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Traditional Buenos Aires Souvenirs: From Mate to Penguins
We’ve all gotten one of those gifts, a tacky t-shirt, sparkly keychain or yet another refrigerator magnet. Those cliche souvenir stores aren’t as common here in Buenos Aires as say, Paris, where tiny metallic Eiffel Towers overflow out of large bins on nearly every sidewalk. Leave the Hard Rock t-shirt and Starbucks coffee cup behind. Instead, opt for one of these cultural Argentina souvenirs.
Argentina is world famous for a few things: red wine, steak, and leather. If you want to get a high-quality souvenir that will last a lifetime at a fraction of what it would cost back home? Then you need to get yourself a nice leather jacket, my friend! Invest in a high-quality leather jacket, pair of boots, or a leather bag while you’re here.
Where to shop for leather in Buenos Aires?
- The leather district on Murillo Street in Villa Crespo is a great place to start. Leather jackets fill the display windows of every shop for a few blocks. I find quality can really vary here, so take your time and investigate the quality of the leather, if it’s been dyed, the stitching, etc. Murillo 666 is both the name and address of the most well-known store here, I’d start there.
- Las Pepas is a chain store that you can find in the malls and Palermo Soho, they have very stylish leather jackets. The neighborhood of Palermo Soho, in general, is overflowing with boutiques selling leather bags.
- The Markets: I found a stunning brown moto jacket in the San Telmo Market that I regret not buying to this day, so don’t discount the markets here. San Telmo on Sundays has a few vendors that come every week with beautiful jackets.
- Arandu: Arandu in Recoleta (which may pop up a few times in this post, they are a great one-stop-shop for most souvenirs) sells gorgeous leather bags. Purses or weekenders both, you’ll find stunning bags in Arandu.
“Oh my God, just like Tom’s!” No, forget Tom’s. These are the original, the real deal. If you want to feel like a local, snag yourself a pair of alpargata shoes. They’re very affordable and come in so many cute patterns. It’s my favorite gift to bring home for friends not only because they’re such a huge part of Argentine culture, but because they weigh next to nothing! Your suitcase won’t suffer if you toss in a few pairs of these guys.
Where to find Alpargatas in Buenos Aires?
- Arandu (I told you that store would show up again) makes my favorite alpargata! They’re super affordable at around the equivalent of $8 US. Their location on Ayacucho in Recoleta is so beautiful that visiting the store alone is a worthwhile experience, the cheap shoes are a bonus.
- The markets, yet again. There are multiple stalls set up selling alpargatas for children and babies in San Telmo on Sundays. I’ve also seen them in the Belgrano weekend market on Juramento Avenue (at Cabildo).
- Paez is another shoe brand that sells very stylish alpargatas. They’re pricier than Arandu, but still cheaper than Tom’s in the US. I think Paez is available abroad, but it’s much cheaper here in its home country.
Mate & Yerba
Perhaps the most classic Buenos Aires souvenir is a mate gourd. The cheapest option is what you see above (at the San Telmo Feria at the corner of Chile & Defensa streets), an actual hollowed out gourd. If you plan on using it or keeping for it for a long time, you’ll need to maintain it. Cure it and keep it clean or it will mold. There are more stylish ones in nearly every single shop (mate is a way of life here!). Ceramic, silicon, wood, whatever material you want, you’ll find it. The yerba (the tea itself) is available in every single supermarket in town.
While most items here are cultural Argentina souvenirs, fileteado is pure Buenos Aires. Filetado is a style of painting (seen above) with swirls of paint, flowers, strong colors and symmetry. Vendors in all of the markets sell already made signs like those above and most offer the option to customize. I LOVE fileteado and I personally don’t understand why everything in Buenos Aires isn’t covered in it.
Antique Soda Bottles
While San Telmo is famous for its antiques and unique finds, I particularly love these antique soda bottles. Mind you, they’re very heavy so if you want one, plan your luggage accordingly. Is it a sign of my age that I want a house decor item as a souvenir now?
Inca Rose Jewelry
I love jewelry and the bigger the turquoise on it the better. But I try to find a local stone (like my agate ring from Marfa) when I’m traveling, and the official stone of Argentina is a beautiful pink stone. The actual name is rhodochrosite, but you’ll hear it called “Rosa del Inca” on the streets of Buenos Aires. You can find more expensive pieces in the tourist shops on Florida Street downtown, but my favorite place to get Inca Rose pieces is the San Telmo Market. There are a lot of vendors here selling Inca Rose jewelry at bargain prices.
Dulce de Leche
Boy do Argentine’s have a sweet tooth! Dulce de leche is everywhere and on everything in copious amounts. You can pick up a jar in any supermarket in town. If you do bring some back home with you, make sure you put in your checked luggage. It counts as a liquid and shouldn’t be in your carry on. And while DDL is great and all, I suggest you live on the wild side and find a bottle of Dulce de Leche Liqueur. It’s SO good!
A Penguin Pitcher
One of the most unique Buenos Aires souvenirs, if not the most unique anywhere souvenir, is the pinguino. If you order a bottle of the house wine at a traditional restaurant here, it will most likely be served to you in a ceramic pitcher in the shape of a penguin. The wine pours out through the beak! They’re adorable, and if you don’t drink, they make great flower vases. I store my spatulas in mine when it’s not filled with Malbec!
Where to buy a Penguin
If you shop around you may find colorfully painted ones in the shops in Palermo Soho. Casa Romero on Thames Street sells pastel penguins. They’re traditionally only white or brown, and you may be able to find an older one on the shelves of the antique market in San Telmo.
Charcuterie plates, or “picadas” in Argentina, are very common. Meals are important social events here. Time spent with family and friends is a priority and meals go on for hours, often starting with a picada served up on a big “tabla” or platter. You can find serving platters in all of the markets (the ones above are at the Recoleta Feria). Decorated with silver handles or with traditional patterns carved into them, they’re great one of a kind piece to bring home with you.
Note that some of the larger ones have a groove carved in around the edge. These are for meat at asados (barbeques in Argentina). They’re for carrying the meat to and from the grill and for carving it up to serve. If you host a lot of barbeques back home, this is ideal for you!