Just outside the capital, only a few blocks away from where the city ends and the province of Buenos Aires begins, rural culture comes alive at the weekly Feria de Mataderos. Argentine cowboys known as gauchos show off their horsemanship, dancers and musicians cavort to Argentine folk tunes, and food stands offer various regional dishes.
In Spanish, mataderos means slaughterhouses. The neighborhood was once home to the region’s largest livestock market and meat processing plants. Nowadays the neighborhood is a quiet residential area, and the Sunday outdoor market is its biggest — and only — tourist attraction.
Horsing Around: Carrera de Sortijas
Gauchos perform horseback riding demonstrations and games in full cowboy garb from 2 p.m. onward at the edge of the market along Lisandro del Torre Avenue. The corrida de sortija, or ring race, dates back to the 1800s. A metal bar is strapped between two upright poles. In the center hangs a small ring, about the size of a wedding band. Players gallop from one end of the course, brandishing a small twig, and attempt to place it inside the ring. Watching giant horses gallop through parked cars creates a startling juxtaposition, a testament to traditional and modern Argentina existing side by side.
Food at the Feria
Mataderos offers cuisine ranging from classics such as chorípan and empanadas; locro, a pampa stew of maiz, beans and potatoes; tamales, corn-based flour wrapped in a corn husk, and Paraguayan specialties. In addition to lunch options, the market offers an impressive selection of high quality homemade foods to take home including cheeses, olives oils and vinegars, charcuterie, breads, wines, liqueurs, and candies, at lower prices than can be found in Buenos Aires’ central markets.
Traditional Crafts and Souvenirs
Traditional crafts on offer include steak knives, wine holders, silver jewelry and handcrafted toys. There are also many quirky souvenirs available, such as boxes made out of orange peels, origami, 3D paintings and Pope Francis memorabilia.
Live Music at the Feria De Mataderos
After the shopping is over, visitors grab a seat — or a dance partner — and enjoy the live Argentine folklore bands that perform from the early afternoons onward. Argentine folklore, including Cumbia, Zamba and Chacarera, are uplifting rural alternatives to the more famous tango. Every week a different band is invited to play, and crowds gather to listen, dance, and watch. Chacarera is the favorite here and local schools also often show off their moves in traditional costumes.
• Museo de Criollo de los Corrales
Hidden in a nook between the food stalls lies the Museo Criollo de los Corrales, a small museum that shows a slice of country life and history in the province of Buenos Aires. Cheap and worth the detour for those already in the area, the museum includes examples of traditional outfits and gaucho artifacts such as matés and horseback riding equipment. La Pulperia inside the museum offers drinks, food, and a shaded patio away from the bustle of the fair.
The Bar Oviedo sits on the corner of Avenida Lissandro del Torre and Avenida de los Corrales, has been an institution in central Mataderos since 1900. They serve beer, wine, the best locro in town and offer a great place to people-watch and take in the entire scene the market offers: the gauchos and folklore dancers, dressed in colorful costumes, the crowds of mostly Argentine tourists and families, the sellers at their booths, waiting patiently for customers to ask about their products.
• The Mataderos Skate Park
Skaters and those who enjoy their gravity-defying moves won’t want to miss the Mataderos skate park at Lisandro de la Torre and Av. De Los Corrales. It’s got a street skating area, two bowls and there’s lots of action around the park with local ladies selling homemade cakes and pies. Open everyday from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.
If you snoop around Mataderos you will come across other peñas – or folk music parties, aside from the one in the main plaza. There is often an open-air peña right outside the skate park. If it’s raining, check out the Federación Gaucho Porteña (Buenos Aires Cowboy Federation) at Lisandro de la Torre 2406.
How to get to Mataderos
The Mataderos Fair takes place every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., mid-March through mid-December.In the summer months of January and February the feria runs on Saturday nights from 6 p.m. instead of during the day.
Mataderos is located on Avenida Lisandro de la Torre and Avenida de los Corrales. To get there, take the 36, 55, 92, 63, 80, 92, 97, 103, 117, 126, 141, 155, 180 or 185 bus lines. The trip takes over an hour by bus. To save time you can also take a taxi or take Subte line E to Plaza de Virreyes and take a taxi from there. Alternately make a day of it and discover the secret gems of Mataderos Fair by taking our private guided Mataderos tour. — by Sam Harrison (photos: Ande Wanderer)