What is the first thing you think of when you come to Buenos Aires? Tango? Beef? Malbec? Gauchos?
None of these today however, this morning Stephanie and I search for fish.
Take a look at the map and you would be forgiven for thinking that Buenos Aires was a coastal city. Ships have indeed landed here since 2 February 1536 when Pedro Mendoza established a small settlement on the banks of the Rio de la Plata. In 1580 Juan de Garray built a shallow port, but not until 1884 were modern docks constructed at Puerto Madero on English engineer Sir John Hawkshaw’s plans. They quickly became too shallow for the larger steam ships, so by 1911 new docks were underway at Catalinas Norte, by 1925 making Puerto Nuevo the largest port in the southern hemisphere.
So when I came first to Buenos Aires, I expected a coastal city with sea views out into an Atlantic ocean. Instead I found a city built on the brown watery banks of a very wide, but only 5-25 metre deep, muddy river, Rio de la Plata.
So where are the fish? Nice ones are very clearly not in the Plata.
Stephanie and I leave the apartment and turn left on Defensa, heading towards Park Lezama, then south west on Av Martin Garcia to Azara 99, to find the famous fish shop of ‘El Delfin’.
In 1951 Rafael Cioffi left his native Sorrento, Italy and landed in Mar del Plata Argentina. He was a fisherman who knew his fish, so it seemed natural to set up a fish stall in the market, eventually moving to Barracas, Buenos Aires. By 1965 he had established his own shop, El Delfin, supplied from Mar del Plata and numerous fishing ports along the Argentine coast.
At El Delfin there are none of the clinical counters of a fish retailer. This is a spectacular fish shop. Positioned on the corner of Azara and Gualeguay, electic doors slide open to reveal a veritable sea of fish. Ahead from a rail hang huge freshly caught fish, below them cabinets explode with fish pastas, paellas, bruschettas, and glorious salads charged with seafood.
Stephanie inhales. “I don’t know where to start”, she whispers, returning to the shop window to take in the selection. I remain in air conditioned coolness to grab a ticket, announcing that I am the 81st customer of the day, and peer beyond the display to the clean and sharp preparation area and the place where they cook..
Stephanie returns and we wait our turn. Google informed me that the average stay in the shop is 15 minutes. Before arriving I could not understand why. Now, facing a feast of fish, this seems hardly sufficient timel to take in what seems to be an infinite variety of everything that you instantly want to eat.
Tonight we cook for Cristina at her apartment in Recoletta, so we buy salmon steaks for a rich cream pasta dish. “Oh, yes”, says Stephanie, “I’ll take two large handfuls of sea prawns as well”. I look down to the ‘brochette de langostino y mozzarella’ and ‘ensalada de rucula tomate seco’ and decide in an instant what is for lunch.
We pay at the counter and hug our bags. Outside the air is warm, and we walk briskly back through Barracas towards San Telmo. “Now, if only we had visited here 4 months ago”, says Stephanie. “Yes”, I reply, “but we would have missed this particular day of delight”, I add.
To find out more about. ‘El Delfin’ - visit http://www.e-eldelfin.com.ar/index.html
For my salmon and prwan pasta recipe - see the first comment below.
With thanks to Woon Long for the reminder to visit.