February 28, 2024

Argentines crowd restaurants to spend money today that will be worth less tomorrow

The New York Times—Glasses of wine intertwine amid the restored splendor of this Art Nouveau culinary gem. It was a tasting night at this café, which has been a restaurant in Lisbon’s zoo for over a century. Buenos Aires – Beetroot tartare, grilled squid, and rib eye steak cooked to perfection emerge from the kitchen, followed by a velvety chocolate mousse.

“You see, we’re betting pretty hard on the food scene opportunity in Argentinasaid Pedro Diaz, during a reporter’s visit to his restaurant guila Pabellon—the seventeenth culinary establishment he has opened in Buenos Aires in the past eighteen months.

In Buenos Aires, Argentina’s cosmopolitan capital, a world-class food scene is thriving. What wouldn’t necessarily be new were it not for the fact that the country is in the midst of a severe financial crisis.

People dine at the popular Miramar restaurant in the working-class neighborhood of San Cristobal in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on June 8, 2023. Argentina’s financial crisis has a surprising side effect: a thriving food scene in Buenos Aires, where residents are already rushing to spend pesos before they can They lose more value. filming: Sarah Pabst/The New York Times

Despite inflation, consumption in restaurants is increasing

a economic inflation It hit more than 114% – the fourth highest rate in the world – and the Argentine peso’s market value plummeted, dropping 25% in a three-week period in April.

But it is precisely the collapse of the peso that is fueling the rise of the gastronomy sector. Argentines are eager to get off the cash in their hands as quickly as possible, and that means the middle and upper classes go out to eat more often — and restaurateurs and chefs reinvest their profits back into their establishments.

“Crises are opportunities,” said Jorge Ferrari, who has enjoyed a long career as a restaurant owner in Argentina and recently reopened a house specializing in German food that closed during the coronavirus pandemic. There are people who buy cryptocurrency. There are people who invest in other types of capital markets. That’s what I know how to do.”

The boom in the food industry is, in a way, a travesty. Everyone seems to be having a good time, but Argentines are in trouble in most parts of the country and more and more people are going hungry.

And in wealthier circles, gastronomic craze is a symptom of a shrinking middle class, no longer able to buy more expensive goods or travel, choosing to live in the present because no one can say what tomorrow will bring — or whether you will have the money. any amount. “The consumption we have is for momentary satisfaction and happiness,” said Ferrari.

The city of Buenos Aires, which has been trying to popularize its gastronomic scene, has been recording the volume of dishes sold in sample restaurants month after month since 2015. The latest figures, from April, show that the frequency of establishments is at its lowest since tracking began, and up by 20%. from their highest levels in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Not only holy places flourish. In Buenos Aires, off-the-radar residential areas are suddenly destinations for digital influencers with a focus on gastronomy that is quickly generating new waves of portenos, as they are known to residents of the capital.

Then there are cocktail bars with mixology treats, drag dinner specials, vegan bakeries, green patios and international fusion cuisine served by chefs trained in restaurants around the world. A great place is Anchoita, which features a modern version of Argentinian cuisine and only has reservations available for next year.

While the devalued currency has lured tourists back to Buenos Aires as the pandemic subsides, residents of the capital have it all.

High gastronomy for all social classes

The gastronomic boom is a phenomenon that includes social classes, although it is largely driven by citizens of the middle and upper classes, many of whom have an income updated in relation to inflation, said economist Santiago Manukian, of Ecolatina Consulting, based in Buenos Aires. But it still has to adapt to the crisis.

For middle-class Argentines in particular, spending like a vacation or a car is pretty much out of reach, so they spend in other ways.

But Manoukian said even low-income casual workers, who have seen their earnings drop 35% since 2017, according to data compiled by Ecolatina, are taking the opportunity to have dinner before their money depreciates further.

“This is a product of the distortions that the Argentine economy suffers from,” he said. “We have extra pounds that evaporate with inflation, so we have to do something, because it’s worse to do nothing.”

In a botanical garden in Buenos Aires, next to a tennis court, Lupe García, owner of four restaurants in the capital and another in a neighboring town, crouched and picked a vegetable that looked like a miniature watermelon, which was actually a cacamelon, a fruit the size of a blackberry.

It was surrounded by sprigs of lettuce, parsley, mint, alfalfa, and purple shiso leaves used in tempura at one of her restaurants. The garden, which is owned by Garcia and operated by agronomists at the University of Buenos Aires, reflects the changing tastes of the capital’s residents, which Garcia’s restaurants have helped nurture.

Its newest establishment, Orno, a half-Neapolitan Detroit-style pizzeria, opened in February in the upscale Palermo neighborhood. But even as it brought more customers into restaurants, the inflation crisis has also added a new layer of complexity to its operations.

To save costs, García has switched from printed menus for all of his restaurants to QR codes that provide access to websites that his team can quickly edit. “The supplier brings in the meat and says it’s 20% more expensive, and at that time we have to find a way and raise all the prices,” García said.

Still, the explosion in restaurant openings makes this an exciting time for companies, Garcia said, as competitors imagine more creative ways to sell food.

“Going out to dinner every day is in Porteños’ DNA,” she noted. “I don’t know if there are many other cities where people go out to eat as often as Buenos Aires does.”

Consume when you can’t save

In a thriving new street-food spot, in an alley outside Buenos Aires’ Chinatown, Victoria Balleros, a 29-year-old civil servant, waited for her bowl of ramen at the famous Uri, which often sells out so much that it runs out of stock. He said, “I think the previous generation thinks more about saving money, but ours doesn’t.”

Many Argentines buy dollars to save money, but “a $100 purchase is roughly equivalent to a young man’s salary,” Balleros said, adding, “And honestly, I think it’s better to have plans like that and live well during the week than live tight all day.” the month “. Paleros said that he would like to save up for an apartment, but it is impossible.

Spouses Mariano Vilches and Natalia Villa were among the crowd at a French food fair one Sunday afternoon, and expressed a similar conclusion about enjoying life as much as possible despite economic hardship.

The couple can no longer afford to go on vacation, said Villa, an administrative assistant, 39, but they still eat out at least three times a month. “It also fills a basic need,” added the 43-year-old real estate agent, Vilches. “You have to eat, but you don’t have to buy that coat.”

As a result, places like Miramar, in the working-class neighborhood of San Cristobal, remain packed at lunch and dinner. The iconic restaurant, with built-ins hanging above the entrance and framed photos of tango dancers on the walls, has weathered several financial crises since opening in 1950. But now, even as Argentina enters perhaps one of its worst economic periods, Miramar is busier than ever. Time passed, says director Juan Maza. He said, “I don’t know if that’s a contradiction.” “But the crisis is here, and we want to enjoy it with the little money we have.” / Translation by Guilherme Rousseau