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Sunday, 25 March 2012

Chan Chan - Hipolito Yrigoyen 1390, Congreso

My last evening in Buenos Aires and what better way to mark the end of my year long odyssey of Spanish-learning and absorption of all things Argentine than some... 
Peruvian food. 

Despite having been to Peru, I first came across - and then whole-heartedly embraced - the delights of ceviche in Buenos Aires. In the depths of summer, when the humidity levels of the streets of Buenos Aires are beyond the pale, there is nothing more welcome than a plate of fresh zesty coriander-saturated ceviche. And possibly an equally zesty pisco sour.
I have sampled ceviche in an abundance of Peruvian restaurants in Buenos Aires. They seem to reside in clusters around Abasto or Plaza de Congreso; the latter is where Chan Chan can be found, tucked away on an unassuming side street; dark, grimy and litter-strewn.

Tonight I am meeting Ana, vivacious porteña pal who confesses to never having tried Peruvian food before. We meet inside, luckily I manage to get a table despite the substantial queue trailing out of the door (Chan Chan is no secret). Typical of many Argentines, Ana has a morbid fear of all things spicy, as well as being squeamish when it comes to the idea of raw fish, so I suggest she goes for (cooked) fish served with rice and huancaina sauce - an inexplicably delicious creamy, cheesy sauce, which also happens not to be remotely spicy. I opt for Causa de Salmón (a kind of terrine made from mashed potato, smoked salmon and avocado) as a starter and predictably choose ceviche as my main course.

Huancaina sauce and spicy dip
Causa de Salmón

At Chan Chan the meal always begins with salted roasted corn kernels, crusty white bread and little bowls filled with dips; one with the aforementioned delicious huancaina sauce and a slightly greenish dip, which if Ana's reaction is anything to go by is about as spicy as eating a handful of raw chilli seeds, though in actual fact is only mildly hot. The Causa is served up looking like a plate of food designed for - or perhaps by - five-year-olds; smiley face drawn with olives and prawn and flourishes of mayonnaise haphazardly squirted around the edge in playful abandon. It tastes good. Potato-y, salmon-y and avocado-y, as good as the sum of its parts; nothing more and nothing less. 

Next up, Ana's fish is rather monotonous in appearance, a colour palate that ranges from yellow to beige, but she is happy with her choice (and the non-spicy-ness thereof) and even ventures to try some of my ceviche which she also reluctantly admits to liking. The ceviche is excellent as always, wonderfully tender and with that satisfying texture and bite reminiscent of sashimi. And as far as I'm concerned, you simply can't go wrong with the combination of fresh coriander, lemon, onion and chilli. Ceviche has been my saviour when I have craved firey and potent flavours here so it is a fitting tribute that I find myself eating it on my last evening of my foodie days in Buenos Aires.

Fish with huancaina sauce
This is my last night in the Argentine capital, a low-key dinner with a friend. I have chosen this over a grand goodbye because I like to think I will see the people I have met in Buenos Aires again. Whether there, in London, or in other corners of the world, I hope to meet again for more good companygood conversation.... and preferably accompanied by good food too.


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