Barrio Chino is located in one of my favorites and less touristy areas in Buenos Aires called Belgrano, which was named after Manuel Belgrano, a politician and military leader who created the national flag of Argentina.
Belgrano can be roughly divided into Belgrano R, central Belgrano, Lower Belgrano and Belgrano C which contains a few charming and packed streets that encompass China Town. The streets are densely packed with Chinese restaurants, tea houses, grocery stores, and even a Buddhist temple.
Barrio Chino is the heart of the Chinese community in Argentina. The neighborhood began to develop in the 1980s when newly-arrived Taiwanese and Chinese immigrants settled in this area. Today, China Town is not only a mainly Chinese neighborhood but a superb market place for all sort of fresh great quality and exotic products. It has also become, in my opinion, a local attraction for Argentinians.
The environment in Barrio Chino is always hectic and going into the stores is a bit suicidal. The isles are packed with local Chinese residents and restaurant owners buying massive amounts of food. The carts are filled to the top with different types of meats, seafood, tofu and vegetables. All the while the Argentinians wander through the store, poking and examining the foreign food and condiments. Maneuvering in the stores feels like a survival of the fittest. It's likely that you'll get pushed and shoved around and even get hit with a shopping cart, so watch your back!
My friend Brian, who grew up in Belgrano, told me that 10 years ago, Barrio Chino was a calm area that was under the radar, but now, Portenos flock to the area to peer into the restaurants, sniff the exotic foods in the stores and crowd around the street food vendors. It's quite a circus.
As hectic as it sounds, I adore China Town for many reasons. First of all, I love the tea houses. They provide me with a perfect atmosphere to meet up with my language exchange buddies. We sit in a garden, sip on tea and chat chat chat.
I've also discovered that Barrio Chino is one of the best places to buy healthy foods and great produce at much lower prices than any regular store in Buenos Aires! Whenever I'm in the area, I stock up on flax seed, brown sugar, different types of teas, grains, tofu, spices and veggies.
China Town is also packed with Chinese restaurants and street vendors selling different types of food and drinks, so when I get tired of the local cuisine or my own cooking I head to Barrio Chino for a taste of something different.
Last weekend, my friend Jake was sick so I recommended that we go to China Town and have some soup. I've been wanting to try one of the Chinese restaurants and since it's been freezing and I've been obsessed with eating soup to keep warm, China Town was a perfect venue for the both of us.
We chose a restaurant that has been recommend to Jake and placed blind orders for our soups. Looking at a million different types of soups described in Spanish, we couldn't really understand the differences between them so we just pointed at our order. My soup was really good and I was happy with my choice while Jake's soup was a lil different. He thought he was getting soup with smoked chicken and when his food arrived, the chicken was served separately. This presented us with a dilemma.... Does Jake put the chicken in the soup or leave it on the plate? Jake chose to eat it separately.
After we ate, we wondered around for a bit, stocked up on some goodies from the stores and decided to get get some tea with milk and pearl for desert. These drinks are very popular and common in US, but in Buenos Aires, the drinks attract a lot of attention, even in Barrio Chino.
I think the tea, with the over-sized straw and the big black pearls sitting at the bottom of the see-through plastic present the locals with a sense of mystery, intrigue and curiosity. As Jake and I were walking around and sipping on our tea, many people would stare at us, point at our drinks or make strange faces. We were stopped numerous times and asked what we were drinking. Luckily, I was armed with an answer in Spanish!
"Estoy bebiendo te con leche y perla," I would say to the inquirers. Although I couldn't really explain in Spanish what pearl is.
"Aaaaah," would be their response while making a face of disgust.
"Alright," I thought, "That's enough attention and crazy looks, it's time to toss this puppy."
And then I walked over to the garbage can and threw away my tasty tea to avoid attention, questions and possible confrontation.....