Beside meat, Argentines love their queso and/or crema. Everything has queso in it. Salads, sandwiches, panini, baked dishes, vegetarian dishes, meat dishes, sushi… about 90% of dishes have some kind of dairy product (at least that’s what it seems like to me…).
This is the menu of one of the “best” sushi restaurants in BA, Bonsai. Count the number of rolls with phila, which is Philadelphia Cream Cheese. I’ll wait… Yeah. Almost every roll is full of cream cheese. I can definitely get behind a warm eel with cream cheese roll or salmon avocado cream cheese roll… but, in my opinion, a few rolls on the menu with phila is enough. It takes something away from the freshness and overpowers the flavor of the fish. But somehow, when sushi came to Buenos Aires, phila was incorporated into almost every roll.
Dulce de leche. Look at it… Amazing. Porteños LOVE dulce de leche and consequently almost all the desserts are filled with or topped with dulce de leche. What does that cookie have… oh yeah, dulce de leche. What’s in the middle of that media noche? Of course, dulce de leche. I, for one, love it. Dulce de leche with dark chocolate is one of my favorite desserts. But recall that it is caramel made with milk or cream… Its amazing, but dangerous for those who can’t digest the lactose.
At the grocery store, you can buy milk with 80% reduced lactose and one variety of leche de soja (soy milk), which is found in the juice aisle. But don’t think you’re going to get a coffee with soy milk… not even the fancy-pants “coffee” shops have soy milk. What’s shocking is that there are restaurants, cafes, and entire stores that promote their “gluten-free” food. Now I’m not one to begrudge those with a gluten allergy a yummy but digestible meal. And really, it’s awesome that people with a gluten allergy have such options. But really… are their NO people with lactose intolerance here? It turns out, no, there are not many people with lactose intolerance here. I was talking with my spanish teacher the other day and she says that she doesn’t know anyone who has a problem with digesting dairy, but there are quite a number of people with celiac disease. Genetics at it’s finest.
Luckily, I’ve discovered my body can handle a little more dairy than I thought. I can take a little cheese, a little dulce de leche, a little butter. But really, if I want to feel tip top, energetic, awesome – home cooking is the way to go. When we first got here, we looked everywhere for the Lactaid of Buenos Aires to no avail. Finally, we asked a pharmacy if they had un compromido que puede ayudar con el digestivo de lactosa o lechera – a pill that can help with digestion of lactose or dairy. Farmacity – a large chain drugstore that is similar to those in the US – had some lactose pills, which you have to get from the pharmacist. They are a little pricey – a box of 20 pills was close to AR$100 or almost US$20. So I have been judicious with the pills. But luckily they are stronger than the lactaid pills. I take one, I have a big bowl of helado (don’t judge…), a rich, yummy, gelato-y ice cream, and I am ok.
It’s so funny, in New York you can find restaurants that cater to people with food allergies to those who don’t eat meat to those who don’t eat any animal products. It’s a bit different here. The options, while good, are a bit limited and it seems difficult sometimes to find food that will be yummy but healthy. So I’m trying to be flexible and remember that I can just ask for my meal without the cheese. And it will be ok. I’m trying to find new “favorites” that make me happy inside, both mentally and physically. It’s all part of not getting too stuck in a rut thinking “this is what I can eat and this is what I like and nothing else will be sufficient…” because then one can start to get a little… I don’t know… self-absorbed and rigid. Now, to be fair, I can say this because I don’t have a serious food allergy. I know that there are many people out there who can’t just remove the gluten or cheese or shellfish or nuts from a dish because even the slightest contact will cause a reaction… And for those people, it kinda sucks and I supposed you have to do more research and prepare ahead of time so then you don’t have to worry about it later.
No doubt, some of my favorites will never change. I’ve already made some homemade salt & vinegar potatoes because Buenos Aires is severely lacking in the chips. (I’ll share how I made them because they were delicious and actually pretty healthy.) And when I’m back in Florida one of the first things I’m going to do is have a HUGE sushi meal sin phila. But until then I will learn to take what I have and work with it. And enjoy it. And not stress about it. Lactose or not.