BBQ Town: Korean Food is Closer Than You Think
I am what some might define as a lazy human being. Meaning that after work, I tend to spend my nights watching Netflix, rather than playing football with friends or organizing another La Bomba del Tiempo outing. If your plan falls anywhere on or between Monday through Thursday and requires a subte transfer or more than one colectivo, count me out.
Why is this an issue? It’s not. I quite like my routine of watching back-to-back episodes of just about anything. However, this does become my beast of burden when I realize my laziness inhibits me from ever making it to Flores to try Korean BBQ (“you mean the B line connects to the H line and then I gotta grab the A at hora pico and somehow make it back before it gets dark?”). My solution? BBQ Town, a Chinese-Korean restaurant settled inside Belgrano.
For me, BBQ Town is a straight shot on the 15. I hop off the bus and dive into the welcoming tentacles of spicy squid and curly rabas. If I’ve had a tense day at work, the seething thoughts dissipate with my first sip of soju. My fatigue is replaced with giddy anticipation as waiters fill my table with platito upon platito of peanuts, kimchi, and noodles galore. And should those little wonders not dispel my workday blues, the build-your-own lettuce wraps and cook-your-own-meat components certainly will.
From the outside, BBQ Town blends into the barrio whose arch proudly proclaims the area BA’s Barrio Chino. But within the establishment’s walls lies so much more. The restaurant is steeped with family history and a legacy of recipes that’s been carried throughout generations.
Elvis, BBQ Town’s owner-at-large, is of Korean and Taiwanese descent, but you wouldn’t know it having heard his story. He was born in Argentina, yet spent the majority of his youth in Australia. Upon moving back to Argentina at the age of 20, Elvis along with his mother and sisters decided to build something of their own. With an economic eye on profit and revenue, the tight-knit team used the space they had to open a Chinese restaurant. The business went well and the profits came in, allowing the family to move forward with their bigger dream: BBQ Town.
Elvis’ entrepreneurial mother saw the success of Korean restaurants in Flores and began composing her own dishes through instinct and her perception of what was lacking in the burgeoning ethnic restaurant scene. The result? A quasi-Korean restaurant with flavors borrowed from Chinese cuisine. Think sweet and sour chicken served alongside kimchi, and sangyeopsal (pork belly, a Korean specialty) dished up after Chinese-style dumplings. The family constructed a menu based on this fusion of Chinese and Korean cuisine, shut down their Chinese restaurant, doubled the size of the establishment, and re-opened as BBQ Town.
Since Korean BBQ’s opening, Elvis’ mother has passed her culinary wisdom onto Elvis who, if provoked, can recite endless knowledge of cooking techniques (like the appropriate way to make fermented kimchi in winter versus summer), Korean customs (like how to eat pork belly the traditional way with lettuce and raw garlic), and each dish’s ingredients (including what’s in that Sikhye you’re drinking for dessert).
The restaurant has developed a following amongst both Argentines and expats. Barrio Chino residents that used to get their fix in Flores now frequent BBQ Town to enjoy authentic flavor a bit closer to home. Argentines, usually timid towards ethnic food, welcome the Korean-style meal infused with more familiar Chinese flavors. And expats, such as myself, appreciate the restaurant’s Instagram-worthy spread of tiny plates topped with the most colorful, eccentric seasonings. And, above all, the restaurant’s hop, skip, and short bus ride away from my front door.