On a typical weekend day in Buenos Aires, the city’s parks fill with people. Clusters of friends sit for hours in the sun, talking, playing music, kicking around a football and tanning. But no matter what the activity, nearly every group can be seen passing around mate (pronounced “mah-tay”), a traditional South American tea.
caffeine-packed beverage is always consumed hot and is one of the most popular
drinks in the region, especially in Argentina and Uruguay. It is made from yerba mate -- green, finely chopped
leaves that infuse the tea water with an earthy and slightly bitter flavour,
similar to that of green tea. Some drinkers sprinkle in sugar to cut the taste
as they would with coffee, but that added sweetness is a personal preference that
some purists consider an affront.
of all ages drink mate, at home with family or while spending a relaxed
afternoon with friends. For many, mate also is the beverage of choice for
staying alert during the workday, as they sip on it at their desks.
mate preparing, drinking and sharing is an integral part of daily life in South
America, learning the customs behind sampling this local tradition is an easy
way for visitors to get a literal taste of Argentinean culture.
How to drink mate
To a visitor accustomed to seeing caffeinated beverages sipped from plastic
toss-away cups and steaming mugs, mate looks particularly foreign. It is a
beverage for sharing and it is served in a round, uncovered gourd that is made
from a calabaza (squash) rind and
often burnished with metal detailing. The yerba mate is packed around the metal
bombilla (straw), which has a
perforated base that functions also as a filter. One helping of packed yerba yields about 10 drinks, so a thermos of
hot water is always nearby to refill. Those who are strict about their mate
practices say the water should be heated to the point just before boiling.
an Argentine rarely prepares mate alone, there is a particular set of social
codes to follow when enjoying the shared beverage as part of a mate circle. One
person is the server -- usually the person who owns the gourd and also prepares
the mate -- and he or she fills it for each person. Each participant drinks the
full serving before passing it back to the server. All use the same gourd and
straw, and “gracias” is only muttered when you have had your fill.
Where to drink mate
Despite its popularity among locals, mate is not served at most of Buenos
Aires’ dining establishments. It is more of an everyday, social drink than a
beverage to accompany a meal. But a few restaurants and cafes throughout the
city do serve mate for visitors who want a sample, or for Argentines who are craving
it and left their mate gear at home.
Las Cholas (Arce 306; 4899-0094), Las Cabras (Fitz Roy 1795; 5197-5301), Cumaná (Rodríguez Peña 1149; 4813-9207) and La Cholita (Rodríguez Peña 1149; 4815-4406) are all part of a chain of tasty, low-key parrillas (steakhouses), where diners can order mate off the menu. They also serve tereré, which is the cold and less ubiquitous counterpart to traditional mate. The steaks are juicy and priced right, and other traditional Argentine dishes, such as locro, a thick, bean-based stew, are recommended. Mate is also on the menu at La Gauchita, located in one of the nicest areas in town, Palermo Botánico, with shaded, tree-lined streets and a number of embassies nearby.
But, if hunger kicks in while drinking mate, baked goods make a far better pairing with the strong flavour of the tea.
the Palermo Hollywood neighbourhood, Porota
offers delectable passion fruit muffins and cheese scones to accompany the hot
tea beverage. Nearby Cusic also serves an
appetizing selection of pastries and snacks that pair well. Service is slow at Mama
Racha in Palermo Soho, but with its views of the
bustling adjacent plaza, sitting outside with a mate can be a pleasant way to
spend the afternoon. For those wandering around in sleek Puerto Madero, mate is
available at Xcaret (Alicia Moreau de Justo 164; 4315-6260),
which also has outdoor, riverside seating.
full Argentinean cultural outing, La Peña del Colorado, is an amicable, multi-purpose establishment that
doubles as a restaurant and concert venue that also has mate on hand to sip
through the shows or at any time of the day. Raíces cocina casera con historia in Núñez, home to the
famed River Plate soccer club and its stadium, also hosts concerts in its
restaurant space. They make their homemade pastas on Sundays and serve mate
with medialunas, flaky Argentinean pastries that taste like sweet croissants,
throughout the week.
gourds, whether for regular consumption or pure decoration, are characteristic
souvenirs from the city. One can purchase mate gourds varying in size and
style, including embellishments like metalwork or carving details that
incorporate iconic Argentine images such as the flag or tango dancers, at any street
fair in Buenos Aires. The weekly blocks-long San Telmo Fair on Sundays always
has multiple vendors, as does the Feria Plaza Francia, the outdoor weekend fair
adjacent to the Recoleta Cemetery in Plaza Francia.