One of the major considerations I had to take into account when deciding to go abroad was food—and not because I’m just that picky. Last spring, I discovered that what I thought was an assortment of unrelated ailments was actually the result of a severe dairy allergy, a condition that has also contributed to an equally uncomfortable intolerance of gluten. Thus, the thought of coming to Buenos Aires, “The City of Meat,” didn’t scare me because meat, I can eat. Then I found through some research that other Argentinian staples include pasta, empanadas, and buttery medialunas…and that’s when I started to worry. Luckily, my love for Argentina (and a past IFSA-Butler student’s account of dealing with food in Buenos Aires) prevailed. So here I am today, in the city of my dreams. Take me writing this article as evidence: I am not going hungry in Buenos Aires. And here’s how:
Dining Out & Eating Socially
We all know food plays a central role in relationship building, and especially so in Argentina, so you won’t be able to just eat at home for every meal or snack. If you’re like me and you have a food allergy, consider Tripadvisor and planning ahead to be your best friends. Do your homework and look up where to go AND how to get there before you’re stuck wandering the streets of empanada stands out of luck. So far I’ve found that my other IFSA friends are usually happy to follow someone who knows where they’re going! I tend to search for vegan-friendly restaurants because they’re dairy-free and generally more allergen-conscious, so more likely to have gluten-free options as well. There’s one great vegetarian buffet with vegan options just a block from the IFSA office called Yoliz where you pay by the pound (kilogram?) and it always ends up cheap, yet filling.
Buenos Aires Verde Restaurant is also to die for with its creative, tastefully flavored vegan and gluten-free dishes, including elaborate desserts and smoothies! If you don’t get all three, it’s pretty affordable, too.
Thai, sushi, and Indian cuisines also tend to be allergen-friendly options! In my experiences dining out so far, waiters have been quite understanding and accommodating, but I’ve still found that general food allergy awareness is not quite as common as it is in the U.S. (with the exception of Celiac’s disease). I’m lucky because my gluten intolerance isn’t that strong and my side effects from eating dairy are more long-term, but if you have to be more careful, with a little more planning and patience you’ll be fine.
Snacking & La Merienda
La merienda is an important part of any Argentinian’s daily schedule. With a tiny breakfast, a light lunch, and dinner at 9:00 or 10:00pm, this midafternoon snack is necessary to get through the day. Unfortunately for me, la merienda typically involves coffee and a buttery pastry, so I’ve become accustomed to always bringing a cereal bar or gluten-free pastry from home to nibble on with my coffee. As for finding an emergency snack on the street, fruterías are an absolute gem—they’re all over the place and chock-full of phenomenal in-season fruit and vegetables, ready to be sold in bundles or by the banana!
And did I say Tripadvisor was your best friend? Well let me refine that—Tripadvisor AND Dietéticas are your best friends. Dietéticas are where you’re going to find your quinoa, your chia seeds, your chickpea flour, and whatever other natural health food product you desire. I have yet to find a protein bar of reasonable quality, but there are cereal bars, dried fruit, and nuts aplenty! And be advised: they don’t all carry the same stock, so shop around if you don’t find what you want at one of them! Besides dietéticas, there are also entirely gluten-free grocery stores (I told you Celiac’s was high on the radar!). There’s one right on my block in Caballito called Rojas Gluten Free, but my host mom tells me there are others too. I actually got really lucky because my host mom has Celiac’s disease, so she has given me tons of recommendations and makes sure to always have a dairy-free gluten-free dessert waiting for me at home so I won’t feel left out when all my friends want gelato! But even if it weren’t for Marta’s loving advice, I know I could still get by with the Internet and these general tips!
Food at Home & On-the-Go
I’ve come to the conclusion that shopping for and making my own lunches for the week will probably prove to be most health-conscious, budget-friendly, and stress-free option. And furthermore, cooking at home also opens up an opportunity to bond with your host family—who doesn’t like sharing their culture through food? Try asking them to teach you a couple recipes you should try for lunch, and then find whatever substitutes you need at the dietética. I just brought home coconut oil today for Marta to make an apple tort she’s been raving about since last week! On the topic of host families, I would also recommend making it very clear on your IFSA family placement form that you have an allergy because your host family will read that paper—and maybe you’ll even be lucky enough to get placed with Marta, too!
While Buenos Aires might not be the easiest city for me to eat in given my dietary needs (yeah, why didn’t I go to Thailand again?), I’m glad I didn’t let that hold me back because it turns out finding options here isn’t so hard after all! And if worse comes to worse, I know I can always order a salad and grab a piece of fruit from a frutería—and as long as I’m eating the delicious fruit here, I won’t feel like I’m missing out on anything!
Kelly Slatery was a Cognitive Science student at the University of Virginia and attended the IFSA-Butler Spanish Translation and Linguistics in Buenos Aires Program in Buenos Aires, Argentina in fall 2016. Kelly was an International Correspondent through the Work-to-Study program.