Buenos Aires travel is usually about tango, steak, and unique Castellano Spanish. What people don’t usually travel to Buenos Aires for is the Chinese culture. Buenos Aires has a large Chinese immigrant population though and even a Little China barrio. It’s pretty far down on the average tourists “must see” list but if you are looking for something a little different on your Buenos Aires trip, it’s certainly worth a stop.
Ask a local porteño where the supermarket is and they will likely point you to the nearest “chino.” Small, neighborhood grocery stores are so commonly owned by Chinese immigrants that they are, as a group, called supermercados chinos. They are family owned businesses that are run by multiple generations. Tinterorías, where you can get your laundry done, are also a common Chinese business. These businesses are spread throughout the city but the majority of Chinese immigrants actually live in the Belgrano barrio around the small China Town.
To reach the China Town, take the train north, like you are heading to Tigre, and get off at the Belgrano station. You will literally step right into China Town with the hard-to-miss Chinese gate right outside the station. The neighborhood is filled with Chinese restaurants and supermarkets that cater to Asian-Argentinians with hard to find Chinese cooking ingredients. There is also a Buddhist temple, anime comic-book stores, Chinese medicine clinics, and even Japanese pop music shops.
The barrio sprang up in the 1980’s when the first major wave of Asian immigrants arrived in Argentina, primarily from Taiwan. The barrio actually held few “Chinese” immigrants until the 1990s when the second wave of Asian immigrants started to arrive from China. There were also smaller, mini-waves of Korean, Japanese, and Laotian immigrations.
Part of the fun of visiting Barrio Chino is spotting the unique fusion of Argentinian and Asian customs. Names like Juan Huang pop up and families hold big weekend asados with steak and sides of Chinese rice. The Asian population has adopted many Argentinian traditions but Barrio Chino still feels very exotic.
The easiest way to see the Asian influence in Buenos Aires is through the food – from corner shops that sell chino empanadas to world class restaurants serving a fusion of Asian and South American cuisine. Sushi delivery drivers zip through downtown traffic and woks can be bought in most large kitchen supply shops. Be sure to befriend the local chino supermarket owner to find out where the best of the best Asian-Argentinian fusion food can be found.
In general, the Asian community has been welcomed by local Argentinians. However, since the 2001 economic crash, robberies of Chinese owned businesses have skyrocketed and there have been a few labor protests against the community. Despite this, Chinese and other Asian communities continue to grow throughout Argentina.
Couple Travel Tips
- Argentinians, in general, don’t really like spicy food. If you are looking for a bit of spice in your food, Barrio Chino is the best place to head. You can choose from dozens of restaurants in a variety of price ranges or buy your own spicy ingredients.
- If you are in Buenos Aires studying Spanish, head up to Barrio Chino for an afternoon and listen to the way people speak. It is a unique combination of Spanish (with a strong assent) and plenty of Chinese thrown in as well. The accent is often said to be easier to understand for English speakers than Castellano Spanish.
- Make it a game with your partner to spot as many Asian-Argentinian fusions as you can. Argentina wine served with Pekin duck, beef sushi, names like Mariana Yu… the combinations are endless.