Mate, Vino, Bife, Dale – The Porteños of Buenos Aires

By January 23, 2013Fujifilm X-Pro1, RTW, Travel
Lady and dog sitting outside a store in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of La Boca

bald man reading newspaper buenos airesLazy sunday morning in La Boca

A hint as to the origins of the inhabitants of Buenos Aires lies in the collective name they have chosen to call themselves, Porteños, or People of the Port. The population is largely comprised of immigrants from Europe, primarily Italy and Spain who arrived by boat in the late 19th century and early 20th century when the Argentine government went so far as to subsidise boat journeys in order to populate the growing city in The New World. The difficult economic climate at the time in Europe fed the exodus. The dominant culture today remains distinctly European.

¡Dale! punctuates sentences between the rapid-fire exchange between 2 Porteños lamenting the price of bread or the inconsiderate neighbours with their noisy asado party the night before. Much like ‘OK’ in English, it is unique to Argentines, part of a rather large repertoire of lunfardo that characterises the Argentine version of Spanish, Castellano.

Nearly 2 months living in the city gave me a small peek into the lives of Porteños, living today in a climate of high inflation and questionable governance meant that Porteños are by necessity, resilient and adaptable. I personally found them more introverted than their Brazilian neighbours up north, but possess the same kindness and hospitality below the sometimes indifferent outer façade. I’ve been stopped by old ladies on the street for a chat and struck up conversations with random people genuinely curious about what a couple of foreign looking visitors with a smattering of Spanish might be doing in their city, what we think of Argentines in general, and everyone seemed to have an opinion on la presidente Christina Kirchner, mostly unpublishable. Almost without exception, everyone loves a good maté (a ubiquitous tea like drink that is an institution unto itself), a good Argentine steak and a glass of Malbec from Mendoza.

Dinner for Porteños is a fantastically late affair, we were often the first ones at our local Parilla at 8.45pm, when the chef was still having his mate before the dinner crowd and the waiters were still milling around and setting up tables. 9.30-10pm on a weekday would be typical Argentine and 11-11.30pm on weekends de rigueur. Our untrained bellies could not keep up and we often capitulated by 8pm or so, racked with pangs of hunger, although towards the end of our time in Buenos Aires, we had sufficiently adapted to the Porteño way of doing things and managed a semi-respectable 9pm, which no longer elicited a ‘Muy temprano!’ (Very early!) from the waiters when we sat down.

Strangely, I found them, in that sense, quite similar to the Chinese, who might not be the most friendly people outwardly but if you manage to peel back a couple of the outer layers, you might just be surprised by how hospitable they really are.

Mate, Vino, Bife, Dale.

portenos chatting outside a restaurantAn empanada pitstop

choripan sellerChoripan seller at dusk

2 old people carrying a bagSharing the load

helado sellerMore than two dozen flavours of helado are listed on the wall of his old school home-made ice cream heladeria.

man with dogsBy my own very unscientific estimates, dogs outnumber cats 10-1 in Buenos Aires

old lady san telmo marketStopping for a drink at San Telmo market

old man record shopEverything from Tango classics to the Beatles are sold in this shop, all in vinyl, of course.

bus ice cream manAn ice cream break outside whilst friends chat in a bus

mate coupleThe ubiquitous mate is popular with all age groups and social classes

old man outside boca juniors shopPorteños generally align themselves with either of the two dominant football teams, either the world famous Boca Juniors (Club Atlético Boca Juniors) or the equally illustrious River Plate (Club Atlético River Plate)

kirchner torn on groundThe Kirchners, not the most popular people in town

young man protest san telmoA protestor against the policies of the ruling Kirchner government, blamed for many of the countries recent (and not so recent) economic ills.

tres de febrero park kidsKids having fun at Parque Tres de Febrero, one of the many green spaces in the city.

I left my job as an advertising Creative Director in August 2012 to travel Africa and South America for a year with my wife, documenting these beautiful places with my Fuji X-Pro1. View the rest of my RTW adventures on Handcarry Only and follow me on my journey by subscribing/following/bookmarking.