Read on to the end for a couple of suggestions of my own.
One of the stresses of travel is souvenir shopping. The fastest way to lose friends and alienate people is to cut them out of the perfunctory gift giving that has become a mandatory post-travel practice. So when you wake up on your last day of vacation, in a cold sweat, remembering you forgot to pick up something for your sister’s kids you don’t have to settle for the cheesy key chain emblazoned with their name at the airport gift shop. In fact, here are some alternative ideas so that you never have to set foot in another soul crushing souvenir shop ever again.
Souvenir shops like the one pictured above are for the unimaginative and lazy. Just because something is found in a souvenir shop does not always mean that it is truly representative of the country you’re in. For instance, thongs emblazoned with the country’s name in gold are generally a no-no. For something that’s going to be truly reminiscent of your host country, in this case Argentina, go where the locals go.
For something unusual and quirky take a trip to Palermo’s Mercado de Las Pulgas (Niceto Vega block 200 between Dorrego and Concepcion Arenales) where many antique shop proprietors head to in search of inventory. From reclaimed furniture to taxidermy there’s something for everyone here and best of all, haggling is a must.
Argentines are a creative group of people and having largely descended from Italian immigrants, aesthetic means a lot to them. Everywhere you look design has been integrated into daily life and two home-good shops that whole-heartedly embody this ethos are Calma Chicha (Honduras 4909, Palermo SoHo) and NoBrand (Gorriti 5876). There are three hallmarks of Argentine culture: leather, mate gourds, and penguin shaped jugs, all of which have been updated from their traditional, pueblo form into modern and stylistic pieces. On any given day you can find these shops swarmed with young, fashionable Argentines looking to capture their culture in the most updated forms.
The San Telmo antique market (Plaza Dorrego, every Sunday) is one of the most popular weekend activities in the city. Located in the oldest part of the city, San Telmo is characterized by its abundance of antique shops running the gamut from low to high-end. It’s the only neighborhood in the city that is completely devoted to selling its past, so it makes for perfect souvenir hunting grounds. The market sets up in the main square around 10 in the morning and snakes its way through the neighborhood north and south through cobble-stoned streets. Get there early to battle the crowds because by 1 the streets have usually been turned into a sea of bodies.
The Grocery Stores
If you ever spend a single day in Argentina you will inevitably eat dulce de leche at some point. Dulce de leche is to Argentines what peanut butter is to Americans and Nutella is to Europeans. Similar to caramel it’s an addictive treat that the Argentines put on almost everything; toast, yogurt, ice cream and donuts for example. The best thing about dulce de leche is that a 1-kilo tin of it (2.2 pounds) will cost you about $4.00 US and will last you long enough to get back home.
The very best gifts from Argentina are tango shoes and leather jackets, but if you're looking for something smaller and/or cheaper, you can not go wrong at the Feria de Mataderos (Sundays). The choices are many and the craftmanship high, prices are reasonable and the selection varied. The Feria is a fabulous place to buy something "horsey," either used for riding or things with horse motifs, but there are hand tooled mates, clothing, toys, jewelry, etc. Also there are food booths featuring delicacies from all around Argentina. There are also lots of gauchos, horses, music, and folklore. You can read past posts on my blog here. Just remember that Mataderos is closed from the middle of December to the middle of April.
If you have any friends back home who are Boca Junior fans, there is a museum next to the stadium in La Boca which sells "official" souvenirs sure to please (not cheap though.)