After spending a year in Buenos Aires as part of my undergraduate degree, I never quite managed to ditch the steak and Malbec addiction I developed in my time there. I revisited the city that stole my carnivorous heart last July and have just returned from from what is now my third trip to Argentina. I spent a week in Buenos Aires, but first visited Patagonia and its marvellous Perito Moreno glacier, as well as walking through the picturesque mountains of El Chalten.
While beef might be boss in Buenos Aires, the Patagonian plains are not as kind to cows as the lush pampas surrounding the country’s capital and interior. Replacing the beef, there are lots of little lambs…yet let’s not get sentimental thinking of a Patagonian little bow peep. Instead, I invite you to marvel at the beauty of cordero patagónico, cooked all day long over a wood burning fire.
Eaten with vegetables a la parrilla and accompanied by a bottle of Malbec, I really wondered why it had taken me three trips to Argentina to reach this part of the country.
Proving not all I do when on holiday is eat, I’ll include a photo of the foot of the Fitzroy mountain, the climax of a seven hour hike to the Laguna de los Tres (it also happened to be the lunching spot of choice, but after a four hour walk, who wouldn’t want a bit of food in their belly?!).
I filled my sandwich with matambre, a thin cut of beef filled with vegetables, hard-boiled eggs and plenty of spices, all rolled up and then cooked. Making plain ham look practically vegetarian, this cold cut was my new meat fetish of the trip. My new found fancy for this cold cut continued once back in Buenos Aires, and at the Feria de Mataderos I bought myself a nice big slice of the stuff.
The Feria of Mataderos is a market in Buenos Aires and is a must see for any tourist in the city. Far less fancy than the fairs in Recoleta or San Telmo, Mataderos has food stalls galore with tasty regional treats such as empanadas from the north or huge helpings of locro, a corn and chorizo stew.
Tempted by the regional meals, I was unable to resist a porteño classic: a cut of vacio, meat from the flank of the cow. This is one of the few cuts I prefer to eat medium done rather then red raw; the fat crisps up and adds a caramel flavour, while the flesh itself is has a buttery quality. I’ve been told by a reliable source with reputable asador credentials that this is the real cut of the asado, much more so than a typical steak. And who am I to argue with an Argentinian man and his grill?
With our bellies full and thirst quenched by some light, locally brewed lager, we had a snoop around the stalls. As well as a great range of foods to munch in the moment, the fair also has a wide selection of traditional Argentine foods to take home. My eyes were drawn to the selection of fiambres, the cold cut meats. Fiambres are key in a the Argentine picada, a mixed tray of nibbles consisting of cured meats, cheese, olives and a variety of pickle-like things, often brought out before a big asado while you wait for the meat. The feria had some great picada fillers on offer, and we brought some to make our own en casa.
Empanadas are found all over Latin America, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the Argentinians do it best! I prefer them al horno (baked), as the majority of the Argentine ones are, given the exception of some seriously stodgy but oh-so-good fried meat varieties. Mentioned in my previous post on Buenos Aires, El Nono Amigo has some of my favourite empanadas in the city, mainly due their artichoke flavor. However on this visit, the title of top empanadas in the city could go to El Origen del Sabor, where a whopping thirty-two flavors will leave you in pasty paradise.
I opted for two carne al cuchillo, along with one chicken empanada and the specialty flavor ‘del bosque’– a genius combo of mozzarella and caramelised onion mixed with mushroom and red wine. Shared between two with a rocket and avocado salad, these empanadas were the perfect pasty punch to a generally balanced and healthy-ish meal.
Just as well I ate some salad in the trip, as otherwise it was a fatty fiesta that I repent not one bit. Forget the use of phrases such as ‘holiday indulgence’ – when in Argentina, eating all the red meat your body permits and drinking exclusively red wine is just common sense.
This sound logic was in full force when I visited El Pobre Luis, a typically porteño parrilla in Chinatown. The walls are adorned with various football shirts from local and national teams and the grill is in plain view for all hungry eyes to ogle and assess. For starters I ordered two of my favourite things to come off the grill; mollejas (sweetbreads) and morcilla (black sausage).
Although a cut of offal, mollejas are no cheap off-cut; little thymus glands, these can come from either the neck or the heart, and owing to their small size they are actually quite costly. Grilled properly, it’s as if they’ve been cooked in cream – they’re that tender and juicy. My Argentinian companion complained they had too much fat, but for a girl who’s not eaten these glorious glands for over a year and a half, they seemed just perfect to me. We accompanied our mollejas with a portion of morcilla, the Argentine black pudding. Not one for the squeamish, this bloody sausage just oozes offally goodness.
The star of the show was the classic bife de chorizo, what all foreigners come in search of (well, at least I do!). Cooked medium rare, with no sauce or extra seasonings, this steak was a perfect demonstration of when simple is best. Good quality meat cooked by expert asadores = a winning combination every time.
I was reunited with my old friend tripe, or mondogo, on this trip, a dish I hadn’t eaten since Colombia. The Colombian take on tripe tends to be in a sancocho de mondogo, cooked with lentils and starch vegetables, whereas this Argentine version was far more Spanish inspired, cooked with chorizo, paprika, vegetables and potatoes. A filling lunch for less than £3, I washed my plate down with table wine and soda water. Bliss.
To round off I feel like I should touch upon something I ate that isn’t an animal organ. One main issue I always had with Argentine cuisine was the breakfast; or, better put, the lack of it. Many Argentinians I know are happy to start the day with just a coffee and some toastadas, toast made from crappy white bread topped with cream cheese, dulce de leche, jam, or all three. No filling and wholesome porridge, and certainly no avocado on toast.
While I don’t consider plain white toast for breakfast very ground-breaking, a properly baked medialuna is certainly worth getting out of bed for. Like a French croissant but with a denser, less flaky dough, these can either made sweet with manteca (butter), or savoury with grasa (fat), and are perfect accompaniment to a café con leche. Hardly a healthy option anyway, if early morning sugar rushes be your thing, you can go all-out and choose variations filled with dulce de leche, cream or jam – or again, maybe all three!
From daily beef steaks to buttery pastries filled with caramel for breakfast, it’s fair to say I didn’t leave Argentina hungry. Back in London, I’m laying off the red meat for a bit and rediscovering the joys of vegetables (but still believe I could consist on a diet of offal alone). For now, it’s goodbye Buenos Aires…hasta la proxima.