Change from 100: Arevalito

Sweetcorn pie with a breaded base, with a dinky serving of cold corn topping the salad.
You know how online communities are becoming increasingly exclusive? How Twitter is for all and sundry, Facebook allows a certain amount of control as to who you share information with, while A Small World and Pinterest are invite-only? Well, the same levels of exclusivity operate on an expat level, too.

Fascinating, you arrived yesterday? Next. Fascinating, you arrived two months ago and are here to learn tango? Next. Ah, you work for a multi-national? Add. Is your DNI a burgundy booklet or a card? Could I have your number, please?

But I could be a member of the most exclusive group of all. You may not have heard of it, but it’s called Team GB and despite these trying diplomatic times, I am in no way trying to rub in your face that I am from Britain, land of tea-drinkers and boat-sinkers.

No, no, I’m member of a three-strong group of (known) foreigners living in Argentina with DNI who have had their gall bladders removed in this very country. Although our scars may differ (mine are delicate and ladylike thanks to keyhole surgery, while Matt C.’s tummy rather looks like a run-in with slasher king Freddie Krueger, after an emergency op), my own particular history without a gall bladder has included a long period of adaptation (orange juice and coffee no, plenty of steak yes) although it isn’t the same for everyone.

Other culinary no-nos which can lead to a 911 moment include tomatoes, all the lettuce family, cucumber, too much spice, basically, all salady things. And avocado, but that is unrelated to Team GB.

The situation is this: it takes nerves of steel, some deep breaths and limbering up, and some non-prescription drugs within very close reach for me to tuck into a salad.

It may be a stroke of luck that I live in a country where eating your five a day isn’t hammered into you, and the most adventurous of tomato salads may have some freeze-dried oregano sprinkled over it. Or it may be the very reason why my poor gall bladder, probably long sold to a “pharamacist” who crushed it up and turned it into a slimming tea, clogged up in the first place.

Apart from that old adage, “where’s the F in fish?” (see Herald, November 27, 2011), the other common complaint oft heard echoing around expat tea-drinking meetings is “why is it so hard to get a decent salad?” — and not just from vegetarians.

Well, I don’t have the answer (although I have some theories), but hopefully leafy greenness is set to take a slightly larger role as it becomes the norm to wolf down a salad instead of a rib-eye thanks to the rise of organic markets and swankier grocers such as The Pick Market across Buenos Aires.

In a bid to undertake a feat which goes against my essence, I acquired nerves of steel, took some deep breaths, limbered up but not very well as I have a bowling injury from last week, and put some non-prescription drugs in my pocket as I prepared to go veggie for a night.

Although it has moved premises a handful of times, Arevalito regardless has a strong following. A dinky premises, much of the action happens out on the street at several tables sporting mismatching chairs, bread-baskets and plates. Four years ago, it was a lone vegetarian soldier on the middle of Arevalo street: thanks to the nearby TV studios, even Marcelo Tinelli has made it a regular spot, according to one of the cooks from Birmingham (GB).

Now Arevalito, a vegetarian restaurant serving up tastes from around the world, is accompanied by similar styled cafés and eateries, some subject to better paint jobs and more pretensions than the original vegetarian warrior, but with a less bohemian feel.

The menu, which changes between day and night, is short and sweet with five mains. Desserts remain the same, and the staff even concoct a house Campari.

Strangely, it feels safer at night, as much of the street is taken up by diners, than in the day when a stream of workers looking for a doorstep to lunch on flows past.

It could also be recommended as a place for scouting male talent — every time I’ve sat down for lunch, I’ve been the only woman. Either the men, fed up of feigning being macho at the weekend, use it as an escape from grilled meats, or it’s simply an intimate date spot.

Everything at Arevalito is made in-house, with many ingredients coming from Bubi’s, a decent delicatessen a block away, including the wholemeal bread and dip of the day (which was carrot with a touch of cardamom on Tuesday). Of an evening it’s best to arrive temperately, or you may only have two out of five fun-named options to choose from. I was particularly miffed to miss out on Señora Croqueta Coqueta (Mrs. Flirty Croquette).

Regardless, a curry wafting over from the next table was too tempting not to order and fortunately there was one left. I graciously let Mr. Links have it, knowing full well he’d soon be snaffling up the salad accompanying my sweetcorn pie, with its bread base and quiche-like filling.

The cooks hold spades in taste tactics in terms of herbs and spice usage and the curry had good levels of heat to it, which wouldn’t overwhelm a local audience, also using wheat as an interesting alternative to rice for mopping up the sauce.

With a community feel, Arevalito is not a slick operation in terms of service but the food has great flavours and textures, speaks volumes and gives change from 100 pesos. If we’d both opted for a corn pie costing 40 pesos, and still tucked into a three-quarter litre of Imperial lager, dinner for two would have cost 100 pesos on the nose. Next time, I’ll get there earlier and pray to Mamapacha beforehand that Mrs. Flirty Croquette is on the menu.

Arevalito, Arévalo 1478
Palermo Hollywood
Tel: 4776-4252

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on March 4, 2012

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