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Argentina - A carnivore's delight

27th August 2013

Anthony from Yee & Turner Travel Associates takes us on a culinary journey of Argentina.

Travel is about arousing and stimulating the senses. Some travelers use all five senses - sight, sound, smell, taste and feel - whilst others use a smaller combination of each. With the influx of food related cooking shows, people now have a greater appreciation of food. This has led to travel becoming not just about what we can see, hear or feel but also about what we can taste or smell.

Food tastes better in its native environment not necessarily because of better ingredients or techniques but because all the senses are stimulated. I love eating pasta in Italy, tapas in Spain and sashimi in Japan. It was therefore with great excitement that I travelled to Argentina recently having heard of a fabled carnivore steak house existence where plate sized juicy steaks are the norm and vegetarians are sent for counseling. I had planed to eat my body weight in beef.

For those that have not been to Argentina, steaks are devoured in steak houses called Parrilla. I am lucky enough to have Argentine friends living in Buenos Aires who could have given me great recommendations. I wasn’t lucky enough however to be able to meet up with them on my first night in Buenos Aires. After studying the guide books from back to front I decided to take on the steaks at Parrilla La Cabrera located in the Buenos Aries suburb of Palermo.

Most reviews suggested that Cabrera is the place to eat. The décor certainly was befitting of a steak house with numerous pictures of cows on the walls and steak knives set on the table not too dissimilar in size to Crocodile Dundee’s knife. Everything about this place was beef. After sharing a BBQ cheese dish called provoleta made from local provolone cheese, I embarked on the main attraction – a shared 600 gram Ojo de Bife (rib eye). The steak though left me a little disappointed but this may have been because I had such high expectations. This cut was in part a little stringy with grisly fat and my knife certainly didn’t melt through the steak as some reviews suggested. Side dishes were however superb with a multitude of different sauces. Whilst this wasn’t a bad start, my search for “the” steak experience had only just begun.

Whilst Cabrera was the tourist experience, the next night I dined with my Argentine friends. The location was a parrilla called El Pobre Luis in the up market suburb of Belgrano. Walls were decked out with autographed football jerseys from the local team River Plate as well as teams from around the world. Life gets really good when you let locals order. Rather than order an individual entrée and main we ordered dishes that came to the table to be shared. Traditionally a parrilla was a BBQ experience between friends around an open fire tasting meat dishes over the course of the day. At El Pobre Luis we ate and shared provoleta, Mollejas (sweetbreads), chorizo (Spanish sausage), chinchulines (chitterlings/ intestines), Criadillas (bull’s testicles) as well as the beef cuts of ojo de bife and bife de chorizo (skirt steak). This to me was a true eating experience that aroused the senses not only in sight and sound but in great flavours, smell and food texture. It wasn’t the one piece of beef that my knife melted through like I expected. It was actually better than that.

Anthony Lee in Argentina

After receiving a true parrilla experience the focus was shifted towards lamb whilst in Patagonia. British settlers brought the humble lamb to graze on the open wind swept plains of Patagonia a number of centuries ago. On wandering the streets of El Calafate in the deep south of Patagonia I came across a restaurant that was cooking lamb over an open fire just inside. Worrying about my iron levels I dined out on that lamb. The chef chopped pieces off with the clever and whacked them straight on the plate. It was probably some of the best lamb I have tasted with great flavor and saltiness. I dined at this restaurant more than just the one time.

So what experience can I pass on from my Argentine carnivore experience?

Eat as many small meat dishes as you can and share what you have in front of you. Its not tapas dining per se but the dining experience was accentuated when the meats were carved up and shared amongst the table. What I also learnt was that my expectations were not right. Australia has quality beef just like Argentina and I was expecting a beef experience like what I have at home but better. Don’t go to Argentina expecting to be blown away by one amazing piece of beef. Appreciate the flavours and the culture that surrounds the meat eating experience and let the sight, sounds, taste, smell and textures create that great eating experience that gets etched in the memory banks.