Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Not So Wild Side

Since putting our apartment on the market, I've been able to confirm a couple of those stereotypical observations I've heard about upper middle class porteñas...

Despite speaking in what Guillermo considers a dialect, we have appointed the company run by a bunch of um, these well-groomed ladies. It is not our concern how they speak their Castellano (Spanish) but that they all speak reasonably good English to potential buyers.

After initial troubles with photographs of the apartment because none of them knew how to resize photos using their own in-house software, we have had some interests from foreign buyers. Typically they come for a few weeks to look for a vacation home or are planning to move to this city.

We had been told by the sales manager, in advance, to let her agents speak about our property so we tried not to take part in the viewing process unless approached by a buyer directly.

It is interesting that each of these stylishly dressed agents would wax lyrics about the apartment, the high quality fixtures, the architectural features, etc. but they cannot answer a single question about the area or the general safety of this city intelligently.

I've since discovered the reasons. Firstly, most of these ladies live in Belgrano or Barrio Norte/ Recoleta – the areas viewed by porteños as where one should live if one chooses to live in the city. We have encountered the same narrow-mindedness in our own family which all live in Belgrano and Nuñez; in some cases even if it meant living in a characterless shoebox. They actually do not know much about the rest of the city except by hearsays and prejudices.

For instance, the agent yesterday was completely stumped when the subject turned away from our abode to the neighbourhood. She said to her clients, a family looking for a summer pad, our apartment is very convenient as it is close to the High Court?!

I was standing close by and had to cut in to say we can walk to Recoleta very easily, San Telmo and Puerto Madero are both a 5-10 minute cab ride away. The area has many family-run shops which have been here for decades and have not been tainted by the dollar-grabbing mood in barrios favoured by expats (more on that another time). I hope the agent was taking mental note for future viewings.

Then the subject turned to safety in this city. Again, the agent was hasty to emphasise that she lives in Belgrano and she is very scared to walk to the shops on her own. Sometimes, I feel both amused and frustrated by precious porteñas who are so damn definite with their statements when they are so damn wrong.

Remember news programmes are there to report news; most of them are bound to be bad news. However, there is no crimeless city in the world and one cannot live in constant paranoia.

We have been living in Capital Federal for almost 18 months and have not felt any looming danger at all. I felt much more vulnerable in some parts of London and New York. On the other hand, Guillermo's family in Belgrano and well-heeled porteño friends of ours are always cautioning us never ever to hop into a taxi on the streets; I have been doing so frequently. Except for being asked on a date a few times, I have never had any trouble. Many taxi drivers even round down the fare.

If living by local news programmes is your thing then you really should not be dining in Palermo Viejo at all because there were a number of incidents whereby robbers went into their target restaurant, locked the front door and proceeded to rob the patrons, one by one. I'm only ever deterred by trendy but underwhelming food in that area. I'm not afraid if only because I don't think that's the way to live life but that's just me.

Anyway, should you decide to play safe, you can still sample good Japanese food at home. Gyudon (牛丼) or beef on rice is the Japanese equivalent of Big Mac and Yoshinoya (吉野家) is the MacDonald's of Tokyo; however, the similarities stop right there. Gyudon is much healthier and tastes very good.

150ml dry white wine/ rice wine
100ml Japanese soy
100ml mirin
small thumb of ginger, peeled, cut into thin strips
1/4 cup caster sugar
150ml water
2 white onions, thinly sliced
500g fillet steak, very thinly sliced

To serve:
Steamed Japanese rice
Pickled ginger

Place the wine, soy, mirin, ginger, sugar and water in a medium-sized saucepan over a medium heat. Cook, stirring, to dissolve the sugar, then bring to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Add the onions, simmer for a further 10 minutes or until onions are translucent and soft. Add the beef and simmer for a further 1-2 minutes or until beef is just cooked through.

To serve, place rice into 4 serving bowls. Top with some of the beef and onions and ladle over some of the hot broth. Garnish with pickled ginger.

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