The majority of shopping in Buenos Aires is done in specialty shops. It’s more economical and you have a wider variety of products than in most of the grocery stores. Every couple of blocks in every barrio you’ll find a small closet-sized produce shop (or ‘verdulería’) and a butcher’s shop (‘carnicería’). They are small and privately owned, and their hours tend to be 9am-9pm, with some variations. A little less common are the delis, but they do have the best selections of meats, cheese, olives, and nuts. Remember, though, that the deli meats in Buenos Aires are mostly pork-based, and it is an extreme oddity to be able to find smoked chicken or turkey. If you have any questions about something behind the case, just ask if you can try it — “lo puedo probar?” — and the salesperson will be more than happy to give you a sample.
In the verdulerías, the produce is out front and it seems as though you can help yourself, but the porters are there to gather things for you into small plastic bags. It is polite to wait until someone comes over to assist you. They will put the produce into a bag for you. If you want a particular piece, just point to it. It is perceived as rather abrasive to start grabbing the produce and putting it into a bag on your own, so have some patience and try to wait your turn. If you’re unsure about the language, you can feel comfortable pointing at what you’d like and just say ‘por favor’ (‘please’). Try, at least, to specify the quantity or the weight of the fruit or vegetable you want. A kilogram of red apples, for example, will cost around $4 in a verdulería versus $6 in a big supermarket.
The delis, sometimes called fiambrerías, are the closest you’ll find to a specialty French shop. The vast number of Italian immigrants to Argentina means that the Italian culture is completely infused. It’s relatively easy to find items like pancetta or prosciutto (the Spanish version is jamón crudo), fresh mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses in almost any mercado, and definitely in the delis.
For things like gluten-free foods, or rice noodles, your best option are the dietéticas. They are spread throughout the city, but a few notable ones are listed below:
- Dietética Viamonte http://www.dieteticaviamonte.com.ar/ — located at Viamonte 859 in the Microcentro; also does delivery.
- Sabores Sin Tacc (http://www.saboresintacc.com.ar/) — ‘Sin TACC’ meaning “sin trigo, avena, centeno, cebada” (contains no wheat, oats, rye or barley).
- Terapeutika Distribuidora http://www.terapeutika.com.ar/ — specializes in seeds, dietary supplements and herbal medicines; chiefly delivers ‘por mayor’ (i.e. wholesale).
In Barrio Chino (Chinatown), there are several Asian specialty markets that stock a myriad of products, including peanut butter, Tabasco sauce, and French Dijon mustard. You can find a variety of rice products and noodles, as well as a good selection of seafood, which is quite difficult to find in Buenos Aires. Spices are easier to find, as well as pre-blended spice mixes like curry and tikka masala. The main, and largest of these markets, is the Supermercada Casa China, located on Arribeños 2193. Bear in mind that many stores and restaurants in Barrio Chino are closed on Mondays, however it is one of the few areas of the city that is open and active on Sundays.
In the numerous carnicerías, you will be able to buy fresh meats, poultry, and sausages. You can also order specialty items like turkey (‘pavito’) that have to be shipped in from the interior of the country. Anything specially ordered is going to be more expensive, however their general stock of meats are less expensive than in the grocery stores. For example, a kilo of chicken meat (legs & thighs) will cost you $13 in a carnicería, and $18 or more in a supermarket.