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How Argentine Asado Works

October 17, 2011
It all starts with an invitation: come to an asado (asado means barbecue in Spanish – but this is a rough translation) this Saturday at a friend’s house. The invitation says “a partir de las 12 hs” which means “sometime after 12 noon”. This sometime after can mean that you should show up anywhere between 1pm and 2pm.
Fortunately, there is never a shortage of food at these things.
It starts with the picada. Picada comes from the word picar which most directly means “to pick” so a picada is like finger foods or something that you pick at. It almost always consists of salamis and cheeses that you would recognize and can also include “liver” (liverwurst), mortadela (no idea what this translates as, but tastes like bologna), peanuts, chips, olives, crackers, baguette, spreads and so on and so forth.
The key to the picada phase: don’t get too full!!! OMG, how many times have I gorged myself on picada and not had much room for the lovely lovely meat that comes after! You have been warned!
To note: there is usually an abundance of either wine or beer or fernet at these things and while Argentines are not heavy drinkers they will continuously drink for the entire day.
Phase 2: the achuras. Achuras is the offal or the organ meats of the animals (usually the cow). This period starts whenever the achuras and salads are ready. For us last Saturday, this was about 3pm. Typical achuras are rinon (kidney), chichulin (intestine or “chitlin”), chorizo (sausage), morcilla (blood sausage) and molleja (sweatbreads). My favorite is molleja, by far, as a well cooked molleja (crunchy on the outside) with lemon and salt is to die for… and maybe even to kill for. I have recently become less a fan of chorizo, although this is the staple and I have become more a fan of morcilla, especially morcilla basca (basque blood sausage). Rinon has never agreed with my palate and chichulin only when crunchy.
Phase 3: the meats. Typically the asador will bring out the meat as it gets done. The most typical cuts are vacio (flank steak) and asado (short ribs) but you can also get colita de cuadril, entrana, matambre, bondiola de cerdo and many many other cuts. Almost all will be tougher and more flavorful than anything you get in the USA.
Phase 4: la sobremesa. This is when you sit and chat for a hour after you finish eating.
Phase 5: dessert. The best is ice cream. See my other rants on how amazing Argentine ice cream is and how awful the rest of the world’s ice cream becomes after tasting the Argentine version.
Now here comes the hard part… at this point you should leave. It would be about 6pm or so and you would be ready for a nap and maybe a bypass or two. But sometimes there are MANY more phases to come. Here are the possible subsequent phases that occur especially if you have been invited to a “quinta” (summer home) for an asado that happens outside the city.
Phase 6: Mate and facturas. Ok, the mate I can understand. It helps you digest, wakes you up and stimulates the bowels. All great stuff for how you are feeling at this point. But facturas? Are you kidding me? The last thing I need is sweet rolls! (Not that I wouldn’t eat them).
Phase 7: Order pizza. Keep in mind that now it would be 9pm or 10pm and it would be dinner time. But really, you have already eaten at least enough for a person twice your size and you do not need this at all. But somehow the Argentines justify this. They have a word which is “sarpado” which means totally over the limit or way over the line. This day is totalmente sarpado. But also totalmente lindo. 🙂
By the way, see BA Cast’s Laws of Asado for how to do your own asado.
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Hang On, Let Me Be Positive About Argentina

October 13, 2011

Ok, so I’ve been bitching and moaning for the 10 days that I’ve been back here, starting with the mob mentality observed on the plane, and more of the same after I got off.

But something really interesting was pointed out my my friend (and partner on BA Cast) Fernando, when he said that what Argentina does best: get excited at a concert, show, or sporting event. In other words, Argentina has the best fans in the world.

And I agree 100%. And this is great for people who frequent these types of events. I won’t go into why this is the case, because that would require some negative commenting, and today was a great day, so I’m gonna stay positive.

What else do I love about Argentina? My wife and I went for a walk on Monday, through Canitas, Belgrano and even a little bit of Colegiales and what did I love about that? I love that within 20 blocks of my house there are 5o different places to stop, sit, have a drink, a coffee, a smoke, an ice cream, whatever…. And you can sit there forever, and watch tons of people walk by. I like people watching.

In the USA you have an extreme lack of things you can walk to and also places you can sit and people watch. It’s always go go go. The only place in the US where you can truly walk to stuff is New York City. There are some other neighborhoods where this is possible, in some urban centers, but in Buenos Aires you can walk to anything you need. In addition, in most rural towns and suburbs you can walk to anything you need. It is not endless parking lots and hugely over developed sidewalks that nobody uses. I think the conclusion here is that I have an extreme dislike for traveling in a car: they are uncomfortable, they make noise, they infuriate you, especially when driving, and they separate you from your fellow man.

I remember when I lived in LA and I pulled up to a stop light, not wanting to look at the person who was parked only 5-6 feet away from me at the stop light in the lane next to me. How dehumanizing.

Rules, Inflation and Culture

October 3, 2011

Doing is hard. Yoda said “Do or do not, there is no try”. After returning from a 3 week work trip in the USA, I felt the culture shock as soon as the airplane pulled up to the gate at Ezeiza airport. In the USA I had been on several flights between domestic cities and the ubiquitous “please stay seated until the captain turns off the fasten seatbelt sign” was repeated over and over, and followed to near 100% accuracy. As soon as that light went off, everyone jumped up.

But when we pulled into Ezeiza airport, not the case at all. As soon as the plan started slowing down people jumped up into the aisles. And the flight attendants had no choice but to go along with it because it was half the plane that was standing when the fasten seatbelt sign was turned off.

Welcome back to Argentina!!

I have to always remind myself that the people who have made the rules in Argentina for the last 60 years have generally been distrustful people, and therefore Argentines are justified in disobeying rules. But this is also a dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy. Once one person disobeys, it justifies a slew of people to disobey.

I feel that this has specific application to inflation in Argentina at the moment. The government claims that it is right around 10% when everybody and their cousin knows that it is at least 25% if not 30%. What happens in practice is that it only takes a few people claiming inflation to make inflation come true. Here is how this works: one shop owner claims inflation, so he raises his prices. Enough customers buy into this story (not a hard sell in Argentina when during the late 80s there was over 1000% (yes one thousand percent) inflation per MONTH) so that they keep buying at an inflated price. Shopkeeper #2 notices this and thinks: if he is raising his prices, I should do… and there go the dominos.

An Ode to Good Sushi

September 29, 2011

O Suchi, I mean Sushi, how do I love thee.

When you are fresh and tasty, you melt in my mouth, softly.

When you are bought in Argentina or at a supermarket, you suck and are rubbery and waste my money.

Blue fin tuna is something that I had forgotten about until I came back to the USA this time around. I have never seen marbling like this on fish. The albacore, fresh water eel, salt water eel and many many other rolls and delicacies (edamame, hello!!) drive me crazy. I am overwhelmed with flavor satisfaction when I even begin to think about sushi.

In Argentina, sushi sucks, plain and simple. On my podcast we had a debate about Pizza called the Pizza Wars. I say hogwash to that. (Hogwash is a word I have heard several times in the last 3 weeks because of hanging out with my grandfather and watching football, american football). Hogwash because the pizza is still really good. Objectively really good. It might not be your style but it is at least made the right way, by people who have that dish as part of their heritage, who obsess and love pizza, in their own way.

Sushi on the other hand, in Argentina, is objectively bad. After my experiences here in New York, Portland and Los Angeles over the last 3 weeks, I can safely say that supermarket sushi, even imitation crab and lobster, is better than the salmon only sushi that you get in Argentina. Ok, sometimes there is really bad red tuna. Yes I am bitching and moaning but I need fish! Fish is so delicate and fresh and easy. It gives such a different feel and dance and goes with so many different wines that I cannot and don’t want to have with meat. It is truly a shame that good fish doesn’t exist in Buenos Aires. 😦

American Donuts (or Doughnuts) vs Argentine Facturas

September 18, 2011

First of all, both of these foods have funny names. A dough-nut? Well the dough part I understand but nut? That makes no sense.

In Spanish, factura also means “bill” as in your telephone bill.

So why these two foods came to signify a doughy, sweet, breakfast food is beyond me. However, this has nothing to do with their qualitative differences.

Let us examine the flavor profiles of these two yummy food. Yes, let me reiterate here at the top, that they are both yummy and delicious foods. The well made medialuna (the Argentine croissant) really has nothing on the glazed donut and vice versa. They are two different styles. The medialuna is much lighter and baked and the donut is fried. There you have the primary difference.

I also feel that donuts are much sweeter than facturas in general. Here is where I am partial to donuts, especially the maple bar and the apple fritter. They have a sweetness that satisfies a craving. When getting medialunas or other facturas, I find I really have to look for the right ones in order to satisfy my sweet craving. Occasionally you will find the panaderia that has apple flavored facturas, and quince paste on facturas is ubiquitous, but they put so little on! It’s only ever one bite worth.

I also find that there are many more facturas that are made badly than donuts. Very frequently facturas will be dry, old or poorly made, where I almost never have a problem with a donut.

In terms of cost as well, I find it phenomenal that a dozen donuts costs the same, dollar for dollar as a dozen medialunas. In Argentina, a dozen medialunas is around 20 pesos, or 5 dollars, and in the US the price of a dozen donuts is about the same, unless they are all massive apple fritters (which are really like two donuts).

I’m sure Fernando and I will debate this on BA Cast: The Buenos Aires Podcast soon.

September 11th in New York City

September 12, 2011

I didn’t plan on it but I landed in NYC on September 11th (yesterday). I would not have known the difference except that I saw the occasional army personel posted around the city, in the subways and in the transit centers. Would the terrorists be dumb enough to attack NYC again on the same day? Then why do we put up extra guards on that day? This doesn’t make sense to me.

What did make sense to me was the recollection of what happened at all the football games of the day and the wearing of memorabelia and so forth. I saw many pictures of what is now ground zero and it looks good. I like the fact that the two towers will always be carved out there in the ground, in the form of a fountain headed into the ground at varying levels. I think the consensus was that this is how most people felt as well about the memorial.

The consensus was also that the new “One World Trade Center” building is a non-imaginitive, dull substitute. Well I am no architectural expert, but what did you expect? The Egyptian Pyramids? The Eiffel Tower? The new world trade center building is a monstrous modern glass skyscraper just next to ground zero. It looks perfectly fine with its shimmering reflectivity and powerful presence. If this is not what was wanted then why did they build it? There are literally a million buildings that look just like it in NYC alone. This had to have been known ahead of time.

My guess is that the people who ultimately made this decision made it with costs in mind. Doing something outrageous in the design would have cost a lot more money and in this economy would have certainly been frowned upon. I totally agree with this if this is the case.  I also see no harm in what they did. There is another building there now that will accomplish similar functions as the first two, and we have a memorial. The terrorists did not accomplish their goal and that is the point. We moved on. 

Argentina, Argentines and Anti-Yanqui Sentiment

September 5, 2011

So I went to the gym this morning and was happy to be starting the week with a good workout. Standing in the doorway of the gym was a woman texting on her phone. So as I am squeezing by her she just happens to take a step at the exact same time and we run into each other. This happens right? No big deal right? WRONG!

The first thing I say is “Oo, Perdón” which is exactly the same as saying Oops, Sorry. I would have expected a “No hay problema” or “No te preocupes” or even a return apology.

Instead, the woman starts screaming at me! SCREAMING! Following me all the way into the gym with a culminating line of “De que país de mierda sos?”. At which point of course, I had to stop talking to her, because you can’t argue with insane people.

But how did we go from Oops sorry, in a VERY common *accident* to saying “What f*cking country are you from?” The only interpretation of this statement is a nationalist or racist one.

I would like to point out that I have been an athlete and been in gyms my whole life. Only when I got to Argentina did I start having arguments at the gym. This strikes me as odd but there is a pattern here.

A year or so ago, I had an argument with one of the trainers at this same gym (AiresUp in Las Canitas, btw) who was extremely territorial. With nobody using the incline bench, I started to rearrange the weights so I could use it. I pick up a 10kg plate that is *hanging on the rack* and I put it on the bar. 10 seconds later I get a tap on the shoulder from one of the trainers saying “hey we were using that.” This is “funny” for two reasons:

1. The weight was racked and therefore by definition not in use.

2. There are another 15 10kg plates just like this one! In fact, there are 15 of them specifically so that there is enough for everyone!

My response: “Oh I didn’t know… (and then gesturing to another one close by), but there is another one you can use”.

His response: “No, estamos usando ese.”

Then I am thinking, wtf? You are being belligerent for no reason! I then pointed out that they weren’t using it when I saw it and then I again pointed to no less than 3 other plates that they could have used.

He then escalates: “No! You STOLE our weight!”. WTF??

Then, I lost my cool and screamed at him because he was such an idiot. I pointed out repeatedly that there were so many ways to have avoided this, but that he chose not to. I pointed this out to the management as well.

In this argument, the word Yanqui was used many times as well as “grandote”. Phrases like “that big Yanqui just thinks he can have everything.” Or “With all that size the Yanqui just thinks he owns the place. ”

Why is it, that in 30 plus years of going to the gym and NEVER, not once, having an argument with another member/patron, do I now, in Argentina have a problem (not to this level… these are the two worst) at the gym.

I can only see two possibilities (as I have not changed since being in the USA, nor have my workout habits).

1. Argentines are threatened by large people / like to pick fights with large people.

2. Argentines hate / are jealous of / like to pick fights with Yanquis.

What do you think?

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