Tuesday, February 1, 2011

McDonald's, McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut

Argentina's empanadas
Cheap fast food makes for popular grub from New York to Beijing, but when brands like Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken tried their luck in Argentina, they failed. It’s not that Argentines don’t like fast food, but it seems that deep fried chicken legs just don’t really stimulate local taste buds, and although pizza is massive here, when Pizza Hut attempted to establish itself in the 1980s and again in the 1990s, the cultural barrier proved too strong to penetrate as its North American take on it didn’t measure up to la muzzarella local style.

Cheap burgers and fries however have proved more successful at rumbling Argentine stomachs, and both the fast food giants Burger King (referred to here simply as Burger) and McDonald’s have a strong presence. Burger King has 45 restaurants in Argentina, 24 of which are in the capital, while McDonald's has 187 nationwide. However, prices for a combo nowadays reach $AR35 (almost ten US dollars), so according to Burgernomics and the trusty Big Mac Index to measure purchasing power, they can no longer be considered a cheap fast food option; especially for their own workers, who earn approximately $AR10 per hour.

Buenos Aires though does offer plenty of other options for cheap and quick eating.

Street vendors flog homemade sandwiches de milanesa (breaded meats) for around $AR6 while for $AR5 or so hot dogs, known here as panchos, can be picked up at most kiosks, on trains or from specialist pancherias who will season the sausage with more than just the typical ketchup and chopped up crisps. And of course empanadas (pasties filled with ham and cheese or chicken or beef or corn etc) are available nearly anywhere at anytime, individually or by the dozen.

As for pizza, well it's pretty much take your pick.

Fugazetta at El Cuartito
Every porteño has their favourite joint and sampling a $AR4 slice or two at lunchtime from one of them is a quick and atmospheric way to eat real fast food. There's plenty of varieties but la Muzzarella, which is a thick spongy based pizza covered in mouth melting mozzarella cheese, is a standard choice while la Fugazetta is a cheese and onion pizza, often made with a cheese filled base. Among the best pizzerias in town are El Cuartito, located on Talcahuano and Paraguay, and El Palacio de la Pizza on Corrientes and Maipú.

But for something super simple and chuff-worthy cheap then Ugi’s will provide.

Since its first place was opened in the eighties Ugi's has gradually turned into somewhat of an institution in Buenos Aires and is even considered a valuable reference when calculating true inflation. Its idea is to sell only one product, la mozzarella a la piedra, at the cheapest possible price, and to do it with honesty. If la grande muzzarella costs $AR14 (current price) then a quarter costs $AR3.50. The profit margin is a low 15-20% each year and its motto is sell cheap to sell more; if its prices go up then inflation is real.

Ugi's - No a la droga, sí a la pizza
Ugi's are simple places with no glamour attached. There's no overspending on fancy gimmicks and they don't even have customer toilets; it's all about the product. And the product is tried and tested.

Once una grande is ordered, the base is rolled out, covered with tomato sauce and a handful of the mozzarella cheese that Ugi's produces itself, and then slotted into the stone oven, all right in front of the customer's eyes. The chef then sprinkles the final product with the quantity of oregano you want, and it's time to shove it down the hatch. With fifty locations in Buenos Aires each selling around 250 pizzas per day, the recipe is one that has been able to hit the spot in a way that Pizza Hut and Co. has not.

That being said, rumour has it that The Hut is planning to come south again in 2011 and hoping for third time lucky in Buenos Aires. If it fares better than on previous occasions then KFC may follow suit.

But until then Argentines will make do with the occasional Whopper or Big Mac, while enjoying all the local fast food that the country has to offer, safe in the knowledge that a life without certain junk elements of US culture doesn't necessarily equal missing out.


  1. It is good to see that locally produced and sourced fast food can prosper despite efforts by those US based giants to conquer the fast food market. Another insightful feature on life in Buenos Aires, good work!

  2. just stumbled onto your blog--LOVE IT!, was born in B.A. Argentina (moved to different country at very young age)and love reading up on all things Argentina.Thanks for the wonderful insight..Keep up the great work!

  3. Thanks very much for your comment. I'm glad my blog gives you an insight into the country of your birth. I love Argentina and I love writing about it; it's therefore always nice to hear when people like yourself enjoy reading what I blog. Vamos Argentina!

  4. The pizza in B.A. is about the wrost in the world. The hot dogs are almost as bad. The food in B.A. is really bland and no selection at all. I hope the U.S. fastfood comes soon.

  5. I rather a boring Argentine pizza where you know you are eating the real thing than an artificially flavored sauce made of extracts and powders with analogue cheese on top and several other genetically modified toppings just to create an abomination made in America.

  6. Easy to tell you have never been to the US

  7. Lived in California for a year and have visited a handful of other states on the east coast.

  8. Are you a spanish teacher?