“Wait, did you just see that?”
I nudge my wife with my free hand, the other gripping tightly onto the handrail overhead as our bus barrels down a mostly unremarkable stretch of factories and warehouses on the southern outskirts of Buenos Aires. “Did that sign say ‘Chinchu Pizza’?”
Chinchu, an affectionate shortening of chinchulines, is the small intestine of the cow. Across Argentina, where the animal is eaten from head to tail, they’re a staple at any respectable barbecue. The long strings of offal resemble dirty hoses more than edible pieces of meat. When chopped, they curl like oversized hoop earrings; left whole, they’re usually twisted together tightly like a long French braid. Once they hit the heat, most of the partially digested feed contained within pours out in a clumpy, opaque stream. When cooked poorly, they taste like a swamp and have the texture of stale gum.
“We’re in Lanús, baby—shit’s weird,” she replies, unfazed. “Of course someone put chinchu on a pizza.”
In Argentina, pizza is as common on the table as a piece of steak. It was introduced at the turn of the 19th century, when north Italians arrived to the young city in waves. Faina and fugazza were sold by street vendors and were the ground zero of local pizza. The former, known as farinata in Italy, is an unleavened pancake made from garbanzo beans; the latter is a take on focaccia.
Over time, the fugazza would morph into the city’s idiosyncratic pizza style: thick crust, crunchy dough, and handfuls of ingredients tossed on with reckless abandon. The sturdy pan pizza is the perfect medium to throw on whatever ingredients—and as much of them—as you want.
“The history of pizza here is a lot of folklore,” explains historian and local food scholar Carina Perticone. “There is very little documentation about how it evolved. Everyone has a story. Lots of people claim to have been the first to do this or that, but there is not a lot of evidence to really set a timeline.”
Brick-and-mortar pizzerias started popping up in the 1930s, mostly owned and operated by Spaniards. “When I was a kid, you headed to the Gallego [Spaniard] on the corner for a slice of pizza,” Perticone continues. Allegiance to Italian-style pizza was thin.
It was sometime around the 1950s or 60s that more esoteric flavor combinations began to creep in. Anything you might see on top of a cheese board started slowly making its way on top of pizzas. By the 1980s and 90s, flavors like the primavera—ham, cheese, red bell pepper, and a generous hand of hard-boiled egg and parsley—were part of the local vernacular.
At Güerrin, which is among the city’s most famous pizzerias, the menu offers more than 100 different combinations, including blue cheese and octopus, glazed ham and baby shrimp, chicken breast and oranges, ham and banana, and a whole section dedicated to cream and mayonnaise.
Across the street at Los Inmortales, I tried a pizza blanketed with an entire jar of pickled asparagus, plus flakes of Parmesan cheese. I stopped over at Los Maestros, where they’re known for throwing fried eggs and sliced bell peppers on top of ordinary cheese pizza. I also tasted their palmitos pizza, dressed with crunchy heart of palm, hard-boiled egg, and salsa golf—mayonnaise and ketchup blended together. I had a different version at Las Palmas back by the Lanús train station, where they hold the special sauce, but add a pineapple round and ham.
Now, huge semi trucks rake up a cloud of dust and exhaust as I make my way back to Chinchu Pizza. Juan Bak, the owner and the self-proclaimed ‘King of Chinchulines’, greets me with a small amuse-bouche of grilled intestines doused with chimichurri between two rounds of toasted French bread.
In 2000, he opened La Parrilla de Juan, a barbecue stand built into the front of his house. One night, the kitchen was closed but a party was raging, and all that was left over from the day were some intestines and pizza dough. It stuck. Initially, it was an off-menu item for regulars; 20 years later, it has a cult following and a prominent place on the menu.
“People either love it or hate it,” Bak explains, “but the people who love it come from far away and keep coming back.”
While the combos at Güerrin seem almost ashamed of themselves, camouflaging their weirdness under mountains of cheese, Bak embraces the absurdity of his invention. His pizza spills over with copper-colored intestines that crackle and crunch, as well as green olives, salty potato chips, and his signature green sauce.
This month, he’s planning a total renovation. He’s going to build a wood-burning oven and introduce a variety of pizzas themed around different cuisines: Lithuanian, German, Russian, and Polish, though his lips were sealed when I pressed him for details.
Whether they—like the chinchu pizza before them—will become classics remains yet to be seen, but they’ve got to be better than chicken breast and oranges.
Av. Corrientes 1368
+54 9 11 4371 8141 Los Inmortales
Av. Corrientes 1369
+54 9 11 4373 5303 Los Maestros
+0810 222 0007 Pizzeria Las Palmas
Av. Hipólito Yrigoyen 4498, Lanús Oeste
+54 9 11 4240 4554 Chinchu Pizza
Remedios de Escalada de San Martín 2688, Valentín Alsina
_+54 9 11 4218 5107