The most deep-rooted customs of the porteños are those that are used to celebrate special occasions. Even though these celebrations can be made individually, they are more meaningful when they are a collective manifestation. The arrival of modernity and the pressures of city life have not extinguished these rituals that are heavy with codes and secret meanings.
Mate is perhaps the oldest. Its origin lies with the Guaraní Indians who once inhabited the Argentine Pampa, before the arrival of the Spanish. The custom of drinking mate spread to the gauchos, later the criollos and is even mentioned in tangos. It became famous as a miracle drink and the Spanish prohibited its consumption since its effects were unknown to them; they also considered it a symbol of idleness. Mate always implies a break that often is also the start of a conversation.
Mate is an infusion that is prepared using the chopped leaves of the Yerba Mate plant. It can be drunk from a normal tea cup, which is referred to as “mate cocido”, but the most typical form is to make it using a mate, which is a container (often made from a dried gourd) that is filled with the yerba (literally: herb) and hot water is poured over it. The infusion is then drunk with a straw called a bombilla made of metal or silver. Each person has its own recipe for preparing a good mate: the amount of yerba, the temperature of the water, the placement of the bombilla, etc. Sugar can be placed each time mate is served (mate dulce, literally sweet mate) but it is more criollo to drink mate without sugar (“mate amargo”, literally bitter mate). Any time of the day is a good time to drink mate, but the afternoon is the perfect time for this drink, and it is often enjoyed with cookies or crackers.
The asado (barbecue) also occupies an important place in the life of the city. A staggering number of cuts of meat are prepared (ranging from steaks to sausages to innards) over a charcoal flame, and is normally accompanied with salads and red wine. Any excuse to have an asado is a good one, because it always means time spent with family or with friends. The ritual begins with lighting the fire and stoking the coals, and it continues with the serving of a “picada” (appetizers of cold cuts and cheese) and drinking wine as the guests arrive. In Buenos Aires, they are most likely to be held during the weekends and the end time is never known in advance.
The café, meaning both coffee and a business that serves it, has a special place in the life of each porteño. It is a modern version of the ancient general stores in which clients would arrive on horseback, and after the year 1920, drink a gin. Their characteristics have changed with the passage of time. In the 1960s they transformed in the quasi social clubs of the neighbourhoods, where the neighbors would get together to play pool, cards, dice, gossip and share suffering, sing tango or simply watch life pass by. With the passage of time this bohemian aspect has been lost and now has adopted new forms. There are cafés of every imaginable variety and in every area of Buenos Aires. There is always one nearby to meet a friend, talk about business, and meet a lover or simply read a newspaper, think or “pass time”.
Sundays in Buenos Aires is typically the day to watch soccer matches. It is common for men to go to the football stadiums, listen to the plays by radio or watch the games on TV. The fiercest rivalry is between the Boca Juniors and River Plate. Their fans (but fanatics is probably a better word!) are called “bosteros” (someone covered in mud) and “gallina” (chicken) respectively. When these two teams meet it is referred to as a “super-classic”. And the following Monday the winners can be seen celebrating and making fun of the losers in all parts of the city. And whenever the national team plays the activity of the city comes to a halt.
When you leave the theater or cinema, you can end your night in the traditional way: going to a pizzeria to enjoy the typical menu of pizza, moscato (sweet wine) and fainá (bread made from chickpea flour).