Runners in fluorescent spandex jog the walkway on the edge of the Rio de la Plata. A broom salesman halfheartedly peddles his wares, his body tensing with each blast of Antarctic wind. Street carts with busy barbecues send smoke and ashes into the air, past the stone railings guarding the river, and into the cattails. Office workers from Puerto Madero start to fill the plastic patio chairs on the Costanera Sur, drinking in the aromas of grilling steak and sausage.
You rarely travel to this southern Buenos Aires neighborhood, as you’d rather avoid the mosquitoes and swamp bugs that party in the Costanera’s Reserva Ecológica. Nevertheless, you’ve heard from more than one reliable source that this river-side zone is home to some of the city’s best choripan (sausage sandwiches).
On this day, Eduardo, the blue-eyed taxista from the province of Córdoba, has brought you to the Costanera to taste for yourself.
Like most Argentine men, Eduardo is a proud carnivore. As Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney exchange a duet on the 80s station, you tell him of your food quest. He immediately launches into an explanation of the secret to finding the perfect ingredients for a Sunday afternoon asado.
“One butcher might have great tira de asado (ribs) and ojo de bife (rib eye) – but his chorizo is terrible. And the one who sells the great chorizo…Well, let’s just say I wouldn’t go anywhere near his bife.”
You nod solemnly. Jackson and McCartney yield to Stevie Wonder. Eduardo honks at a bus and circles a roundabout three times before figuring out where we’re headed. The rosary on the rear view mirror swings wildly and beats against the windshield.
“Twenty years ago, I took a train to Buenos Aires, got off in Villa Urquiza and never left,” he continues, “Over the years, I tried all the butcher shops in the neighborhood and finally learned what I could buy where.”
“Why don’t we go to Villa Urquiza then?” you ask him.
“No, no,” the taxista answers, “You need to go to the Costanera. You’ve probably never tasted a real choripan before.”
Actually, you have tasted a real choripan, but you keep quiet.
Eduardo races past the tony restaurants in Puerto Madero, crosses a canal and turns onto the deserted avenue bordering the Rio de la Plata. You inch along the riverside drive as he searches for his chosen spot for choripan (or chori, for those in the know).
“Let me see if I can find this carrito…I was just there…Aha! There it is!” he says, pointing to a street cart with a 10-foot grill and a rusted sign, “I hope the choripan is as good as it was yesterday. The quality varies from day to day, you know. But at night there’s always a line at this one – and not at the others.”
You thank him with a few extra pesos. The lines in his tanned face deepen when he smiles a goodbye.
Chori and Chimi
You step out of Eduardo’s cab and into the frigid air. The four men seated next to Carrito El Oscar stare as you approach the asador and order a choripan.
He takes your two pesos, splits a sausage in half and throws it on a barbecue replete with steaks (You assume, since there’s hardly anyone around, that he’s par-cooking meat for the impending lunch crowd – or filling a standing order).
The sudestada wind blows ashes in your face, and the men in patio chairs laugh as you move upwind to study the condiments: plastic squeeze bottles of mayonnaise and ketchup (labels long since scraped off), a tub of vinegar-soaked green onions, and two tupperware bowls of chimichurri (the oil, vinegar, garlic and herb mixture that is Argentina’s signature steak sauce).
You wait for your chori, and well-fed pigeons start to gather at your feet.
Finally the asador hands you your sandwich: a grill-toasted French roll, sausage and nothing more. Opening the choripan, you spread chimichurri on one half and the green onion marinade on the other. It warms your hands as you take your first bite.
The salty richness of the sausage hits you first. Then the green onions and vinegar – balancing out and enhancing the richness of the meat. The bread soaks up all the flavors and bounces them back to you.
You shoo away the pigeons as you work your way through the choripan, dismayed when you run into a few knots of gristle as you near the end of the sandwich. Almost perfect, but not quite.
Groups of office workers – all men – begin to gather round Carrito El Oscar and shout orders to the asador. He keeps his cool, pulling an apron over his frayed sweater, taking orders, stuffing cash in his pockets, manning the grill, refilling the condiments, and handing out sandwich after sandwich.
You escape as the lunch hour nears its crescendo, basking in street food satisfaction – and in the good fortune of being led to yet another BA culinary treasure.
Carrito El Oscar – Costanera Sur (approx. 2 blocks north of Calle Macacha Guemes) – Hours: Always open
Note: Despite Eduardo’s claim that El Oscar is the best of the Costanera Sur’s carritos, I noticed that El Dormilón and El Diegote (near the intersection of the Costanera and Macacha Guemes) were just as – if not more – crowded. If you’re choripan/lomito fan, you might give these two vendors a try.