There are a lot of similarities between Argentina and Chile: their respective Patagonia’s, an obsession with potatoes, and an average male height of 5 foot 6 inches. But, it would be a mistake to cork them both in the same bottle of wine. While in Buenos Aires for eight days, we tried to ignore the cat calls and cream cheese-infused sushi that seem to be a stable trend in South America. Instead, we embraced the differences between Chile and Argentina. Below are ten comparisons to sum up our conclusions.
1. Cueca vs. Tango
As soon as you fly over the jagged Andes into Argentine territory, you can feel something in the air. It’s not a sea breeze, nor is it a subtle tectonic plate movement. It’s the tapping, swinging, bending, twisting, swooping movements of the Tango, resonating through the clouds. Chile has la cueca, yes, but Argentina has…the Tango.
Now, I am not only the Cueca queen, but also know a few saucy tango moves and have a certificate to prove it.
2. Manjar vs. Dulce de Leche
Don’t confuse manjar and dulce de leche. Manjar is a thick, overwhelmingly sweet version of caramel, while dulce de leche is its light, silky counterpart—the older sibling you can never compete with. Manjar is the go-to topping in Chile and used on everything from toast to apples to empanadas, or just simply sucked straight from the squeezable container (if you’re my host brother). As far as we know, dulce de leche does not exist in Chile. It may seem petty to draw this comparison, but get back to me after having three choices of sweets for six months: manjar covered cookies, manjar filled pastries, or manjar layered cakes.
3. La Moneda vs. La Casa Rosada
Both Chile and Argentina have beautiful, commanding government buildings. La Moneda shines a brilliant white, complemented by surrounding fountains and unflinching military guards. But, La Casa Rosada is…rosada! Its dusty salmon paint doesn’t have the same luster as La Moneda, but it’s paint job has a more interesting history. There are two theories: 1) At the time of its construction, the colors of the two opposing political parties, red and white, were mixed to satisfy everyone; and the more likely story, 2) The original paint contained cow blood and pig lard to prevent damage from humidity.
4. Lomo a la Pobre vs. Bife de Chorizo
There are some things that are too close to call. One of the first gastronomical specialties I tried in Chile was called Lomo a la Pobre, constituted by three layers: french fries, steak, and an egg, sunny side up. Impossible to top in cholesterol, maybe (see #6), but in succulence? Close call.
Buenos Aires has a similar meal, more famous but lacking pizazz. The bife de chorizo in Buenos Aires was the best steak I have ever had, aside from the bistecca fiorentina (ironically imported from Argentina to Italy), but I am still partial to la pobre. There is just something about the ingenuity behind piling every unhealthy food possible onto a single plate. KFC may have pioneered the idea, but Chile is pulling its weight in South America.
5. Los Pokemonos de la Plaza de Armas vs. Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo
This is an unfair comparison in some ways, but Generation X deserves a shot. In Chile, groups of young teenagers, both politically active and…not, gather for animé-themed evenings. It will be interesting to see how they react to the upcoming election in Chile between Peñare and Freire. The youth certainly have things to say, you can read them on most city surfaces, some more aesthetically articulated than others, but despite fighting words captured in bubble letters, it is hard to determine how politically active they actually are.
Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, however, have a long history entrenched in ugly politics. Since their children and family members were abducted during the “Dirty War” over three decades ago, this group of activists marches around La Plaza de Mayo every Thursday at 3:30 pm. Over 30,000 people never returned to their families and are believed to have died in concentration camps. The frail bodies of these women are confounded by a fortitude that shattered the fetters of fear, loosening the the grip of an iron-fisted dictatorship. You calculate this one.
6. Completos vs. Ponchos
Don’t be alarmed. Laurel survived the cardiac arrest attacking her face. Chile wins this one, hands down. Official retraction of statement in #4. Forget what I said before: Piling every unhealthy food onto one hot dog bun is NOT okay.
I thought Chilean completos (a hot dog topped with avacado, tomatoes, and mayo)were a serious business, but I will never acknowledge a plain hot dog again after seeing a Poncho. The presentation was incredible, but the mess and stress of consumption was not worth a second finger lick. Bun, hot dog, salsa, peppers, fried egg, melted cheese, and of course a piece of lettuce to balance your diet — the Pancho does not need an encore.
Cami not only finished all of her poncho, but the rest of ours too.
7. Cumbia vs La Bomba de Tiempo
Woa, woa. I know, I already compared Chilean and Argentine dances. Right, but this time we are talking about rhythms. La Cumbia is a popular rhythm in Chile that can be found in almost every song by La Noche, download “Quiero Ser Libre,” if you’d like a taste. La cumbia is fun, kinda catchy, but a little too predictable as it is the same every time.
In BsAs, we went to a drum show called, La Bomba de Tiempo. Every Monday night for twenty Argentine pesos, you can watch Velasquez lead his drummer boys by using hundreds of signals: jumps, claps, pointing, squatting; that each have a learned meaning and direct them in new ways. As the show goes on, the drummers combine with guitarists and rappers to create new beats and original sounds. It was incredible until the dance floor turned into a mosh pit, no thanks to American tourists who apparently confused the drummers with Taking Back Sunday.
8. Cheap leather vs. cheap…?
Most things in Argentina are cheaper than in the US, especially leather. I won’t detail every hour we spent leather shopping, but know that we came back with at least one adult cow hide in Cami’s suitcase and one calf draping Laurel’s arm.
I wish I could say that Chile has something similar, maybe Avocados? Where Avacados are about $1 per unit in the US, they are $1 per kilo in Chile. That’s almost as exciting as leather products.
9. Chileanísmos vs. Argentine Casteshano
When we were in Buenos Aires, it was hard to understand the locals at first. They use a “sh” sound in place of “ll” and “y,” so La Plaza de Mayo sounds like the Plaza de Maysho. Or, esha ashá, (ella allá) would mean that girl over there. I liked the sha sha sha shounds, but craved Chileanísmos.
Where were the, sí po, ya po, no po’s? Where were the al tiro’s and cochai’s? They were lost in a mess of pitying looks from Argentinians that said, “You learned Spanish in Chile, didn’t you? Pobrecita.” Despite ridicule in Buenos Aires, my opinion remains unscathed: Nothing beats Chileanísmos.
10. $3 Carmenere vs. $1 Malbec
Chilean wine is cheap, but Argentine wine is cheaper.
Argentina is a big country with lots of advantages over Chile in regards to accessibility, production capabilities, Italian immigrants, and soccer tryouts, but Chile has some things that Argentina just can’t compete with. Crawling back to my casita in Rancagua with my “backpack” straps broken and my bank account overdrawn, I realized how much I had missed the constant miscommunications with my host mom, the classroom chaos of my chiquillos, and not just touring, but belonging to a community.