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Christin Tang

Classic Argentine Cultural Experiences

by Christin Tang Friday, June 19, 2015

As I’m coming to terms with the fact that I only have a month left in the beautiful country of Argentina, I’m realizing how many of the unique-to-Argentina customs and cultural activities have started to feel pretty regular! I think it’s crazy how quickly I felt like I truly was a part of the city of Buenos Aires and I know that it’s left a huge impact on me as well. So, below, I’ve included two of my favorite Argentine activities that my friends and I do on a regular basis:

The San Telmo Market

I cannot do the enormity of this market justice. For miles, vendors line the streets of “Calle Defensa,” selling items from mate cups to brass cooking supplies to painted pictures of tango and everything in between. Although there are a few touristy options (for example, smiling empanada bags), almost all of the items are true to Argentine and Buenos Aires culture and are really lovely.

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Here’s an example of some of the trinkets you can buy. Each vendor’s selection is unique and lovely.

Every Sunday all of these vendors show up to sell their products, connect with residents of Buenos Aires and “extranjeros,” foreigners, alike and to enjoy a beautiful morning right next to the Argentine equivalent of the White House (“Casa Rosada” or the Pink House).

My friends and I have gotten into a routine of going most Sundays, but beforehand we always pick up coffee at a really cool and quirky coffee shop on the parallel street. Believe it or not, finding incredible coffee in this city has been a struggle, but Coffee Town is one of my favorites! The entire ritual of going is a great time and there’s always plenty of music, caffeine and food to eat to keep us coming back each week.

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We see these guys performing each week at one of the busiest intersections. They’re a ton of fun and really loud!

Drinking Mate in Recoleta

Before arriving in Buenos Aires I had never heard of mate (mahTAY). It’s a pretty strong and bitter tea that Argentina and other South American countries absolutely adore. If you couldn’t tell from the previous paragraph, I’m really into coffee and so a strange, bitter, really green tea didn’t entice me. But I was so wrong.

Part of drinking mate is the ritual of the drink. There is one cup that is shared between the entire group. The server prepares the mate (I’d recommend Googling this if you’re interested, it’s a process!) and then fills up the cup with hot water from a thermos. Then he/she passes it to the first person in the group. That person drinks all of the tea until he/she is slurping and there’s nothing left. He/she then passes it back to the server and the server refills it and passes it to the second person. This continues until all of the water is gone.

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My friend is taking her turn sipping mate before she passes it back to the server. Usually the drink is really hot too so you have to drink it quick!

I’ve come to realize, like with many Argentine traditions, it’s not really about the drink or the food (during our sometimes more than two hour long dinners), but being with a community and savoring your time with people you love. Mate is no exception and is a really fun activity to do with friends.

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Seriously, we drink mate all the time. Sometimes it’s at a market in Recoleta or San Telmo, and sometimes it’s after dinner at somebody’s house. It’s a great way to pass time and is delicious after a few tries.

Overall, I feel that I’ve learned a lot about the city of Buenos Aires and about Argentine culture. The most important lesson I’ve learned though is to try everything. When you’re putting yourself into a new situation, such as studying abroad in a foreign country, you’re giving yourself thousands of opportunities to expose yourself to something new.

By wandering the city, talking with locals and trying everything you will make your experience so much more interesting and worthwhile. Whether it’s checking out a new neighborhood in the city or passing the mate with friends, it all makes your study abroad experience truly your own!