One of the most traditional and fun things that you can do while in Argentina is attend an asado, or barbecue. You always see those typical grills anytime you walk down a street, and giant slabs of meet slowly cooked over low heat charcoals waft deliciousness through the air. The only thing is, and this might be hard to believe, but I’ve never had success in finding invitations to these events, even while other foreigners always boast about theirs. You have to first know someone who has a grill in the city, which can be tough, and then know someone who has a grill who’s nice enough to invite you. Try as I have in the past to be invited to asados, invitations have been few and far between, leaving me with a feeling of rejection, or what have you. But last night I was invited to maybe my second or third asado while here. Oddly enough, no one there was Argentinian.
Maria del Mar and Nick are two friends who I met a year ago while watching the U.S. and England play in the World Cup. Maria del Mar is from Guayaquil, Ecuador and Nick is from a village in England, and while Maria and I could talk about Ecuador (Nick as well lived there), Nick and I can enjoy English conversations. We don’t get to meet up too much, but this week Maria invited me to an asado, and I had interpreted it as being a lunch time affair. I wound up waiting around all day for the message on what time to go, finally being told it was at 7-8 pm. I was starved by 4 pm. I did my best to show up fashionably late and at 8 o’clock rang the bell to find that I was the first one there, even before Maria del Mar and Nick. The girl who was hosting us, Stephi (another girl from Guayaquil) had been napping until 7:30 pm. You just never know what “on time” is.
Nick got right to work on firing up the grill, starting by piling up the charcoal in the back left corner and lighting newspaper and cardboard to get it hot. With no lighter fluid, he simply fanned the flames until the coals became hot enough, and once we had a good and consistent temperature, he flattened them across the grill bottom. I noted how in the United States people are usually in such a rush to eat that they douse the coals with lighter fluid and then light it up before it can even soak in. This simply burns the fluid and the coals soon expire. I’d even go so far as to say the lighter fluid changes the taste of the food for the worse.
In command all night, Nick piled on the ridiculous amount of meat while the girls brought out cubes of cheese, and with our drinks we tried to stay warm. Last night was one of the first truly bitter cold nights we’ve had in Buenos Aires, a horrible preview of things to come. Standing directly in front of the parrilla, we chatted as more people showed up, though together we consisted of an odd group. There were the girls from Guayaquil, plus another guy from Guayaquil who’s dad was German. He looked like no Ecuadorian I’d ever seen, and had lived in Germany for a part of his life, giving him a German accent on his English. His girlfriend was from Brazil, and a couple from England were joined by another couple from Australia. More people were supposed to come, but we found ourselves happy with the food we had before us.
Though I didn’t know most of the people there and was the odd man out by coming alone, we had no trouble in mixing it up and getting to know each other while waiting for the food to cook. I’d been told once that a tradition of an asado is the other guys standing around always make fun of the person cooking. I guess it’s a preemptive bashing before they need to give thanks for the great meal. Eager and hungry, our eyes fixed back on the grill at least every three seconds, as if willing it would cook it faster. And eventually the meat was ready, with Nick announcing it proudly as the girls brought out a couple of trays.
Choripan with chimichurri and three cuts of meat were available, and after Nick cut out pieces directly on the grill we would stand up and eat straight off the bone with our hands. It was so natural and carnivorous, it made me feel like a caveman sitting around a fire eating red meat with the juices running down my mouth, but in a good way. We each helped ourselves to about four helpings of steak and at the end, had to be forced to finish off what was left. All together it was only $23 pesos per person which is a total steal when you consider the value of that meal.
Long after the food was finished we sat around talking in the cold night, and it made me want more of these experiences. I’m quite certain that if I had worked more asados into my experience here, it would be one of the things I’d miss most. No matter where you come from or what you do, everyone can be joined together in their desire to stand around and eat some meat, save the vegetarians. And that’s a pretty sweet thing.