The poetry of Argentinian asado

The gaucho myth is linked to the veneration of chargrilled meat, lamb or beef, strictly not hanged

23-12-2016

Part four

Our Argentinian week - aside from the arrival in the night in Buenos Aires and a handful of hours in an excellent hotel, even in terms of breakfast, Alvear Art Hotel in the Retiro neighbourhood - was first spent in Bariloche and then in the capital. A few important details worth noting down, starting from the fact that the capital doesn’t overlook the sea. One should know it, but Rio de la Plata is so wide, over 100 km in that point, that you’d think the capital overlooks the sea, or at least it is close to the ocean. Well no it’s not, it’s almost like Milan compared to Venice and its lagoon. There’s muddy freshwater, which hardly invites you to dive and fish. The local seafood culture is very poor, the opposite to the formidable importance of meat.

The second thing to understand immediately is that a place close by would be considered distant in Europe. Bariloche is “only” a couple hours flight away, close and not too far. But everything changes. Thinking of Italy, it’s a bit like thinking of Sicily from Switzerland. Plus it tends to be empty. And we haven’t visited the most authentic part of Patagonia. Bariloche was forged by the Germans, especially after WWII. Its beauty is spectacular.

In a province like the one of Rio Nero, it’s a point of reference connected with the Andes, with Chile right beyond the first tops, covered in snow even in the summer, separated by the Atlantic coast by some one thousand kilometres to the east. Between these two extremes, there are the arid spaces of the Estepa, the steppe, and the humid and fertile Valley. The myth of the pampa completes the picture even though the pampa is mostly closer to Brazil, towards the north, and not towards the south, and the Antarctic Sea.

This, generally speaking, as then they take you “round the corner”, just an hour by bus, and the discussion moves to the legend of the gauchos, the cowboys of Latin America. Agustin Arias, director of Estancia San Ramon, and of others too, guides us on the first day. He immediately tells us where to put our feet. The soil is covered in ash, it’s impossible to stay clean: «The volcanoes are in Chile, when they erupt it’s us in Argentina who stand the consequences. All the dirt here comes from Puyehue: it started its eruption in June 2011 and stopped flights for 9 months, basically isolating the area».

It was a long morning on the banks of the river, spent with Mariana Muller, owner of restaurant Cassis near Bariloche, and speaker at Identità Milano in March, who’s in charge of the dining room on the bank of the river, and German Martitegui, chef at Tegui in Baires, who’s here to enrich his culture of products from Patagonia in view of the four-handed dinner at the end of the week in the capital.

The outdoor life of the gauchos was a recurring theme. Says Agustin: «Some people are very conservative, but if you make them understand the reason behind some actions, you’ll conquer them». A gaucho then cooked for the group at sunset. Even in this case, in a place “next door” to where we were. But then you learn soon that most of the roads are dirt roads and during the journey you can try to take a nap and absorb the jet lag. Which is just four hours but if you sleep little you can feel them all.

Next to the fire, we find a lamb fixed in a cross and bent enough so as to get the heat from the flames. On the horizontal grill there are different cuts of beef, ribs with their meat and fat. Poetry, as I’ve always dreamt of this moment, eating meat at sunset under the sky of the southern hemisphere. And with people ready to explain each step, one above all: Argentinians don’t hang the meat. When they kill the cattle, they don’t wait weeks before it can be sold in the shops. Another world.

4. To be continued. Read part one, two and three


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