Buying and giving gifts can be a total pain in the ass. Anyone who has ever gone gift shopping for coworkers or had to endure years of buying gifts for parents with no common interests will understand. Parting with hard-earned cash for meaningless trinkets while wasting precious vacation time for unappreciative recipients (“So it’s a [insert random souvenir], huh? That’s nice of you…”) … hey, it all drives the local tourist economy, so we can all feel good about that, am I right?
This guide aims to solve that quilombo (Argie slang for ’total disaster’) by making the obligatory task of gift buying easy and pain-free and maybe even fun. We suggest treating gift shopping as a a good ol’ fashioned Scavenger Hunt, combining all the adventurous spirit of urban exploration with the therapeutic aspects of Retail Therapy.
Here’s what you do –
1. Draw up a list of gift recipients and match each person with a gift idea from the list below (by personality type).
2. Make a plan of the places to visit to buy the gift.
3. On your smartphone, drop pins on your Google Map of all the locations.
4. Find out how to get around
5. Turn your gift shopping trip into enjoyable foray into Buenos Aires neighborhoods
6. Have fun and don’t forget to self-gift along the way!
Gift Ideas by Personality Types
Gifts for Foodies and Alcoholics
We are starting with Foodies because it is the widest category in which you can classify a bunch of people. In the age of celebrity chefs and Masterchef, everyone is a food connoisseur or critic. Not sure whether your friend or family member is a ‘foodie’? Take a quick scroll through their social media. Have they taken a loving portrait of their breakfast / lunch/ dinner or a cup of coffee lately? You know who they are.
Alfajor and other chocolate treats – The alfajor is the iconic sweet of Argentina and can be found virtually anywhere, anytime – from the mass market single served variety at any convenient store or supermarket, to well-known franchises such as Havanna or a boutique chocolateria like Rapa Nui or Mamuschka (both iconic stores from Bariloche in Patagonia, famous for chocolate production).
WHERE: We recommend visiting Rapa Nui or Mamuschka, both for its huge varieties of high qualities chocolates, including Alfajors. Both stores are in Recoleta, is conveniently located near the Recoleta Cemetary, La Biela cafe, Plaza Mitre and the Museum Bellas Artes.
Mamuschka is in the Recoleta Mall, near the entrance of Junin y Uriburu, while Rapa Nui is located at Uruguay 1284.
If you need some last minute alfajores, they will be on sale at the airport duty-free and at many Havanna locations throughout the city.
Apostles Gin – Apostles is a premium gin from Mendoza that is the loving product of bartender-extraordinare Renato “Tato” Giovannonni and owner of world class Buenos Aires bar Floreria Atlantico (an amazing cocktail bar hidden underneath a florist).
This is a distinctly Argentine gin – its botanical line up includes eucalyptus, peppermint, red grapefruit and the national tea, yerba mate (more on actual mate later…). It is also elegantly bottled, a very attractive gift. For a more in depth review. Also, it’s gin, and who doesn’t love gin?
WHERE: Stocked in most high-end bottle shops, but you can always find it upstairs at the florist part of Floreria Atlantico (Arroyo 872, Retiro) – we recommend you stop in for a cocktail or have a meal right next door at the Brasero Atlantico (which is also part of the same bar).
Pineral Herbal Liquer -The next most ubiqutious drink to be tied to Argentine culture (more so than beer), is Fernet Branca (a bittersweet, aniseedy liqeuer originated from Italy), often drank with Cola. Cordoba, a town famous for being a college town, boasts the highest rate of Fernet consumption in the world (allegedly…)
Ironically, the Fernet Branca in Argentina is no longer made to the original Italian recipe. Argentine Fernet (designed for a younger market) tend to be artificially flavoured and sweetened. You’d be able to buy a better quality Fernet Branca back home. So we suggest Pineral instead, a complex flavour that is far superior to Fernet, and bears the distinctive tango firulete style design on its label. A gift as handsome as a tango dancer. Also an excellent after dinner digestif.
Wine – Malbec, Malbec and more Malbec. But in all seriousness, there are a huge variety of excellent wines, too many to detail in this short article. Our advice is to visit a specialist such as Pan et Vin (Gorriti 5132) in Palermo, sample a few, perhaps with a cheese platter, and make an informed choice.
For the last minute shopper, the duty free at Ezeiza International Airport also has an excellent selection of wines. For excellent, affordable mid-range brands, I would recommend Luigi Bosca and Nicasia.
Souvenirs for Parents, aka Los Viejos (The Oldies)
Do you sometimes find yourself staring at your viejos, these people whose much older faces nevertheless bear so much resemblance to your own, and wonder to yourself, “How?”. Yeah, me neither…On to the gift ideas then…
Gaucho accessories – The photographs you tend to see of gauchos on various tourist websites will show them as simple country folk, dignified but maybe stylish isn’t the word you’d think off. Let me change your mind by directing you to these pictures. While some of the items will seem overly ornate and old-fashion outside of the campo, there are plenty of accessories that would make for good gifts. Beautiful scarves, leather belts woven with colourful threads, the very comfortable/stylish pants (bombachas de gaucho) and alpargatas (make sure to get the authentic rope soled variety). The individual items can be matched well with modern wardrobe of just about any style. We reckon scarves are great for mums, berets or gaucho steak knives are great for dads (see below).
WHERE: We recommend you check out the Sunday markets in either San Telmo (Defensa street and around Plaza Dorrega in San Telmo and the stores in Galeria or Pasaje de la Defensa in San Telmo, Defensa 1179) or the Feria de Mataderos. The Mataderos market is more ideal for finding gaucho gear as it is a festival celebrating regional folk culture. Make sure you plan ahead, as the travel to and from the feria is approximately a two hour round trip by public transport. For more markets, check out our guide here: (http://landingpadba.com/ferias-outdoor-markets-visit-buenos-aires/)
For high quality clothing, visit the classic gaucho outfitter Aux Charpentier in Monserrat (Mexico 1309).
Boleadoras – An old gaucho hunting tool, these leather braided balls are reminiscent of something truly tribal. Some gauchos still use the boleadoras when hunting for rabbit and other small game. Decorative versions can be found in both the San Telmo market area and the Feria de Mataderos.
Steak Knives – They serve beautiful steaks here in Argentina. And to carve up those steaks, one needs a beautiful and sharp knife. These knives are beautifully made, often with elaborate handles and sheaths as gauchos wear their knives in their belts as accessories in addition to serving as a functional tool. Designs vary from the very rustic to the very ornate.
Just beware the superstition: you are not suppose to gift a knife to a lover or a friend. Instead, they should ‘pay’ you a token sum, say a dollar, so that its technically not a ‘gift’. Failing to do so will cause the friendship to be cut. You’ve been warned.
WHERE:You can get moderately priced knives at all the above mentioned markets, particularly Feria de Matederos. But if you want a really excellent chef quality knife, check out Casafilo (Armenia 1971) in Palermo.
Alpargatas – alpargatas are a comfortable rope-soled, slip-on shoes used by gauchos when they are not in riding boots. They are really comfortable for the home or as summer footwear.
WHERE: You can find alpargatas at any markets that sell gaucho gear, such as the San Telmo markets on Sunday, the Plaza Serrano markets in Palermo on Saturdays and Sundays, or the Feria de Matederos on Sundays.
For the Sporty and Outdoor Types
This is a no-brainer. Boca Juniors, San Lorenzo or River Plate football shirts for football fans. The colours of Boca Jrs, iconic blue and yellow, is especially recognisable to football fans anywhere in the world as it is home to football GAWD, Diego Maradona. The star player at the moment is Carlos ‘Carlitos’ Tevez, who wears the most important number in Argentina – the numero 10. Random fact; late 90’s and early 2000’s slang for a 10 peso note was a “Diego”.
WHERE: There are many sporting stores along Florida Street downtown for those who want to buy an authentic branded football shirt. You can find cheap-knock off football shirts at all the popular tourist markets such as San Telmo on Sundays and at Feria de Matederos. For the adventurous, the cheapest of the knock-offs can be found at Paseo Retiro, which is opposite the Retiro Central train station at the corner of Avenida Dr Jose Maria Ramos Meija and San Martin. If you are a football fan yourself or curious about how passionate the fans are here go see a game.
Gifts for Artie Hipsters
Antique wind-up wristwatches – You can find beautiful vintage watches in a number of stalls in the San Telmo Antique market (address). These old fashioned watches make a beautiful mechanical ticking sound, reminding one of the romantic pre-digital era and a time when they made things to last etcetera… which is why you should actually wind-up one of these watches and make sure they are in good working order before you hand over the pesos. Even the ones that are not working (cheaper obviously), would make for a nice souvenir.
A gift that would make you very popular with your favourite young, hipster son/daughter/niece/nephew/ [insert family/friend here].
Vintage posters, maps and magazines – need an artistic gift? Pick up an old map, old football magazine or a sheet of tango music. You can find originals or very affordable reproductions of vintage advertisements for racing cars, motorcycles, vermouths, airlines… the sort one sees decorating the walls of the traditional cafes and parrillas around town.
WHERE: San Telmo Mercado (on the corner Defensa and Carlos Calvo) – take a break and have a fresh-baked snack and one of the best coffees in Buenos Aires at CoffeeTown, which is right in the middle of the covered Mercado de San Telmo.
If you are in Palermo Hollywood, check out Mercado de las Puglas (Avenida Dorrego 1650). You’ll have to dig a little harder to find watches here, as this is mainly a antique furniture market. Still a great area to walk around and hunt for unique souvenirs.
Palo Santo wood-framed sunglasses –
Tired of the traditional and searching for something fashionably modern? Palo Santo (Bonpland 2215, Palermo) makes beautifully crafted and sustainable wood-framed glasses, sunglasses, watches, notebooks, smartphone cases, and other products.
Photographs from Sameer Markarius – Sameer Markarius (http://www.makarius.com/sameer/galfoto/index.html) was a famed photographer of the city who has taken some of the most stunning black and white images of Buenos Aires during the 1960s. Although scarce, collections of his books can still be found in the photography section of good bookstores. With its many monuments and varied architecture, the city is a photographer’s dream. Even if you can’t find a copy of his, there are many other collections of beautiful photography of Buenos Aires,
WHERE: Eternal Cadencia located at Honduras 5582 in Palermo Hollywood (while you’re there swing by LAB for one of the best coffees in Buenos Aires at Humboldt 1542), Libros del Pasaje in Palermo Soho (Thames 1762) which has a comfortable cafe inside and of course, the iconic El Ataneo bookstore in Recoleta (Avenida Santa Fe, 1860), which is set in a converted old theatre, often named in the list of most beautiful bookstores in the world, where you can enjoy a coffee on the old stage.
Truco cards -Okay, so your budget is low and you are down to your last pesos. You are now buying gifts for second cousins and co-workers, or [insert whomever you feel obliged to buy something for].
Truco is a card game played (typically) by old men who play in public parks and cafes. These playing cards have a fantastic old world design, and will make for a cheap, easy gift. Also, easy to pack.
WHERE: Almost any old convenient store (kiosko).
A final word
Think twice about the most common gifts…Mate tea sets. These are the most common of gift ideas for travelers to Argentina. The problem though… who’s gonna drink mate outside of Argentina and Uruguay? And those colourful, antique soda water dispensers that look so pretty at the San Telmo market? Yes, they are pretty and evoke the romantic past of San Telmo cafes… but they don’t work and nobody wants to lug one of those home.