If the Judeo-Christian world divides history between the periods before and after the birth of Christ, I’d venture that many Argentine taxi drivers divide their lives between the time before and after the country’s 2001 economic crisis.
Marcelo, the blue-eyed taxista with a Tasmanian Devil suction-cupped to his windshield, counts himself among these crisis-influenced cabbies.
A former fireman from Quilmes (the southern Buenos Aires suburb that’s home to the country’s most beloved brewery), he started driving a cab after a near-death experience at a post-crisis crime scene.
It was 2002. Buenos Aires was recovering from the socio-economic turmoil that had accompanied the crash of the peso, the freezing of bank accounts and the explosion of the country’s debt. Against this backdrop of insecurity, Marcelo and his partner rushed to the scene of a robbery at a pharmacy.
“We got shot at. I held my friend in my arms…” he said, reluctantly resuscitating the memory, “We escaped by just a hair.”
After that brush with danger, Marcelo left firefighting, started driving a taxi, and apparently deepened his relationship with junk food.
“I once ate six McDonald’s hamburgers in a day,” he bragged, “I’d eat a dead horse if I had to.”
Struggling to hold my food snobbery in check, I asked him where – and what – he would eat if this were his final day in Buenos Aires.
He answered immediately: “A ham and red pepper pizza at La Continental.”
To La Continental we went, despite the fact that the place was not new to me and that it’s part of a restaurant chain.
To disregard the idea that Marcelo would choose this popular pizzeria as the site of his last BA meal – along with the fact that he eats at La Continental every Sunday – would violate the spirit of the taxi adventures. Besides, I like the food there.
On this night, our meal was like all the others I’ve eaten at La Continental: solid, reasonably priced and satisfying.
Surrounded by an upbeat soundtrack of smiling voices, colliding plates and silverware, we downed our half ham and red pepper/half napolitana (fresh tomato and oregano) pizza with pleasure. Quality mozzarella, a goodly amount of tomato sauce, and a crunchy, ½-inch crust made it a fine pie.
I was less impressed with our gnocchi, which sacrificed their potato integrity to a weighty, under-salted Parisienne (cream, ham, chicken and mushroom) sauce.
Nevertheless, my co-adventurers and I left the pizzeria feeling as if we’d cracked a local code – happy to have indulged in the post-crisis taxista‘s food ritual, hoping that Marcelo wasn’t on his way to McDonald’s.
Note: La Continental is also a good place to go for café con leche and medialunas de manteca. Their empanada de verdura (vegetable empanada) is tasty, too.