If you’ve ever been to San Telmo on a Sunday (and let’s face it, we all have), you would have seen market stalls selling antique seltzer siphon bottles. These beautiful old bottles display the history of Argentina’s love affair with seltzer.
And it’s a history that continues to be written. In Buenos Aires, bottles of seltzer in siphon bottles, now made from plastic, are still delivered to peoples’ doors, much like the way that milk used to be delivered in the United States and elsewhere.
Seltzer is just cold water injected with carbon dioxide. It’s the carbon dioxide that gives it a fresh, fizzy taste. The siphons keep the carbonated water under pressure. This keeps the water cool and stops the carbon dioxide from bubbling out of the solution.
Whether they’re made from colored glass or plastic, seltzer siphon bottles work the same: you put a glass to the nozzle, press the lever down, and out rushes your fresh, fizzy water.
In Argentina the people who do the delivering of the seltzer siphon bottles are called ‘soderos’ or ‘sifóneros’ – sifón meaning siphon in English of course – and the service costs on average about AR$1.50 for each 1.5L bottle, or a little more. [If you’re interested, one service is IVESS. What you should order is ‘sifones retornables,’ and if you do the sodero will pick up the empties when he brings new ones.
Another common place you’ll see seltzer siphon bottles in Argentina is at restaurants. It’s puzzling at first, but a lot of people (particularly the older set) order carafes of house wine along with a seltzer siphon, then mix the two (sometimes with ice) at their table. Voila, homemade wine spritzer!
Just about every restaurant that doesn’t cater solely to tourists has the option of ordering a ‘sifón de soda.’ The wine-and-seltzer combo is a very good idea. First of all it’s a refreshing drink on a hot day. Second, by adding water to the wine you’re making it less alcoholic, meaning you won’t get drunk (…or that you can drink more, take your pick). Third, it makes decidedly average house wine a bit more interesting and palatable.
Apparently the concept of getting seltzer siphon bottles home-delivered was brought to Argentina by Eastern European Jewish immigrants. A taste for seltzer quickly spread beyond the Jewish community and before long it became a national custom.
Interestingly enough, there’s at least one place in the United States where you can get seltzer in siphon bottles delivered to your door: South Florida, where a strong community of Argentine immigrants live. Sadly, the tradition is dying out, as the offspring of these immigrants aren’t so fussed about carbonated water and aren’t likely to demand that it be delivered to their door!
And the old seltzer bottles you can buy at the San Telmo markets? They’re a pretty cool item to buy as a souvenir. Two caveats though: don’t expect them to work, no matter what the salesman tells you, and sometimes the vivid color of the bottles comes from paint on the inside of the bottle rather than colored glass.