Tag Archives: asado

Latinos en Washington

9 Oct

Since I’ve moved to Washington, DC, it’s been relatively easy to continue practicing my Spanish. As you would expect in an international city with representation from almost the entire world, there are plenty of Latinos who live here. In fact, at least once a day I hear Spanish while walking in the streets, riding the bus, or heading to class on campus. It’s great for me, and I feel like being able to communicate with native Spanish speakers has opened up other doors to me. I’ve got a wide array of Spanish speaking friends and acquaintances here–a Paraguayan friend and his girlfriend, a Bolivian who grew up in Uruguay, a Columbian neighbor, a Peruvian on our soccer team, and more who I come across on a daily basis.

On Thursday night our intramural soccer team met up for dinner at a Mexican restaurant to discuss tactics, and soon we started talking about Lionel Messi and the World Cup qualifying matches that would be beginning soon. I soon started talking with our Meixcan server in Spanish and he laughed as I said words like “boludo” and “pelotudo”. He found it hilarious to hear them and tried comparing them to “pendejo” or “chinguero”.

I always try to stay in touch with the Argentinian roots that I learned to grow throughout the last two years, and usually wind up drinking mate at home while I study or have a Fernet at the end of the week. I’m now out of Fernet, but have found an Italian shop where they sell yerba for mate and Fernet, though at a marked up price. I’ve also investigated a bit for Argentine expats in Washington, and found CEGA, the Centro Argentino, for Argentinians and friends of Argentina who live in the United States. There are headquarters in Washington, DC, New York and Miami. The club now celebrates its 1oth year of existence, and it looks like it was founded by study abroad kids in Washington. I’ve already sent in my email for more information, and hopefully will be able to meet some other people around here who know how to make a good asado. So even though I’m removed from Latin America for now, in the United States you’re never really that far away.


The Power of an Asado

5 Jun

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.

A Visit to the Mataderos Sunday Fair

10 Apr

Mataderos Fair

A year and a half ago I met a tourist here who had visited the Mataderos Fair in the southwestern edge of the city of Buenos Aires (in the Mataderos neighborhood), and she told me it was an interesting experience that most tourists don’t check out. “I’ll get to it at some point,” I said to myself. Time came and went, as I was advised to avoid going in the winter and summer to miss the extreme weather. My plan to go with friends from work in the spring was thwarted by laziness, and finally we had a set date for the fall so that I wouldn’t miss out. Today we finally made it happen.

The Mataderos Fair is sort of similar to the San Telmo Fair, where you can find antiques and artistic crafts, though much less touristy and more local, with a certain focus on the gaucho and provincial culture. Mataderos is right on the edge of the city and gets its name from the market where the majority of the cattle in Buenos Aires have traditionally passed through on their last graze (mataderos means butchers). Ranchers still go into the market and from a catwalk can look down and pick out their cows. Our visit today was a bit less gruesome, though it involved a ton of food just the same. I jumped on the 34 bus in Palermo in the morning (grab it from Avenida Santa Fe and Darregeyra), taking it to the end of the line at the Liniers Station. This ride costs you $1.25 and was fairly fast, going straight across the city on Avenida Juan B. Justo, avoiding traffic on a Sunday morning. By 40 minutes in I got off in pure Latin America.

Carriages Crossing Through

My friend and boss Matías met me at the station and first showed me around Liniers and “Little Bolivia” where for better or worse, we were at a low altitude La Paz. Every thing was “Hair Saloon Bolivia,” “Super Chicken Bolivia,” or “Bolivian Travel Agency”. This was a far call from Recoleta and Palermo, though I felt right at home from my experience in Ecuador. Delicious looking street food was tantalizing and the clothes looked cheap enough to do some serious hunting, but we had other business. We took the 80 bus next ($1.20) to Mataderos, getting off by the Skate Park and walking by some stalls until reaching the fair.

For some reason I had thought that the fair was in a covered warehouse, but it’s just spread out in stalls over a couple of blocks, making use of a small square as well. First we walked around a bit and bought some inflated corn which reminded me of a less-sweet version of Corn Pops. Next I set my eyes on a long wafer filled with homemade dulce de leche, and for $1, I had no choice but to buy it. With all of the meat cooking and wafting in the air, our next obvious choice was to get a choripan (spicy sausage sandwich) which is always a starter to a big barbecue. As we walked around some more we saw that on sale were the typical things–giant gaucho knives, leather goods, fileteado paintings (typical Buenos Aires design), sweets and regional foods, and a number of other interesting knick knacks.

Vero and her boyfriend Tano arrived a little after we had finished the choripan and together, the four of us found a restaurant with an open table outside to eat some lunch. We settled on various cuts of meat, including mollejas (cow throat glands), which I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed. With the sun strong and burning me quickly, we filled up and moved on to watch typical folkloric dancing and gaucho games like the Carrera de Sortija, which I’d seen once before at an estancia. This is a game in which a gaucho will race on his horse to a post where a small ring hangs from a string. Using their bombilla (the straw for mate) they must catch the ring cleanly. It looks incredibly difficult but those who succeed do it with grace.

Folkloric Dancing

Content again, we moved on to buy candy and sweets that my friends remembered from their childhood. I was treated to a sugary lolly pop that I patiently worked on for about 25 minutes before I could take no more. It just wouldn’t disappear and required biting. Thinking of the cavities awaiting, I let it go and we walked around a bit longer until leaving. We enjoyed some mate as the sun set, and then it was time to head back home to the other side of the city. I had a really good time today because while I usually don’t go for the markets and fairs, especially as touristy as they come with San Telmo, there was a genuine authentic feel to this place. It was clear that I was one of the few foreigners there, and the market was laid back and family friendly.

If you’ve been in Buenos Aires for a while and are thinking of something new to do, or just don’t want to deal with the crowds at the San Telmo Fair, think about heading down to Mataderos, which is worth a visit.

Meat, Meat, and More Meat

“Dale. Boludo. Asado.”

1 Jan

New Years’ Day. 2011. The day started around 1 pm when a haunting Spanish song from some long past decade wafted into my room from the roof or a nearby building. Tired, but no hangover, that’s what not drinking much will do. So far the day was off to a good start, but how to kill the time. Breakfast, shower, and why not mosey over to Parque 3 de Febrero (aka the Palermo park with the lake) to read a book. Along the way I stumbled into what must have been the start of the Dakar Race which starts and ends in Buenos Aires. They’ve been setting up for this even for a few weeks now, and the continual buzz of the helicopter overhead with the lines of people told me it must have gotten underway.

I saw a couple motorcycles and cars go by but couldn’t see why people stood around for hours watching. In the park, cross-legged by the banks of the lake I opened the book but looked elsewhere. Across the lake I saw palm trees, a plane taking off from the domestic airport, and my past year. I saw specific occasions when I’d sat in this very area, and the people I was with, or the people I saw if I was alone. I’m still here, but they’re somewhere else. Bothered by the memories of good times past I decided to take off my shirt and lay down to soak up some sun. Being in an office five days a week takes away most of my chance to get a nice tan, and since I’m so fair skinned to begin with, a burn is the most likely result when I do get outside for an extended period of time.

Laying back I closed my eyes so my eyelids could get their share as well. All around me conversations seemed to melt into one as the wind blew dust and bits from the ground towards us. A thing happens when you’ve lived overseas and work hard enough at a language, that after a while you no longer have to think about what you’re hearing. You simply understand it, and don’t even need to process it. It’s such a level of fluency that it’s as if you’re speaking your native language. It neither affects you nor interests you, it’s simply a series of words which if don’t include threats based at you, don’t deserve your notice. Sometimes I forget I’m listening to or speaking in Spanish because it’s simply the language that I’m involved it.

But while laying back with my eyes closed, I couldn’t help but notice that after a while I kept hearing the exact same things over and over again, but from different voices. Now interested, I trained my ears to listen for certain words from the people walking by, and what I found just drilled home how funny and predictable Argentina can be sometimes. The most common words that I heard, in no particular order, were “Dale!” “Boludo,” and “Asado.” “Okay!” “Asshole” (among other translations), and “Barbecue.” To someone who’s never been to Argentina, you might not understand the context, but if you’ve spent enough time here you’ll know that these are three essential words to life in this country. The three magic words of Argentina.

Hooray for Random 3-Day Weekends!

21 Nov

This weekend is special because we are smack dab in the middle of spring and have the luxury of a three day weekend. Just a few weeks ago the government surprised us with a surplus of holidays for the upcoming year, and on Monday we’ll be celebrating the Day of Sovereignty. No one really seems to be totally sure of what this holiday exactly means or celebrates, but it has something to do with the navies of France and/or England sailing up the Parana River in the 19th century without permission. If I’m not mistaken, Argentina was mad and said, “Ohhh, what’s a-mattah you? This is our country, you can’t just sail your yacht through our backyard.” And apparently war was avoided because they respected Argentina’s right to sovereignty.

No one I’ve talked to really cares about the little details, but you will be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t want an extra day off in the best part of the year. It’s hot but not overbearingly hot like it will be in just a couple of weeks. Even the humidity has been fairly low recently, and upon going out for a run at dusk, you’ll find that the humidity is low, the breeze is perfect, there’s still light by 7:45 pm, and everyone is just in a general good mood. Spring always brings out the best in people.

I was thinking of going to Tigre today, and it would have been beautiful for it, but in the end went with laziness after an all-night salsa party with my new Peruvian friends once again in the neighborhood of Paternal. For the first time I feel I was invited to a legitimate and traditional parilla (barbecue). Not just a restaurant, work function, or picnic. With the birthday girls father, the men gathered on the roof of the house and surrounded the grill with low-heat charcoal, bullshitting over some drinks in the dark. Just a single light bulb illuminated the grill with the choripan (sausage) and meat. The full moon was so bright and stars were out that we probably didn’t even need the light bulb. It was the first time I’ve seen the stars since going to Chile and being in the countryside.

That’s the kind of parilla I’d imagined for a long time but struggled to find. Some kind of old dirty fire pit pieced together on an aluminum roof with years of experience rather than a pretty face. But the experience in the case of a parilla is the pretty face. Empanadas filled in the gap, of course, and we danced salsa long into the night. As I was leaving I thanked the father for the asado and he told me, “This was nothing, just a snack. You have to come back when I have a real asado.” I’m already salivating.


Día de Campo at Estancia El Ombú de Areco

7 Aug

El Ombu de Areco, San Antonio de Areco

Today I finally took advantage of a prize I won back in December and went for a day at an estancia in San Antonio de Areco. Really, the award had expired after three months, but the manager of Estancia El Ombú de Areco was kind enough to let me take advantage of it. The day was for two people, so I treated my English housemate Rory to the trip. Rory is in Buenos Aires for a couple of months doing volunteer/party work, and hadn’t yet gone into the countryside. We got pretty lucky with a nice day, and the temperature was said to get up to 15 or 16 degrees Celsius.

We left the apartment early in the morning, walking to Retiro to catch a 9:50 am bus. We got there after it was sold out and had to wait for the 10:25, so while we sat around I drank mate and Rory had a croissant and coffee. For our round trip tickets we paid $52 pesos with Chevallier. Once the two hour bus trip was complete and we arrived to the outpost bus stop, we quickly got into a remise (private taxi compay) for $35 and headed to the estancia. The festivities started at 11 am, so we showed up fashionably late, let’s say.

Gaucho horse taming

We were given a quick tour of the facilities, which included a pool (out of use for the winter), a living room with a pool table and fireplace, dining room, and stable area where you could sit and enjoy a fried empanada and welcome drink. Rory read a bit while I walked around taking pictures and enjoying the peace and quiet of the country. No cars or horns, and only the sounds of birds and animals which sound so foreign after spending too long in a city. The last time I got into the country was in June.

Lunch was a smorgasbord of meat, with pork, chicken, ribs, steak and sausage. However, we also did a good job on potatoes, coleslaw, salad and bread. I knew from experience to save room for the steak, but put the food to good use and kept my plate clean. It left me feeling a bit puffy after the bottle of wine we killed as well, but it was a challenge worth meeting. Besides, once the gaucho came out with dessert and played guitar and sang love songs, I wasn’t focusing on my stomach.

We were led to the yard where a horse taming demonstration was given, which I saw before in June at Estancia La Bamba de Areco. It’s amazing to see the cowboys get the horses to do whatever they want and without using violence or shouting. This time around I got some photos and videos, which I’ll mix into a video later on. The group of visitors was saddled up and we went for a lengthy horseback ride around the property and to a river, when we started to head back as it got chillier. My horse had a mind of its own and I don’t think it appreciated it when I called it “fatty”, so he sped off faster than I’ve ever been on a horse. After the half a bottle of wine I was holding on for dear life. I’m not sure if drinking and horseback riding is illegal, but it’s definitely not recommended.

We had to get our bus back to the city at 5:25 pm, so unfortunately couldn’t stay any longer once we made it back to the main house. Even though the pampas are fairly boring open plains, it’s a breath of fresh air, and I always enjoy getting out of the city for an afternoon. Maybe when my friends from Ecuador arrive in a week or so we’ll head out again.

The patio area