The Expat: Allie Lazar

AlliebioCV: Allie Lazar
Born: Chicago (northern suburbs)
Age: 26
Profession: Professional eater, editor and blogger for Entaste
Education: Political Science and Latin American Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison
Currently re-reading: A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain
Last film seen: The Inglorious Bastards (1978)
Gadgets: Kitchen tools, appliances and spices

When was the first time you came to Argentina?
It was in 2006, when I came here to study abroad. I stayed, for silly reasons, really, the weather, I wasn’t ready to go back to normal life in the US, and it was cheap at the time. I wasn’t ready for the real world and it was the best option out of other bad or worse options! Aged 21!

Was it easy to extend the study abroad programme?
I did the first six months and was studying at UBA, and I really liked it. I felt my time in Buenos Aires wasn’t done after those six months so I turned that into a year, and after that I thought about staying for me if I took a year off from school.

What was studying at UBA like?
It’s a lot different from my US college. There were always strikes and the social science classes I took were challenging because they were in Spanish. But because I’m a foreigner they gave me quite a lot of breaks. My university at home is based in a college town, with a big bar scene, a stereotypical US university.

Did you already speak Spanish?
I had some because when I was in high school I did two volunteer programmes of two months each, one in Honduras and the other in Mexico, living with a family, with no running water or electricity.

Where did you live at first?
The year abroad programme puts you with a family, so I lived in Almagro in this ridiculously tiny room, which was the domestic help’s room, and was awful. I barely spoke to the family and I was a vegetarian at the time, and they didn’t know what to cook me so they’d leave rice in the microwave.
The room had space for a tiny little bed — and I’m pretty tall — and just about my suitcase. I had a bathroom but it was one where the shower goes over the toilet so I had to shower bent over. They had two entrances — one for the help and the other for the regular family — and I went through the help way. I lasted three months there.
Then a friend was living in a beautiful house so I decided to move and got to pick where. I moved in with a lady who lives on Paraná and Santa Fe, and had an impeccable house. Her father was the ambassador to the Vatican during Perón’s era, and I stayed there for the next nine months. It was cool seeing all the different neighbourhoods, though, and getting to know them as each one is like its own little city.
I haven’t spoken to the Almagro family since, though I am in touch with the Recoleta lady…

What did you get up to?
Apart from working at the hostel, not much. I was quite bored but I didn’t want to teach English and I wasn’t positive I wanted to stay in Buenos Aires at that point. I wasn’t serious about finding work and still had the luxury of my parents giving me money! But when I did move back, luckily I found a job quickly.
In my spare time I went to a lot of movies, read and studied Spanish. And I cooked, which is when I became interested in food.

Where did you like to eat back then?
There weren’t many options. And there weren’t many ways of finding out about places, online or otherwise. So I’d walk about and go to random places. Nothing really stood out. I used a guide book to help me as I didn’t know where else to look!
This was 2007, and it wasn’t too frustrating because although there wasn’t much variety, I wasn’t yet tired of empanadas or milanesas, all the things that are “blurgh” for me now. And I did a lot of cooking.

What would be your signature empanada?
Some friends and I thought about opening up an empanada shop in Chicago but they would be accompanied with sauces or dips. You could have a spicy meat empanada with a blue cheese dip.

How did things come together?
I knew I had to graduate and that until I could get my degree, I couldn’t make a commitment to any job here. So graduating then coming back here was when it came together and I got a job after three weeks.
Also, after being in the US after being in Buenos Aires, I knew I wanted to be back in BA. I like the laidbackness here, people aren’t so serious, the craziness of the city, the late dinners — the whole lifestyle.

Did you have square-peg, round-hole syndrome after two years?
Yes, but I think I already had it from before, from travelling in high school so I also knew I wanted to do something different. I was bored staying still and following the path of graduating, getting a job — it sounds completely boring to me. At least I was doing something in a different spot, with the challenges you don’t have in your own country such as the language, the cultural differences, and those are what kept things interesting.

What were the high and low points of working for an Argentine firm?
It could be frustrating at times as there is a different work ethic! But high points were meeting lots of people from all over, getting experience I couldn’t get at my age in the US — I was in charge of a team and had a lot of responsibilities.
I started my blog during that time as I was going out to eat a lot and I figured I should put that to good use. It was a good creative outlet plus there still wasn’t that much information about restaurants online at the time, in Spanish, and even less in English. I just wanted to share my love of food with other foreigners.

How do Argentines react to your blog ‘Pick Up The Fork’?
If I say anything bad about Argentine food, they get extremely passionate about it! Pizza fuelled one debate as I don’t really like it here and I’ve received hate mail from Argentines telling me to “go back home, you suck” among other things. But I think Argentine food is boring, and when I say it’s not healthy, people go crazy and say “but you’re from the fattest country ever”.

Has the food community developed?
The online one has definitely grown, with blogs, resources and people are getting into it — food has become trendy, although I don’t like the word “foodie”. There’s more variety as it used to be really hard to find anything vegetarian or ethnic.

When did you stop being veggie?
When I lived with the lady in Recoleta. She said to me: “I’m not going to cook vegetarian food for you. It’s Argentine beef so you’ll like it.” I’m easily persuaded… She cooked a beef stroganoff, which was okay but not great. In that first year I gained 10 kilos, because I was eating all the bread from the restaurant baskets.

Where do you live now?
In Palermo Hollywood on the edge of Colegiales. It’s not crazy Palermo, filled with annoyingly trendy people blocking everywhere but it’s close to cafés, bars and restaurants without being in the middle of it. I like to look out of my window and see all the beautiful trees.

What’s your most Argentine characteristic?
Flakiness. Saying I’ll do something and then not following it through. But some characteristics are so normal to me that I wonder “what are Argentine characteristics?”

What’s been your worst trámite?
So many! Between my bank and my work visa… I must have been to Immigration 20 times.
I once went to (the club) Museo while I was a student and met a guy who said he worked at Immigration. We hooked up, then a few weeks later I went to Immigration and he helped me with my application but had no idea who I was. He still works there…

Where have you travelled to?
I’ve been to Córdoba — although that was for Oktoberfest so it doesn’t count — and to Bariloche, El Bolsón. Top of my list is Salta, Jujuy and Tucumán. There’s an (Oriental) Indian community that lives in the north, in Tucumán I think, who were extras in Seven Years in Tibet. I think they may be Sikh. Well, I really want to go there because they’ll have really good curry!

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on May 13, 2012
Photo by Diego Kocavic.

For Allie’s Expat Extra Eats, Shoots Photos and Leaves, click here.

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