Tea time is very important in Argentina. Indeed, when dinner is at 10 pm or later, one had better not miss the Merienda, that period between 5-7 pm, where people descend on cafes and neighborhood pubs, enjoying something light to tide their stomachs over until their late-night dinners. Nothing fancy by nature, the merienda typically consists of a hot beverage with some sweets or empanadas, but the simple fare satisfies without spoiling appetites for the much larger meal afterwards.
The coffee culture, having been imported to Argentina from Europe since the Belle Epoque era, remains alive and well in Buenos Aires, where we counted almost as many cafes along Avenida Mayo as there are at St Germain in Paris. We visited Cafe Tortoni, the grand dame among various longstanding establishments with more than 150 years of history, enjoying the antiquated atmosphere along with our drinks. While it was undoubtedly touristy (anywhere with statues of famous personalities, here Borges, Gardel and Storni, has to be), there were still a fair amount of locals around, and it was interesting to watch the regulars mingle with the seasoned servers, bisous and thumps on the backs et al.
Unsurprisingly, I had to drink cofee. Having been introduced to the various ways of ordering coffee on our walking tour, I ordered a café en jarrito (i.e. double espresso) to ward off the sleep bugs. On the other hand, the husband, drinker of non-caffeinated beverages, ordered the submarino.
Huh? A Submarine? Quoi? What’s that? Well… it is just the Argentinian way of saying hot chocolate. But not any regular hot chocolate, but a cup of frothy hot milk served with a piece of chocolate, the chocolate to be dipped, swirled and melted slowly into the milk. At Cafe Tortoni, said chocolate piece was served in the shape of a… yes, you’ve got it… submarine.
Here’s a photo to make the illustration clearer:
The resulting cup of hot chocolate was nice and thick, devoid of the clumps cocoa powder sometime makes when inadequately dissolved. And isn’t it great to see exactly what goes into your chocolate milk?
And although the hot chocolate was not as thick as the Spanish variety (i.e. rich enough to be a dip), we nonetheless ordered churros to munch with our drinks. Dough fritters, hot chocolate, fabulous people watching, and for P, a strong (and free!) wifi presence made Cafe Tortoni a great place to wait for dinner.
Cafe Tortoni: Avenida De Mayo 829, Buenos Aires, Argentina