Tag Archives: meat

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

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.


Saturday at the Agricultural Fair

1 Aug

My plan for Saturday had been to go to Estancia El Ombú de Areco in the pampas, but heavy rains on Friday changed my mind. I know from experience that even if it’s a nice day, rains from earlier in the week can ruin a day in the country. As a result, I rescheduled the estancia for next Saturday. Instead, I was offered tickets to the Rural Society’s 134th Agricultural Exhibition, which is being held in Palermo until Tuesday. The last couple of weeks have been abuzz with this fair, which is one of the most important in the country. As an agronomic-based culture, Argentina loves its livestock, and this fair promises to award the best in the nation and display over 4,000 animals.

Even with a late start on the day, we rode the bus through traffic on the bright, sunny afternoon up to Palermo. We got there just in time however, because while the crowd was already large, we got in quickly. As we left later on, the line wrapped down around the block and walking though people was difficult. While agricultural fairs are interesting for a short while, a “city boy” like myself can only look at a giant tractor for so long before losing interest. My main goal of the event was to get a nice steak sandwich, assuming I couldn’t just pick out my own cow.

Large amounts of people waiting by a rodeo ring tricked us into wasting about 10 minutes, hoping for something big to happen, but finally we realized it was a lost cause, so we moved on. There was a warehouse with horses, some proudly displaying their awards for best in show, others not quite so proud. Another warehouse held the chickens, another with pigs, and another with bovines. The most striking thing about the event was how commercialized it was. You couldn’t take two steps without seeing an advertisement or waving flag for Ford or Toyota. But that comes with the territory.

When I lived in Palermo I had a view of the Rural Society from my balcony and was always trying to figure out why they had a huge empty lot that looked like a daisy cutter had cleared it out. I finally figured it out when I saw the 4×4 truck obstacle course set up. Guests were able to wait in line (a long, long line) and get a ride with a professional driver going up extreme inclines and over shaky log see-saws. The rain from the day before added a nice touch to the course. We watched for a while but had no intentions of going for a ride. Steak was on our minds.

We did finally pick a spot out of the so many available options, though I was sort of disappointed with the prices. I expect that if you pay a ticket price for a fair, you should get cheaper meat inside, if you can’t get free samples. All the ticket gave was the right to be gauged, and a small bife de chorizo sandwich ran me $20 pesos. It wasn’t a bad sandwich, but it wasn’t the best I’ve ever had either. Ultimately, I wasn’t satisfied and needed something else. Some provinces had set up stands with information on touristic things, so we quickly checked out the Chubut and Salta stalls. Immediately after leaving we ran into the cheese and meat stands, where I was happily satiated.

Samples, though small and not overly generous of cheese and deli meet were given out by women screaming that we should take advantage of the good deals and buy something. We walked around to a few stands sampling and hearing the same thing before I gave in and bought a strudel filled with dulce de leche for $6. It was worth it. Our last stop at the bovine stand got me up close with the brahman cows, a breed I’ve never seen before. I think it’s one of the oddest looking species I’ve ever seen. With a head similar to a dog or donkey, a large hump by the back like a camel, and the body of a bull, these large beasts seem docile enough, though I wouldn’t want to get on their bad side.

Tons of gauchos were sitting around sipping mate or tending to the animals, and for the time, they run this section of Buenos Aires. We only needed to stay for a couple of hours to get our agro-fill for a couple of years, and while they brought us the farm this week, next week I’ll be going to the country.