Layne Mosler has spent years following the dining whims of her cab drivers. Emily Flake joins her for a night on the town ...
Special to MORE INTELLIGENT LIFE
"Tengo una pregunta media rara," Layne Mosler announces, sliding into the cracked back seat of the taxi. "I have a somewhat odd question." An American writer living in Buenos Aires, this is her opening gambit. She will then ask the location of the cabbie's favourite place to eat, and whether he might be willing to take her there. It's a simple but brilliant idea, transforming an ordinary cab ride into an impromptu tour and mobile Zagat guide at once.
Drivers have proven game. After a few moments of confusion, most understand the premise, relax and wind up the chatterbox that seems to lurk in the throat of every porteño cabbie. In her three years in Buenos Aires, Mosler has mastered the Italian-inflected Argentine Spanish called castellano (pidgin Spanglish would likely render her adventures very short). Significantly, she doesn't seem to mind the way drivers like to gesticulate and make eye contact while barrelling down the street.
Mosler's fascination with Argentine cab drivers was born of a love of tango. "When I started dancing tango I was taking cabs regularly," she explains. "I realised they were teaching me more than anyone else about the politics, culture and philosophy of Buenos Aires. So I decided to combine my fascination with them, and their obvious underground knowledge of the city, with my obsession with food and finding untouristed restaurants." She has a popular blog about her experiences, "Taxi Gourmet".
Mosler is a pretty brunette with a slight build, despite her adventurous palate. (She claims the long walks home from her outings keep her trim; a hollow leg seems more likely.) She likes when people tag along on her dining adventures, especially as this makes it safer for her to conduct her tours after dark.
Her drivers are a memorable array of characters. She recalls Rene, a 42-year old sculptor and Buddhist with a whippet frame. He was dieting the day Mosler entered his cab. "I can take you to where I had a delicious sandwich yesterday," he explained, "but I can't eat there today." Hernàn drove her to his favourite pizza place, but insisted that he be allowed to eat with her, and worked to woo her all the while. One driver refused to take her anywhere at all; he had picked her up across the street from his favourite restaurant.
In the spring I found myself joining Mosler on a trip to Sigue la Vaca (Follow the Cow), at the suggestion of a taxista called Charly, who likes to go there after a long day of fishing in the nearby Rio Plata. A buffet-style meat palace (pictured), it has the brightly lit, family-friendly feel of cheerful mid-priced restaurants the world over. What makes it uniquely Argentine is the food, at once superb and served in absurdly generous portions. Patrons stagger under the weight of their beef-laden plates, and then go back for thirds. Another site-specific element is the moment when a waitress comes to tie your bag to your chair with some plastic, an act of vigilance against purse-snatchers.
Mosler has just brought her experiment stateside. In June she began her Taxi Gourmet adventure in New York, a place where no fewer than 13,000 cabbies can show her the way to Gotham's culinary treasures. "Like a lover of literature who knows he'll never read everything on his book list, I could spend the rest of my life eating in New York and die without exposing my palate to everything there is to consume," she writes in her inaugural post. "Here, flavor is infinite... I'm placing my food fate in their hands (but I'm bringing pepper spray just in case)."
Mosler is excitedly colonising a new city, a place rich with ethnic-food ghettos. (Already she has consumed Indian-Chinese food, and spicy ramen in Queens, and African cuisine in the Bronx.) "I moved to Queens because it's the most diverse county in the United States," she explains to me, "and because it happens to be where the majority of New York cabbies live." After only ten days in the neighbourhood, she has sampled a humbling cornucopia of foods: kunefe from a Palestinian bakery in Little Egpyt, Bosnian cevapi, handmade fuzzi pasta from Istria. "Queens has so much food that I've never tasted--Indian-Chinese, Uzbek, Guyanese," she says with infectious breathlessness. "I'm hoping the taxi drivers here can show me the way to some new flavours."
Despite New York's endless foodie riches, Mosler ponders other locations for her cab-based food tourism. Over a recent meal, she proposed trying her experiment in London. This pronouncement made her dining companions wince. "That's gonna cost you a fortune," one said. "And the food..." chimed in another, trailing off doubtfully.
Picture credit: jonrawlinson, Layne Mosler