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Monday, November 05, 2007

The Argentina Asado Experience

Editor's Note:  This post is a guest post of our new friend Daniel K, a North American living in Buenos Aires. This is an awesome article on the meat eating spectacle you will find at an Argentine Asado. Daniel does a great job of translating many of the cuts of beef here too, which will help any English speaking traveler in Argentina since even a translated English menu in Buenos Aires will still usually just say "Bife de Lomo" and not filet mignon.  We welcome you to write on this blog too if you are ever interested in contributing!  If you are an Expat living in Argentina, or if you are in the planning stages of your move, and you want to write about your experience, then send me an email or post a comment to the blog, be sure to include your contact info!

Diplomacy Through Beef Consumption

If you look up the translation of the word ASADO to English, you get barbeque. But anyone who is multilingual will tell you that translations are almost never perfect. Yes, asado is the Argentine version of a barbeque, but seldom will you find a hotdog or hamburger on the grill. Instead you will find the most amazingly flavorful and different (from America, at least) cuts of meat ever.

These cuts will normally include:

  • Asado, which in addition to meaning “grill” or “barbeque,” indicates the rib meat cut across the bones to make a long string of 2-inch cut ribs hooked together.
  • Vacio, which is flank steak, but you’ve never tasted anything like it.
  • Bife de chorizo, the same as a porterhouse cut, but it’s Argentine beef.
  • Bife de lomo, filet mignon.
  • Colita de cuadril, literally “calf-tail, ” another cut from the rear of a young cow.
  • And many others that would take me pages to list.

And this is just the more common cow meat! They will also grill lamb, pork (costilla de cerdo, which are pork ribs… amazing!), goat (cavro or cavrito), chicken and my favorite, achuras.
Achuras are the parts of the animals that Americans do not eat (at least not normally). They consist of chorizo, morcilla, chinchulines, molleja, riñon, and tripa gorda. These would be, in order:

  • Sausage, pork or beef—you have to ask to figure out which—that is always very tasty.
  • Blood sausage, also black pudding or blood pudding, which is better cold in my opinion.
  • Intestine, um… did they clean out the inside of this cow’s gut before cooking it?
  • Thymus or pancreas gland, sweetbreads—wondrous if cooked right!
  • Kidney, which I never got used to eating. 
  • Tripe, yikes. (What is tripe? Usually the first of the 3 stomach chambers of the cow.)

Besides the food at the asado, the process itself is half the fun. One can easily spend 12 hours on the whole process by going to a country (same word, but pronounced with an Argentine accent—flip the “r”) or quinta, both of which refer to a house outside of the city where one would typically find expansive, flat green land lined with beautiful trees and perhaps a swimming pool. This day could consist of the following: up at 10am; shopping for food/drink until 11; figuring out rides and transportation until noon; arrival; glass of wine (Argentine wine is spectacular, check out or Fernet with Coke; start the fire around 2, the asador (grillman) minds the fire and cooks while everyone chills out in the pool, kicks the soccer ball or chit-chats. At around 4, depending on the size of the group, the meat should be done. Starting with the achuras first, you begin your feast and attempt to pace yourself, which almost never works. With the salad and potatoes that the women prepared, (yes, it is a traditional, Latin, and somewhat chauvinistic culture) you will find yourself full after the first course. The asador will then bring out different cuts of meat on a wooden cutting board, which you cannot resist. If you are the foreigner in the mix, everyone will be asking you, “Probaste la carne Argentina? Te gusta la carne?” And if you want to be funny and cause a ruckus you could say that you had the best asado of your life in Uruguay the week before. Argentines will surely love this commentary. 

The meal will end around 5 or so, after which the drinking really begins. Wine and Fernet are usually the favorites, but it depends on the group and the temperature as beer (usually Quilmes) is also a favorite. As is common in other parts of the world, the party will last for a few hours or until the supplies run out. Be sure not to play Truco (traditional Argentine card game based on deception and lying—very typically Argentine) for money under these conditions. You are sure to lose.

Later in the night, as people start to crave something sweet, the delivery ice cream service will be called. Yes, that’s right: DELIVERY ICE CREAM. I purposefully discard the telephone numbers (is this true???—asks my cousin after reading this blog) for these places from my home as frequent visits from one, Angie O’Plasty, would certainly follow my constant ordering of ice cream. In fact, the true secret of Argentina, besides the wine, is the ice cream. You can order kilos of extremely high quality ice cream in all sorts of flavors for delivery. After eating the ice cream, you will find it hard to function because of the abuse you just put on your digestive system. People will not start leaving until 10pm or so and, of course, there are asados that start later and end later, until the wee hours of the morning depending on the crowd. Just be sure that for any asado you attend, after everyone has sat down, started to eat the meat—the key is that they must have tried the meat—and begins to yell “Aplausa para el asador,” you clap loudly because this is to show your appreciation for the work that the grillman has done for you.

Diplomacy through beef consumption!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

And don't forget the chimchurri sauce, it is the best! ¡Que rico!

11/07/2007 12:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That sounds about right. You are forgetting the picada though. An argentine tradition that takes after the italian "antipasto" (most argentine traditions are spawned from other places, as you might have noticed), and consists of a selection of cold meats (or "fiambre", as we call them) and various cheese types. All with lots of bread, the thick argentine version of the french baguette. Bread is as crucial to an argentine table as meat (while in america I found it so weird that they don't give you a bread basket with your meals at restaurants, which is tradition in Argentina).
Fiambres can include various types of salame, bondiola, mortadela (made from horse meat... yummy), matambre, jamón, longaniza... ohh, so much good stuff. Best way to find out what each thing is, is to go to your nearest store and order one of each!!!
And just to keep the "tradition" description going, the picada will usually be served on small bowls and wooden boards, prepared by the non-grilling men while the women make the salads.
Most common salads during argentine asados: Mixta (lettuce, tomato and onions) and potatoe salad (cold potatoes in cubes, with boiled egg and lots of mayo... among other thigns that vary according to the household). Of course, other saladas are served, but those are the two that are almost always there (specially potatoe salad, it aint an asado without one).

11/07/2007 03:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And ideally, the picada will be accompanied by a nice vermouth and soda (Cinzano or Gancia). Ahh... there's a perfect day for you.

11/13/2007 12:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"(while in america I found it so weird that they don't give you a bread basket with your meals at restaurants, which is tradition in Argentina)."

I don't know where you must have eaten, but bread baskets are almost always placed on tables in decent American restaurants. Hell, even some really crappy places like Ryan's put bread baskets out. Some local mom and pop places don't use them, but then half of those places are breeding grounds for E. Coli and Salmonella.

11/15/2007 02:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Here in Italy we love asado !!

11/18/2007 07:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice writeup, just a few nits to pick:

- it's "cabrito" & "cabra", with the former usually referring to the meat & the later to the animal itself;

- "bife de chorizo" is a strip steak; the porterhouse (the choicest t-bone cuts, from the rear end of the tenderloin) contains both the strip & the tenderloin on either side of the t-bone

- "colita de cuadril" is literally "tail of the rump", called a tri-tip sirloin in the States.

11/18/2007 07:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your article. As an Argentine native I find it both flattering and amusing. A couple of observations, just to contribute to the enlightment: tripa is not the stomach (mondongo, for us), but the large intestine, while chinchulines are the small intestines. And yes, we carefully wash them both inside and out, and wash and pre-treat the kidneys as well.
And remember that, along with the beers, aperitifs and wine, we will probably drink tons of mate, as well.
Thanks once more,
Silvia Nava Hale.

11/27/2007 08:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am an argie married to an english man and i had to explain what asado is to lots of people lots of times.. and i think this description is the best I ever read!!

excellent blog!! and I'm glad you are enjoying all my country has to offer!!

2/22/2008 07:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never travelled to Argentina, but have been to neighbouring Chile on numerous occasions. Your description of a typical Sunday asado sounds very similar to the Chilean get-togethers I've experienced when visiting Chile. Reading your article brings back fond memories of the spectacular food and the warm spirit of the South American people.

2/27/2008 06:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. That sounds fun...and tasty. Can't wait to try it.

11/28/2008 02:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best Italian tradition in Argentina is the "Bagna Cauda" (in Castellano: Baña cauda).

Don't leave the country without eating that. Use menaces, rants, crying, blackmailing or any other way to make them to do a bagna cauda for you.

10/01/2010 10:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Gary Knackstedt said...

Would an Asado ever include liver? I find liver much less objectionable than kidneys, and it tastes wonderful on the grill.....Unless all of the liver in Argentina ends up in some type of sausage or lunchmeat, which is possible.

5/04/2011 06:34:00 PM  

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