Living in a new country provides lots of unique challenges. For me, one of the hardest has been trying to live sustainably. Okay, that has to be a little bit of a joke, really, because our military lifestyle already means that I've blown our carbon through the roof just through multiple moves. But that doesn't mean we don't try in other ways!
Some choices are easy - we decided to live without cars while we are here and have been using the public transportation system and our old-fashioned feet.
Some choices are hard - finding a vocabulary to speak about these issues isn't easy. Imagine being back in the 1970's when sustainable options where just coming into being but weren't called that. Words like Reuse, Renew, Recycle and Organic weren't known to the general population, only to a fringe community. That's where we've landed - in the middle of the 1970's USA. The concepts of healthy eating, of sustainable living, are just starting to take hold. But the broader population, the small stores, the fruit and vegetable vendors, haven't yet caught on.
Luckily, I've found the beginning - El Galpon. This place will enter the history books of Argentina for being one of the first locations in Buenos Aires to provide a market place for vendors and customers interested in organic, fresh, and local products to meet, to exchange goods for money, and to learn about sustainable living.
I am very, very thankful that I found El Galpon. This small collective is open two days a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays, from 9am until about 4-6pm, depending on which vendor you ask. El Galpon is more than a collection of vendors, it's a lifestyle. You'll find the stereotypical hippie right next to the stereotypical farmer, and no one seems to think twice about it.
Finding the place can be a bit of a struggle the first time. The address is on Avenida Federico Lacroze but it's better just to know that you take the cobblestone alley to the right of big train station, Federico Lacroze, and follow it back. To the right means the opposite end of the train station from the large cemetary, Chacaritas. At the end of the road, you will see a bright yellow barn stenciled with the big letter G. On a busy day, watch out for the traffic as you share a narrow, bumpy road with dozens of pedestrians, questionably parked cars, and the occasional car driving at typically fast Porteño speeds. I don't recommend bringing a shopping cart (the kind that older ladies use back in the States that are very common here) because the cobblestones do murder to your apples on the way back.
Outside, you'll find a huge parilla (grill) where they serve up chicken, pork, and vegetable dishes throughout the afteroon. Next to the overgrown vegetable garden, there are usually a couple of clothing and jewelry vendors enjoying the beautiful weather. Up the ramp, but before you enter, you can sit down on a bench and just admire the view and watch them stoke the oven for baking bread later that day.
Once inside, you're met with a cacophony of sights. The restaurant is immediately to the left with tables and chairs, a rainbow display of freshly pressed fruit juices, the only ice tea I have seen in town, empanadas, tartas (sort of like quiches, but not quite) and a few postres. I've eaten lunch there twice - both vegetarian meals and both tasty. There is also a small ice cream stand advertising that the helado is not only tasty, it's good energy food. And it will stay frozen for two hours so you might actually get it home before it thaws! To the right, you'll find a gentleman selling water filters, and two women, one selling soaps and beauty products, the other spices, yerba maté, mustard, and wine.
Further inside you'll find even more. Vegetables are at the far back of the room. You'll see things we all recognize - lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, squash, tomatoes, apples and pears. But there are the occasional gems that I am always so happy to see: varieties of avocado unseen to estadounidenses (btw, avocado in Argentina is palta), zapatillos like round zuchinni squash with bigger seeds and a nuttier flavor, celga that tastes just like spinach but looks nothing like it, and papas de aire. I have two of those waiting to be eaten and I'm not even sure what they are... only that I was told they are potatoes that grow in the air.
I also buy my natural yogurt, milk, cheese, and butter here. Found quark! And though the name quark is written on the top of the container, don't call it that because they will have no idea what you are talking about. And my pollo de campo, and pork in it's different guises of sausage, and ribs, and prepared hams. I can buy dry goods, like flour and sugar, or even ghee to prepare Indian food. Bread is available from a couple of different vendors. The olive oil is to die for! It tastes green and ripe and fresh. Mushrooms come in three or four varieties, including a type of oyster mushroom that is pale pink and white and deserves to be bought if only to serve as a model for a still-life painting.
I'm afraid I've missed something... the coffee? the homemade vegetable pastries that you can bake in your oven at home? the chicken milanesas! My biggest complaint is that I can't take it all home. Since we've decided to live without a car, I have to limit myself to what I can carry in my backpack and two (maybe three) bags on the crowded bus. I'm buying for four people and one of them is a 15 year old boy. It isn't always easy to limit my purchases. But I've not yet failed to make it home.
Even if we weren't trying to live sustainably, I would have been thrilled to find this place. The food is top notch and I'm helping to support local business, local farmers, and local food coops. Here, people understand the meaning of the word artesenal. Outside of El Galpon, it means made by hand. But I can find an artensenal carwash down the street. At El Galpon, I know they really know the meaning of made by hand and practice it on a daily basis.
If you ever get the chance to visit Buenos Aires and you're looking for a place to have a coffee or an ice cream and want to see a little counter culture, I highly recommend you search this place out. Take cash. Plan to spend a little time because life is anything but rushed here. You'll be glad you did.