The capital of Argentina is Buenos Aires. It is an outwardly ultra cosmopolitan city, often called the “Paris of Latin America”. Haute couture is commonly sported, and cuisine can match the high standards. The city is similar in feel to a Western European city. However, beneath this cosmopolitan and sophisticated surface, there is the Latin American passion for life. Buenos Aires is just as sensual and seductive as it is cosmopolitan.
Cordoba is a favorite vacation spot for many Argentines, but it is often overlooked by outsiders. It is a very picturesque and simplistically beautiful. There are gently burbling rivers from the mountains and hills in the Sierras de Cordoba of the Andes foothills, all the way to the sea. The riversides house many idyllic villages. These rivers are not very creatively named Primer, Segundo, Tercero, and Cuarto - First, Second, Third, and Fourth. People often picnic alongside the rivers. The rivers themselves run with supposedley therapeutic mineral waters, originating from the mountain tops with crystal streams and rocky waterfalls.
The cuisine here is also simple as well as traditional. It is more conservative than Buenos Aires. The cuisine is full of creole food and dishes like empanadas and crudites with fancier dips. There are many distinguished churches and universities here, amonth the largest and most respected in Latin America. Cordoba is the center for education, fine arts, archietecture, and other forms of high culture.
If beef (and meat in general, really) is such a signifcant part to the Argentine cuisine, it’s no wonder that barbecues are just as essential. Beef is often cooked until medium, rather than rare like it is more commonly prepared in the United States. Another difference between the American and Argentine culinary ways with beef is that Americans commonly cook the T-bone steak, whereas it is not common in Argentina. Also, most meats in Argentina, in line with their cuisine’s philosophy, is very simple. It is only marinated in seasoned olive or grapeseed oil, then salted, then grilled over charcoal.
So, what is the barbecue called? An asado. These asados are a common part of the culture. The Argentine people are very friendly, and very easily welcome visitors, even foreigners, to their home-based asados. These home-based asados are all-day events, featuring a variety of grilled meats. Preparation begins in the morning, while guests arrive around noontime. The multiple courses are served when they are ready from the grill. First is a beef or pork sausage. Next is the chinchulines: crunchy, salty, grilled small intestines. This is not the most appealing of foods to one from the United States. However, in Argentina, animal organs and other various parts, such as the inkbags of an octopus, are used in cooking too. After the chinchulines is another organ meal, usually with kidney, sweetbreads, hearts, and sometimes mountain oysters.
A large group asado may roast an entire quarter of beef, a whole lamb, or a whole pig. A smaller group may roast a whole baby lamb or kid. Do not be alarmed - kid is a goat meat, not referring to human children. Sides include a variety of simple marinated vegetable and/or fruit salads, chimichurri sauce, and roasted marinated peppers. Desserts are simple, like a fruit bowl or alfajores, or filled cookies. The asado ends with the setting sun for these home-based asados. However, there are also asados in restaurants that the Argentines frequently eat at as well.
The Pampas are a very unique region in Argentina. It is truly the heartland of the country. Dry in the grasslands, the Pampas form an arc around Buenos Aires with many estancias, or cattle ranches. Besides the dry zone, there is also a humid zone.
When the Spaniards left the area to live in Uruguay for a more laid-back lifestyle than the heavier ranchwork here, they left behind many cattle and horses that have since multiplied and multiplied in population. Also, the native people of the area have burned the scrub growth on the ground, and as a result, grasses have flourished for an even more optimal environment for animals and game.
With all the horses and ranches, it is no wonder how the legendary gauchos lived and impacted the area. Gauchos are independent and self-reliant cowboys. The local cuisine, with the influence of such gauchos, is simplistic, wholesome, and oriented around beef. For example, the fairly common stew dishes in this area of the country feature 3-4 inch squares of beef, whole onions, yams, and potatoes, and oversized carrots. All the quantities are gigantic while the ingredients are few and basic.
Moving to the opposite side of the world and hemisphere, I have made the random and spontaneous decision to explore Argentina this week. I have never met someone from Argentina, nor am I very familiar with their culture, so it is going to be an enigmatic start. However, after researching some of the distinct regions, I have already fallen in love with the place.
Argentina is the second largest country in South America, and it is as long as the United States is wide. This means a lot of variety in geography. The country is most famous for its meat, as it is the number one producer of grass-fed beef in the entire world, along with corn and wheat. As for wine, it’s also at the top at number five. Basically, from my impression of the country based on what I’ve been researching and experiencing so far, the country is abundant with life - food, drink, and the latino “vivacity”, as author Shirley Lomax Brooks of Argentina Cooks! articulates it. It’s true. Dinnertime is at 10:00 pm, when the night is only just beginning for many. Wine is drinken by all ages of the population, including children, and at all meals except for breakfast. Beef and other poultry is also consumed at most meals, in many courses, and everyday. The poultry is all free-range as well! This just goes to show how natural and abundant the country is in foodstuffs.
So, who are the Argentine people? Ethnically speaking, Argentines are the descendants of the European immigrants who first came to the country. These people came from Spain, Eastern Europe, the British Isles, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and later, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Levant. There are also local Indian tribes within the country. This cultural and ethnic mix made its impact on the cuisine. Argentine cuisine is Italian with a Spanish flair, dependent on quality ingredients while less reliant on spices (a true deviation from last week’s Indian cuisine!), generally meat-centered, and overall very simple and hearty.