A year and a half ago I met a tourist here who had visited the Mataderos Fair in the southwestern edge of the city of Buenos Aires (in the Mataderos neighborhood), and she told me it was an interesting experience that most tourists don’t check out. “I’ll get to it at some point,” I said to myself. Time came and went, as I was advised to avoid going in the winter and summer to miss the extreme weather. My plan to go with friends from work in the spring was thwarted by laziness, and finally we had a set date for the fall so that I wouldn’t miss out. Today we finally made it happen.
The Mataderos Fair is sort of similar to the San Telmo Fair, where you can find antiques and artistic crafts, though much less touristy and more local, with a certain focus on the gaucho and provincial culture. Mataderos is right on the edge of the city and gets its name from the market where the majority of the cattle in Buenos Aires have traditionally passed through on their last graze (mataderos means butchers). Ranchers still go into the market and from a catwalk can look down and pick out their cows. Our visit today was a bit less gruesome, though it involved a ton of food just the same. I jumped on the 34 bus in Palermo in the morning (grab it from Avenida Santa Fe and Darregeyra), taking it to the end of the line at the Liniers Station. This ride costs you $1.25 and was fairly fast, going straight across the city on Avenida Juan B. Justo, avoiding traffic on a Sunday morning. By 40 minutes in I got off in pure Latin America.
My friend and boss Matías met me at the station and first showed me around Liniers and “Little Bolivia” where for better or worse, we were at a low altitude La Paz. Every thing was “Hair Saloon Bolivia,” “Super Chicken Bolivia,” or “Bolivian Travel Agency”. This was a far call from Recoleta and Palermo, though I felt right at home from my experience in Ecuador. Delicious looking street food was tantalizing and the clothes looked cheap enough to do some serious hunting, but we had other business. We took the 80 bus next ($1.20) to Mataderos, getting off by the Skate Park and walking by some stalls until reaching the fair.
For some reason I had thought that the fair was in a covered warehouse, but it’s just spread out in stalls over a couple of blocks, making use of a small square as well. First we walked around a bit and bought some inflated corn which reminded me of a less-sweet version of Corn Pops. Next I set my eyes on a long wafer filled with homemade dulce de leche, and for $1, I had no choice but to buy it. With all of the meat cooking and wafting in the air, our next obvious choice was to get a choripan (spicy sausage sandwich) which is always a starter to a big barbecue. As we walked around some more we saw that on sale were the typical things–giant gaucho knives, leather goods, fileteado paintings (typical Buenos Aires design), sweets and regional foods, and a number of other interesting knick knacks.
Vero and her boyfriend Tano arrived a little after we had finished the choripan and together, the four of us found a restaurant with an open table outside to eat some lunch. We settled on various cuts of meat, including mollejas (cow throat glands), which I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed. With the sun strong and burning me quickly, we filled up and moved on to watch typical folkloric dancing and gaucho games like the Carrera de Sortija, which I’d seen once before at an estancia. This is a game in which a gaucho will race on his horse to a post where a small ring hangs from a string. Using their bombilla (the straw for mate) they must catch the ring cleanly. It looks incredibly difficult but those who succeed do it with grace.
Content again, we moved on to buy candy and sweets that my friends remembered from their childhood. I was treated to a sugary lolly pop that I patiently worked on for about 25 minutes before I could take no more. It just wouldn’t disappear and required biting. Thinking of the cavities awaiting, I let it go and we walked around a bit longer until leaving. We enjoyed some mate as the sun set, and then it was time to head back home to the other side of the city. I had a really good time today because while I usually don’t go for the markets and fairs, especially as touristy as they come with San Telmo, there was a genuine authentic feel to this place. It was clear that I was one of the few foreigners there, and the market was laid back and family friendly.
If you’ve been in Buenos Aires for a while and are thinking of something new to do, or just don’t want to deal with the crowds at the San Telmo Fair, think about heading down to Mataderos, which is worth a visit.