Friday, September 22, 2006

Daily Bread

If you have just arrived in Buenos Aires from an artesanal (artisan) bread culture such as that of Europe, Sydney, Melbourne, San Francisco, etc. brace yourself for some major disappointment. Forget supermarket breads, they are the same plastic, airy slices you have left behind years ago. You would think a people who so desperately cling onto their European roots would have retained some of their ancestors' bread making skills; the answer is a sad "no".

Plain loaves from most bakeries are either quite salty or sweet. The texture varies but if you are after sourdough, dark rye or spelt, your best bet is to purchase an air ticket and get out of here. The organic grocer I no longer patronise out of principle once delivered to me a tiny light brown loaf no bigger than my palm with green woolly growth underneath which they imaginatively called pumpernickel and shamelessly charged me 6.50pesos.

I discovered the city, like most other new arrivals, according to the Time Out Guide. Firstly, I went to La Esquina de Las Flores on Cordoba y Rodriguez Peña and then Lotos next to them. Both are health food shops with a canteen and bakery. La Esquina also has a branch in Palermo.

The Corner of Flowers stocks a range of organic flours and legumes. One has to keep one's eyes peeled because all their products come in very similar packaging in various colours but NOT all are organic. Some of them just say free of chemicals. The manager claimed that the reason being organic certification is difficult and costly. In order to keep the products affordable, they sometimes have to go with producers who are a step away from being certified. I'm ok with that but you should draw your own conclusions.

They also offer a range of breads, pastries and cakes. As a health conscious baker myself, I find their offerings very ordinary. Almost everything comes in the same drab brown colour and tastes like sweetened or salted cardboards.

Lotos next door has a vegetarian restaurant upstairs. Friends who have eaten both next door and there claim Lotos is much better in quality and taste. I have only gone downstairs to the shop; the range of products on offer is much wider than La Esquina de Las Flores. Guillermo and I tried a few of the breads and budines (pound cakes) from their bakery too. While they were better than their neighbour's, Guillermo wasn't too impressed. I've clearly spoilt him with my organic wholemeal banana bread and wholemeal pear cake.

Given my previous disappointments, I was simply overjoyed when I tried another place recommended in my trusted guide –
Haus Brot. They don't make claims about being 100% organic and I appreciate their honest approach. Most importantly, at least to me, their wholemeal medialunas, bocaditos (baked sweets), wholemeal pita bread, and seeded loaves are probably the best balance of taste and texture in this city.

As a shrewd consumer, I'm also really pleased that the good people at Haus Brot haven't priced their products much higher than a normal bakery. Since this important discovery, who needs mouldy "pumpernickel" even if they were truly organic?
Speaking of organic shopping, the choices are still very limited compared to more affluent capital cities but it is improving noticeably and continuously, Bio, a restaurant and a deli, in Palermo is a great spot, Jumbo, the most price competitive, is becoming more hit than miss and Tallo Verde is fair and square with prices listed on their on-line shopping website.
After thoughts:
The whole organic or natural food movement is gathering strength due to several factors: economic recovery of the country, increasing health awareness of the locals through international media and increasing number of foreign, more health aware, residents in the city. There are new shops opening all the time and the quality is also improving. Most of these shops are clustered around the more affluent and residential neighbourhoods such as Palermo, and the northern suburbs. If you find a good place you would like to share with the rest of this blog community, please email me or leave a comment - we warmly welcome your input ;-) A big thank you.

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