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Maté, Buenos Aires

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Buenos Aires
Argentina's insider take:

Popularized by Argentina's gauchos, the hard-living cowboys of the fertile Pampas, yerba maté has become an Argentine obsession. The bitter infusion is derived from the leaves of the yerba plant, which grows widely in the steamy forests of northeastern Argentina. Aficionados—and all Argentines claim to be aficionados—place the dried yerba leaves in an ornamental gourd known as a maté, infuse them in hot (but not boiling) water, and suck the resulting brew through a metal straw, or bombilla. The surrounding ritual is complex and rife with debates about its idiosyncrasies, but maté consumption transcends barriers of class and race, providing the focus for daytime gatherings of family and friends. For an outsider, it's not easy to join the true circle of maté drinkers—it's usually best to enlist the help of friendly locals. Failing that, it is possible to order maté at the following venues:

La Provisión de Enciso
3909 Fernandez de Enciso
Tel: 54 11 4504 8283

Set back from a charming plaza in Devoto, a self-contained barrio in the western part of Buenos Aires, this neighborhood parrilla steakhouse offers a full maté service every afternoon (4 to 7:30 pm), along with all the necessary paraphernalia, including a tin kettle, gourd, metal straw, savory nibbles, and strong yerba leaves. Owner Juan Carlos Cremona is usually on hand to explain the ritual's unwritten rules to first-timers.

La Peña del Colorado
3657 Güemes
Barrio Norte
Tel: 54 11 4822 1038

This popular folk-music venue serves maté with chipá, or cassava bread rolls, in the afternoons (Mondays through Saturdays from 3 to 7 pm), with a second sitting when performances end around midnight.

La Biela
596 Quintana
Tel: 54 11 4804 0449

While purists would sneer at the maté listo (made from a travelers' kit of throwaway plastic), this landmark Recoleta café is nonetheless popular for its people-watching and the vast, 200-year-old gomero tree that overhangs its terrace.

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