Madeline Blasberg hunts around Mendoza for some true Arab digs.
Though you may have to dig a little, amidst the gaucho folklore and the thick smoke of a summer asado, you’ll find wisps of a different culture, imported from a different side of the world. Though it circulates under the radar, Argentina is home to a large Arab community. It is this thriving community that is responsible for the growing popularity of hookah smoking, belly dancing and a palate full of new, vibrant flavors.
Walking through the bustling streets of downtown Mendoza City you’re likely to pass a shop, from time to time, that stands out from the rest. From hookah bars to gift shops, you’ll find everything you need to partake in the Arab culture – or at least the parts of it that comfortably translate to the Argentina way of life. Though it may seem like a stretch, the parallels between the two cultures are many and the bridge is not hard to cross.
Where to Shake Your Belly
Argentines are entranced by Arabic Dance – the Far East counterpart to the Argentine cueca. Although the mid-riff bearing costumes might raise some abuela’s eyebrows, classes for Arabic dance are pretty full. La Tienda Arabey Academia de Danzas Arabes located at 641 Avenida Las Heras is a good place to get your feet wet. Half dance studio, half belly-dancer boutique, this is your one-stop Arab-outfitter. Find a hookah and some shisha, buy a traditional Arab board game, dress yourself in belly dancer garb complete with scandalous bustier or a wrap skirt bejeweled in gold coins. Classes are available every day of the week, and range from Bollywood to flamenco and Dabke to belly dancing for beginners (many are exclusively for women). For something more long-term Academia de Danzas Arabes Suhila on Av. Vicente Zapata 348a and is run by the Lebanese Society of Mendoza and all ages and both genders are welcome, and the whole dance company does an annual show at the end of the year.
Do Some Souk Searching
Or, if you’re more interested in participating off the stage, India is an International gift shop located at 52 Catamarca, near the corner of Catamarca and Avenida San Martin. Though the name doesn’t point to Arab influence, the trinkets that line the shelves and pack the windowsills certainly do. In the clutter and beside the busts of Buddha, you’ll find a variety of hookah pipes (called narguile in Spanish), one of the largest selections of shisha (flavored tobacco that is smoked and savored), Egyptian tarot cards and a variety of other goods.
Tucked into a hole-in-the-wall corner of la Galleria Tonsa, a shopping mall on Avenida San Martin, you’ll find Planeta Arabe. Planeta Arabe both looks and feels like a closet, full to the brim with Arabic-inspired fashions, belly dancing costumes and a variety of cultural artifacts, including the ever-present hookah and shisha selection.
A Tasting Tour
To snack on Arabic delights try Mustafá – a restaurant and hookah bar located in Godoy Cruz neighborhood, on Avenida San Martin Sur. You’ll find a variety of delicious Arab cuisine as well as a more traditional argentine menu. Barguile, Beltrán 2005 in Godoy Cruz, as well as Cocina Poblana, Aristides Villanueva 217, are also fantastic options for enjoying delicious Arab cuisine and both offer the option to buy a few rounds at a hookah pipe set up directly at your table.