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Americas Now 20120617 Argentina's underground eateries

06-21-2012 15:52 BJT

By Brian Byrnes

One of the hottest culinary trends in Buenos Aires right now is“PuertasCerradas” or “Closed Door” restaurants run out of private homes in secret locations. They serve small groups by reservation only and feature food not normally found on the plates of meat-and-potato-loving Argentines. Brian Byrnes introduces usto two chefs who are offering a new spin on Asian cuisinein Argentina.
It’s Friday afternoon and Chef Mun Kim is stocking up in Buenos Aires’ Chinatown.These Chinese-owned supermarkets offer some of the best selection of vegetables and fish in the Argentine capital, which makes it a favorite for chefs. But Mun is not like other chefs in Buenos Aires. He was born in Korea, and raised in Hawaii. And after two decades as a corporate banker, he decided to pursue his passion for food. Now, after less than two years living in Buenos Aires, he is running one of the city’s most lauded eating establishments, Casa Mun. Munshares how his background influences his cooking.

"I am kind of an international guy, so when you come to my place you are going to try at least three different ethnic foods: Korean, Japanese and Chinese, and because I spent ten years in California, and I love Californian cuisine, which incorporates a lot of what I do… so you get all this variety, and I think it’s more fun".

The most fun, he says, comes from the fact that this is not an ordinary restaurant. It’s a closed door restaurant. There are only thirty coveted spots available for the Friday and Saturday night dinners. Once you book online, the secret location is revealed. Mun serves a fixed, five-course menu which changes monthly. Paired with Argentine wines, it costs just $65 USD. Seating is unassigned, meaning guests often sit with strangers. Muninsists on this arrangement:

"The reason I chose the closed door restaurant concept was that I wanted to, unlike other restaurants where you sit alone with your friends, or whoever you are traveling with, I wanted to have a dinner party where everybody is sitting together and have fun and exchange  information and meet other travelers. So that was the concept and it’s been well-received."
Casa Mun also offers food that has never been available outside Buenos Aires’ small, close-knit Asian communities, like Chinese Wonton soup, Korean Bibimbap and Argentine King Crab sushi.Sous chef Marcelo Niikado is an Argentine of Japanese descent. He says Argentine palates are not accustomed to these Asian flavors.

"They are used to meat, empanadas, pizza. And these kinds of textures and flavors, they don’t feel comfortable with that. I think that is the problem, they have to get used to it, step by step, slowly. I think Asian cuisine is going to be more successful here in a few years with Chef Mun".

Casa Mun is not the only “closed-door” restaurant in Buenos Aires that offers authentic Asian cuisine. Another location across town, CocinaSunae, is run by an Asian-American and her Argentine husband, out of their home.
Christina Sunae was raised in the Philippines and the United States. Her culinary offerings are diverse. She admires, “all the Southeast Asian countries, for example.

"Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Those are my favorites".

CocinaSunae–which means ‘Sunae’s Kitchen’ in Spanish– was a pioneer in Buenos Aires’ closed door restaurant movement. The concept has existed around the world for years, but only caught on in Buenos Aires during the past decade, especially as more and more foreigners moved here to take advantage of low prices. Most of Buenos Aires’ closed door restaurants are registered with the government, but not as full-fledged restaurants. Some function as catering businesses. Sunaeelaborates.

"I think there are about thirty or forty. The list keeps on growing of the closed door restaurants in Buenos Aires. We started three years ago and there were only a handful, and now it’s become a big trend here".

Sunae’s menu changes weekly, and her home offers an intimate, romantic dining setting. While in the kitchen, it is a rowdier environment with her Spanish-speaking staff. On the night we visited, the specialty dish was Indonesia Rendang: beef with coconut milk, cinnamon, ginger, lemongrass, cloves and more. Good cheer and good food, all in the comfort of a cozy home.


Editor:James |Source: CNTV

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