Culture

Breakfast in Buenos Aires

There is something about the sun-dappled streets of San Telmo in the morning that I find to be arresting. Uneven pavements line the streets, old street lamps hang overhead. A distant echo, unmistakably reverberations from the day's first wave of protests, rumble gently through the alleyways.

Leaving our hostel in search of an unpretentious breakfast, the streets are sedate. Shopkeepers are just starting to set up for the day at 9am, no earlier. There's an ease with which plodding through the day is viewed as a day wasted. Because of this, its rugged charm is inescapable.

A large wooden A-board obstructs the pavement in front of us. Details of a breakfast set menu are scribbled in block capitals in yellow, pink and blue chalk. Pinned to the wall on its left, another blackboard with more options scribbled in chalk. It is very much a scribbled-in-chalk kind of place, and the romanticism attached to it all the more alluring as a consequence.

Situated at the crossroads where the two narrow one-way roads of Carlos Calvo and Peru meet, we had stumbled across Bar El Federal. Just like the neighbourhood in which it resides, it too is a place imbued with the very same charm.

A classical cafe-bar that has been open since 1864, the walls are adorned with the vintage Fileteado artworks that are ubiquitous all over the city: brightly coloured signs with Gothic-style lettering and ornate flowers bordering a small blackboard so that, in this case, the waitress to advertise the day's sugerencias, or specials.

Inside, an elderly man is seated by himself at the grand wooden bar in the middle of the room, his crisp shirt sleeves rolled up at the cuffs only. In front of him, freshly baked medialunas sit invitingly on a large white platter. A pair of long steel tongs is suspended on top. In the main dining area to his left, two men sit alone by themselves, both tables populated on with a coffee and a newspaper paper.

Four wooden and chipped tables line the walkway and we seat ourselves. They double up as prime seating arrangements for easing into the day, gazing out as Porteños run their daily errands: smelling the skins of oranges straight from fresh fruit carts, flicking through the sports pages with their local newsagents.

Sunglasses were withdrawn from Molly's handbag, taken out of their case and get perched on the top of her head. They'll be needed imminently, just not yet. It is only 09:55, after all.

We catch the eye of a waitress, order two coffees and turn our attentions to the Spanish words on the blackboards we can't understand. I open the Google Translate app and took a back seat to marvel at technology working its magic. Holding my camera up against the sign, words translated before my eyes on the screen. Google, eh? They're good aren't they?

To supplement the coffee, three sweet of the medialunas, crescent-shaped brioche buns, were 90 pesos (£1.15). Alternatively, the choice of a glass of orange juice and toast with dulche de leche, a thick caramel made from condensed milk ubiquitous around Argentina and Chile, was just 135 pesos (£1.70). Pushing the boat out meant getting a desayuno completo (this plus a plate of scrambled eggs) at 160 pesos (£2).

In many ways, this was an entirely unremarkable morning. This, I have come to believe, is what being a good tourist feels like, soaking in every last drop of the mundanity because it feels true and authentic.

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