Time Zones

Cabbies Steer Blogger to Buenos Aires's Diverse Culinary Offerings

Layne Mosler lets the recommendations of cabdrivers such as José Luis Lareo Casal guide her food adventures.
Layne Mosler lets the recommendations of cabdrivers such as José Luis Lareo Casal guide her food adventures. (By Joshua Partlow -- The Washington Post)
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By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, February 19, 2009

BUENOS AIRES Dinner hour in this city often arrives as close to dawn as to dusk, so it wasn't until 9:48 p.m. that the food pilgrim picked the intersection of Medrano and Rivadavia to look for a taxi to places unknown.

She got in the back seat and turned to the driver, José Luis Lareo Casal.

"I have sort of a strange request," the pilgrim said. "Could you take us to a good restaurant, a place where you would eat with your family or friends?"

Lareo seemed confused. "I know such places, but it has to be nearby? Or where?" he asked.

The pilgrim offered little guidance: "It could be nearby. But it's not necessary."

The food pilgrim, Layne Mosler, writes an increasingly popular blog at http://www.taxigourmet.com, an approach to culinary exploration that is guided by the wisdom of cabbies. It is a method the food writer from California began using two years after she moved to Buenos Aires in 2005 and found garrulous taxistas regaling her with tales about Buenos Aires.

"I thought, well, if they know so much about the city and about the history and about politics, then surely they must know something about food," said Mosler, 34, who also writes for Time Out Buenos Aires and South American Explorer and is filming her taxi adventures for a potential television show.

By relying on local knowledge, the onetime vegetarian has been introduced to not only infinite varieties of steak and sausage, of course, but also mollejas (the thymus gland, a.k.a. sweetbreads), locro (stew with hominy, peppers and meat parts), lechón (suckling pig), sorrentinos (pasta stuffed with ham and cheese) and chinchulín (cow intestines), which at one restaurant tasted like "rancid sawdust mixed with vegetable shortening -- gummy and dry at the same time," she said.

Her selection of taxis is mostly random, though she varies her departure location. But when she started her blog in May 2007, she considered profiling. "I initially thought maybe I want to pick older guys or guys with a potbelly or guys who look like they know how to eat, but you never really know," she said.

Take, for instance, the skinny chopstick-chewing 20-something driver with silver-rimmed sunglasses who happened to be a sculptor. He took her to a little corner steakhouse for a transcendent flank steak sandwich that cost $2.

Mosler is a bit more discriminating in her choice of restaurants. She vetoes tourist traps or guidebook favorites, looking instead for spots where the driver himself would eat. "Those are my favorite kinds of foods, democratic foods," she said. Sometimes it is not the driver's first suggestion but an offhand mention that she pursues. She wrote in one entry: "If the Irish writer Richard Steele is correct, if 'a woman seldom writes her mind but in her postscript,' I wondered if the same could apply to Buenos Aires cab drivers and their food recommendations."

She has documented her taxi-inspired outings in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, eating gnocchi on Gnocchi Day, which is the 29th of each month. And she has followed a Palestinian cabdriver's recommendation for shwarma in San Francisco. She plans to test her method in New York, where, unlike in Buenos Aires, cabdrivers tend to be from everywhere.

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