buenos Aires’s oldest barrio (neighbourhood) with its decades-old family-owned restaurants.
Both walks begin with some traditional Argentine street food, choripan (a type of sandwich with chorizo), at a local parrilla. Don’t be concerned if these places look basic or run down, the best of the best are hidden treasures among locals.
The next stop is to a pizza and empanada restaurant to try a handmade empanada de carne (dough pastries filled with meat, egg and olives). While parrillas can be found everywhere in Buenos Aires, tiny pizza and empanada restaurants are just as common and are an important part of the Argentine dining scene, ranging from sit-down eateries to smaller takeout stalls. Empanadas are a favourite choice for a quick inexpensive lunch in Buenos Aires, with the most common stuffed with ground beef, ham and cheese, cheese and onion or chicken.
The third stop is at a “secret parrilla” to try a variety of traditional parrilla cuts, such as bife de chorizo (sirloin strip steak) and matambre de cerdo (pork flank steak), accompanied by salad and wine. These parrillas have no sign outside and often look closed from the street, but upon entering a whole restaurant emerges filled with in-the-know locals.
To finish the tour, participants are taken to a heladería (ice cream parlour) to try some of the best artisanal ice cream in the city. Argentina is famous for its ice cream, due to the large influx of Italian immigrants in the 1870s and the 1940, and many deem it the best in the world .
Sprinkled throughout the tour are insights by tour leader Carlisle about the cuisine and culture of the city, the different cuts of meat, the asado (barbeque) cooking style, the history of empanadas (their origins are traced to medieval Iberia), and the most popular ice cream flavours, (which are dulce de leche (milk caramel) and chocolate amargo (dark chocolate)).
The tours cost US$60 (food included) and run every Tuesday and Wednesday in Las Cañitas and every Friday and Saturday in San Telmo, all beginning at noon and lasting around three hours. Reservations are required, with the meeting point provided upon booking.
Tim Fitzgerald is the Buenos Aires Localite for BBC Travel. He also writes gringoinbuenosaires.com.