Like any other major city there are several places to get your groceries and your choices will usually depend on location and personal preference. If you prefer one stop shopping and convenience then Coto, Disco, Carrefour and Jumbo are the main grocery stores. They stock everything from meats and veggies to household cleaners and appliances. Jumbo can be more expensive, but they do carry items the other stores don’t. If you’re here for a while watch for specials and check out the coupons you get from the cashier when you pay. There are of course some other random grocery stores that are large like the Vea or Super Vea, but these are the main big boys.
Next on down the line you have some smaller independents and the “chinos”. They are called chinos due to the wave of Chinese immigrants who came to Buenos Aires and opened up grocery stores. They are mid sized stores that have most of what you could need including wine and beer. They also rent out small areas in their store for a verduleria (fruit and vegetable store) and a carneceria (butcher). When buying fruit and veggies here you pay the butcher or fruit and veggie guy directly as it is their own business. The smaller independents tend to own the butcher and verduleria as well.
Meat and veggies
Next on down the line you have the verduleria, carneceria and pollo(-eria?). These are small independents and are usually a great place to buy your food, particularly if you get to know the owners. The verduleria will supply all of your fruit and veggie needs, but they also have carbon and wood crates for your parrilla too! If you have a parrilla where you are staying you just need to ask for “carbon y leña por la parrilla” and they’ll set you up with charcoal and wood crates to get the fire going. Check out the video below to see how it’s done. You can also see how to make a proper mate. If you like spicy food they may even have some fresh “picantes” (chili peppers).
Of course if you have a parrilla the next stop would be the carneceria for fresh meat. Get to know a good butcher and keep going there for better service. They will sell all sorts of steaks, beef ribs, ground meats and “matambre”. Some will even be able to order special items with a couple days notice. One of my favourites cuts is matambrito de cerdo. If you like pork, you need to try it. Don’t want beef or pork? Go to a chicken store like Super Pollo and get your chicken needs satisfied. These places will often be cheaper than the bigger markets. A skinless and boneless chicken breast is called a “suprema”. Wings are “alitas”.
Baked goods, cheese and cold cuts
Of course the big boys all have their own section for bread and pastries and they can be deceivingly good. Bakeries are also all over and the bread and pastries are quite cheap. Pastries in general are very good, but bread will vary. Once you find good bread though, it’s hard to stay away. If you are looking for whole grain it’s called “integral”. The bread is nice, but not so cheap. If you prefer to eat organic foods and are looking for bulk items like quinoa, rice or any other grain there are speciality stores called ‘Dieteticas’ or if you have you have any questions go the the forum and post what you are looking for and area you live. You will likely get some quick replies.
Cheeses and cold cuts (quesos y fiambres) can be found at most places, but there are specialty shops like Franco Parma that will have stuff that’s harder to find. Look for them or ask if you want something other than run of the mill. You can even get good strip bacon here if you know where to look. Prosciutto is hit and miss here.
Specialty shops and high end eating
Mercado Belgrano on Juramento at Ciudad De la Paz (just off Cabildo) has recently been renovated and high quality fish, meat, cheese and wine markets have been quickly moving in with only the best quality stuff. They have everything including great cheeses, fine wines, the best beef and ultra fresh fish. It’s also the only place we have seen fresh duck. Just waiting for a spice store to open up! Oh, and it’s also the only place we know in Buenos Aires of with armadillo for sale. It costs about $75AR for a whole one if you are interested.
If you are looking for more exotic spices and can’t find them near you (ask at your verduleria), don’t worry, there are options. The main two would be Barrio Chino and Gato Negro. Barrio Chino is a small section of Belgrano with Chinese shops and merchants. They also have good fresh fish (just ask for recommendations if you can’t tell what’s fresh) and items you won’t find in other places. The spice selection is pretty good too! Gato Negro on the other hand is a cafe on corrientes near callao with loads of coffees, teas and other things. They have a huge wall of canisters with just about every spice you could possibly want. Sit and have a coffee and look through there menu of spices, mustards and dried fruits.
Some expat tips
Chicken wings are not very popular in Argentina and generally they are seen as a throw away meat. They can be purchased for as little as $5AR a kilo. There is a bit of work involved in cutting them up as they come whole, but if you have some hot sauce, it is a great and very economical meal.
Certain veggies are very cheap in BsAs and spinach is one of them. They will sell 2 or 3 bunches for $5AR. Always ask the price. With many items there is a discount for bulk purchases. In general it is always wise to ask the price (“cuanto costa?”) before purchasing. Some things just don’t have the price marked. Prices may vary from one verduleria to another as well. Certain things will be cheaper in the small stores, but the big stores will also have specials on things like apples that can’t be beat. If you have any questions, don’t forget the forums for valuable information.
Beer and wine can be bought in most places, just not the ‘kioscos’ (convenience stores). If you buy the Quilmes 1L bottles return them for a refund. The other bottles get discarded.
One last note. It is not always cheaper to buy the big package. Seems strange, but it is true. If you are economical, look at the per unit price. All of the bigger grocery stores include it.