Good day quarentennials. It’s winter in Buenos Aires and quite an unusual one. Not only are we getting sunny, warm days; but this is also the first winter spent in quarantine (not that you need a reminder, sorry) and we’re struggling to keep up with what feels like the longest lockdown the human race ever had to put up with (although it’s not).
But hey, don’t let this winter go in vain! There’s no reason to give up the little pleasures we always attribute to the cold weather, like extra cuddling time or hot food. Or in this case, spicy food that will burn your mouth, mess up your heartbeat and make you want to cry. Why? Because we’re alive!
Ok. I know that spicy food – or lack thereof- is definitely among the top complaints from tourists and ex-pats when it comes to the Buenos Aires dining scene. And they’re right, but it’s slowly getting better and you can be a part of the transformation. But while we’re enjoying the slow road to spice, we have a few tips for you.
1. NEVER TRUST THE ARGENTINE DEFINITION OF “SPICY”
You might spot the word “picante” on the menu. You might even get a local’s testimonial warning about a spicy dish. You will get all excited about that empanada de carne picante, only to find out later that even black pepper is considered spicy in this country. Argentine cuisine, wonderful as it is, is not meant to be spicy. You can get those empanadas and still enjoy them, but they won’t be spicy. In Buenos Aires, your hot treats will often be supplied by an international dealer.
2. KNOW YOUR SPICES
You probably know that not all spices and spicy sauces are the same in terms of flavor, intensity, sensation, duration, saltiness, etc. A Mexican jalapeño burns a bit differently than a Peruvian rocoto; and they both hit differently than Korean kimchi. Trying to remember that will help you enjoy international specialties at their best.
3. MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
As I said, we’re in a beautiful transition, but we’re not quite there yet. Many places will offer you a bottle of Sriracha or Tabasco and promote themselves as spicy-friendly, but the real deal, the use of spices and techniques and exotic vegetables; that’s harder to find.
Also, I don’t know what your tolerance is. You might find these recommendations underwhelming and call fraud. Or you might know a good place that’s been left out (in that case please let us know!). But by keeping your expectations realistic when it comes to spicy food in Buenos Aires, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised after all, instead of unnecessarily disappointed.
4. MAKE SURE YOU’RE GETTING ‘THE STUFF’
More than once, I felt underestimated when ordering a spicy dish. Sometimes, they do have something super hot, but they are so used to stepping down their game; that they assume I can’t handle it. So double-check with the staff (politely!) that you’re getting the hottest of the hottest and that they shouldn’t worry about your tolerance, even though you appreciate it.
Now. A few hints so you know where to start.
HOT TREATS TO BRING HOME
- Chile habanero sauce and chipotle sauce from Che Taco (you may enjoy their red and green enchiladas as well).
- Lagrima del Diablo, home-made, and well-made. A Sriracha style sauce 100% born in Buenos Aires is by no means flavor-less. It does add value to your food; but at the same time, their debut “medium” version (a hotter and a softer version are on the way), hits you firmly and then vanishes soon enough for the next bite; causing some sort of addiction.
- Local producer Red Gon Chili Pepper offers 12 (twelve!) types of spicy salts that will take any meal to the next level. And of course, several delicious sauces among which “Maraça” (fruity and addictive, as described by our editor) and “Pecadora” stand out.
- La Milagrosa is a Mexican ex-pat in Buenos Aires; with her own brand of spicy sauces and spices. Recommended: her salsa gourmet “muy picante” (and there’s dark spicy chocolate too!).
- El Barigüi is another fire-provider, and Buenos Aires made. He even offers free delivery if you’re in the Belgrano neighborhood. Editor’s choice: Maracuya Power and Jalapeño Verde.
- If you’re more of the tranqui kind – you may vibe more with Don Cirilo‘s sauces. Go for the “Habanero y Mango”; imagine REAL, SWEET, INTENSE mango with just the right hint of spicy.
- Acclaimed Narda Lepes has her own chili sauce, que lo parió is made of chili pepper with carrots and turnip. “Best enjoyed on a grilled provoleta or sauteed shrimp,” says the chef herself.
- Picante de la semana, in a jar, from Georgie’s. They usually play with different types of pepper and throw in a surprise touch like, say, a fruity flavor.
- At NOLA, specializing in cajun food; you can now take their praised Cilantro & Jalapeño home. On their menu there are also spicy fried chicken sandwiches and their gumbo, although unbearable to Argentines, is hot enough for you.
- And if you just don’t know where to look, you can always go to Locos x El Picante, an online market specialized in spicy items. Their repertoire is long and you will find from local producers to international classics like Tabasco or Sriracha; even seeds or exotic vegetables!
- Curry-wise, you’ll get the stuff at OPIO (I love their green chicken curry) but you have to order their “7 chiles” level. Shoutout to the spicy red curry from Sudestada; and curries at Delhi Majal (no Instagram, order here) and Tandoor are also fairly hot.
- It’s official: Kimchi is now cool in Buenos Aires. But I will make my case with a classic first: Una Canción Coreana, where almost every single item on the menu is served with a side of kimchi (and by the way you can also order it in jars, thank you quarantine). But if you want a winter delight with a spicy heart, go for their spicy meat soup. Outside Flores jurisdiction; spicy kimchi from NA NUM in the form of Banchan (small korean dishes) is very good.
- Try the Thai Fried Chicken at Azit. You need to ask for the “salsa picante hot,”but beware: there’s another salsa picante without the “hot,” but trust me, you want that extra hot.
- The Mexican Burger from Burger Joint comes with jalapeño slices (you can ask for extra slices). If you’re the bittersweet type: Big Pons ‘Sweet N Spicy’ burger with cheese, tomato chutney, pickles, and smoked jalapeño aioli.
- Spicy appetizers? How about those jalapeño poppers from Dellepiane (filled with cheddar and wrapped in bacon).
- As Peruvian restaurants adapted to porteños taste, they didn’t all do it the same way: you will find that in some places, even standard ceviche is spicy; while in others, the offer is limited to a somewhat-spicy sauce that they only bring upon request. Surely shot: Spicy picante de camarones at Rincón Trujillano.
- The Stand is an unusual empanadas joint owned by an American expat. Hot items: spicy chicken curry empanada or the “guerrero” empanada with shredded beef, bacon, cheddar, and jalapeños.
- Sassy brunch: Most beloved bagels in Buenos Aires can now be ordered in their spicy version with Sheikob’s bagels new partnership with Lagrima del Diablo.
- La Carbonera sells Venezuelan-style empanadas that you can order with a side of Venezuelan traditional spicy sauce. Add generously.
- Food at La Fabrica del Taco is not spicy by default and I thought a lot about throwing in a franchise here; but their hot sauces are usually good. You can now order them along with your tacos (be sure to ask for the spiciest option).
- Fukuro offers several options for hot, spicy ramen; but the brave ones won’t settle for less than their “very, very, very” (quote from their menu) spicy Karai ramen.
- Some of Gran Dabbang’s dishes are mildly or slightly spicy, but you should still try them and admire their creative use of the spicy touch (menu changes constantly). Ideal if you’re only spicy-curious.
- Chinese hot pot can be best enjoyed with friends after quarantine at 九宫格 / (Jiu Gong Ge). They have zero virtual presence (always a good sign with Chinese restaurants) but you’ll find them at Serrano 1222. The hot pot only comes in one size but in different levels of spicy. The spiciest, the priciest!