A culinary treasure trove overshadowed by the famed Argentine beef, international cuisine exists, if not thrives, in the cosmopolitan center of Buenos Aires.
As a transplanted New Yorker spoiled by the cornucopia of culinary cuisines that used to call out to me from every block of Queens and Manhattan, I felt like something was missing after months of devouring juicy steaks, homemade pastas and colorful pizzas in Buenos Aires.
After all, variety is the spice of life, and my newly relocated palate needed some shocks of spice and foreign flavors.
Recalling other deliciously spicy dishes I’ve had in the past and encouraged by new friends from Peru, I decided to try out a few of the city’s Peruvian restaurants.
I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Oh, how my tongue delighted in the hot, steaming soups and stews and the gastronomic goodness of seafood! Mussels and squid and shrimp, galore!
My favorite place is a no-frills restaurant called Contigo Perú on Calle Echeverría near the train tracks of the Barrancas of Belgrano station. A quiet, unassuming restaurant from the front, it actually seats about 200 guests.
Having become accustomed to Argentine cuisine, I at first felt a little lost as I perused the menu that featured parihuela (a seafood soup), jalea (an assortment of various foods), chairo (a beef soup) and aguadito de pollo (a light chicken soup).
But by studying the accompanying photos in the menu and peeping at the plates of those nearby, I knew I was in for a gustatory treat.
The cubiertos of the pre-meal bread sealed the deal. The bread rolls came with a small side of a pale yellow innocuous-looking sauce, which I spread on my roll. I bit into it and immediately my taste buds came alive to the spicy flavor of garlic and guacatai, which is kindred to cilantro and is known for its medicinal powers.
One of the popular dishes here is the chupe de camarones. Upon being seated, I saw the waiters making several trips from the kitchen, carrying a huge bowl of this red shrimp chowder with hot steam trailing after them. I was intrigued and ordered it. About a quarter-hour later, I had before me a tremendous bowl of fiery red broth with tomato and chili pastes, swirls of light cream and squid, mussels and shrimp bobbing on the surface. To top it all off was a slightly poached egg.
For the less adventurous, I highly recommend the green noodles with chicken, a simple, delicious dish. The spaghetti comes in a pea-green sauce of spinach, basil and garlic, and the chicken is roasted to tender, juicy perfection.
Other popular dishes include pescado a lo macho, a grilled fish in a cream of squid, shrimp and mussels; a Peruvian-style paella; and an Asian-inspired arroz chaufa con mariscos, a stir-fried rice with seafood in soy sauce.
Granted that this is indeed a Peruvian restaurant, you can find ceviches of mixed seafood, flounder and shrimp; crisp pork, squid and fish rinds; and tamales which you can down with a fizzy pineapple cider or the traditional pisco sour.
To top off my meal, I ordered mazamorra morada for dessert, a “purple cornmeal mush” according to a verbatim reading off the menu. In less figurative wording, it is actually a gelatinous fruit compote of purple corn, pieces of pineapple, whole quinces or membrillos, and sprinkles of cinnamon. Never having tried a quince before, I was surprised by its resemblance to the prune.
The quince is quite popular here, and you can find pies and cakes of membrillo at the local pastry shops. Unsurprisingly, almost all of the quinces in the North American specialty markets are imported from Argentina.
If you want to explore some tasty treats in addition to the traditional Argentine fare of lomo or bife de chorizo, Contigo Perú (and Peruvian cuisine in general) is a gustatory jewel. Just make sure to brace yourself before you polish off that yellow sauce . . .