Argentines have a reputation for three things, “malbec, Maradona, and tango.” Malbec is their widely recognized wine. Diego Maradona is their equivalent of Pele. And, tango, of course, is the sultry dance performed in the milongas and cobbled streets of San Telmo.
Yet, walk anywhere in Buenos Aires, Mendoza or Salta on a Sunday afternoon, and you’ll discover that there’s a fourth passion in this region. The aromas will direct you straight to asado. Large slabs of meat, seasoned only with salt, roasting slowly over wood embers while hungry guests wait patiently.
No meal is more interwoven into the South American way of life than the grill fest known as the asado. For an Argentinian, the asado is an all day affair of shopping for food, preparing the fire, and catching up with your very large family while feasting on a myriad of barbecued meats and aided by the likes of baked empanadas, bowls full of salads, fresh vegetables and countless bottles of wine. It’s like having Christmas lunch every weekend.
On my arrival into Mendoza, my travel companions and I decided we too could create an asado at the hostel. We even bought a paddle pool for the occasion, as our hostel didn’t have a pool and the weather was a sweltering 35º. Seeing as none of us had any experience starting up an asado, I, being the only Australian (which automatically qualifies you as a BBQ expert apparently), was tasked with the job of starting the fire. All I had was a bag of wood, matches, some newspaper and a few rocks. That was it. Right then, I longed for the convenience of just turning on the gas on the Weber. But my years of watching Survivor finally came to use, and 2 hours, and three attempts later, I finally got a decent fire going, complete with billowing smoke rising upwards into the humid Mendoza air, crawling over the rooftops of our neighbours – who had probably been watching us from their balcony for mild entertainment as I fumbled around with the wood and matches. We had bought enough meat and sausages to feed a small army, and as the smells wafted throughout the hostel, one by one, other travellers appeared on the rooftop terrace, salivating, and wanting to get involved in our gluttony of meats.
Let it be said that the asado is no dietetic exercise, and you wouldn’t want your cholesterol tested the morning after. But there’s no denying the satisfaction that comes from indulging in huge amounts of perfectly grilled grass-fed steaks, sizzling sausages, succulent ribs or maybe even a spit-roasted lamb or goat accompanied by either a Malbec wine or Quilmes beer. Our meat wasn’t exactly perfect (nothing like the bife di lomo I had at El Boliche de Alberto in Bariloche or at La Cabrera in Buenos Aires), but then again we aren’t expert asadors (grill masters). But it was suprisingly good. The beef was juicy, succulent and flavoursome despite not being marinated. Add a dash of chimichurri, and you’re in meat heaven. Our small group of 9 ate through masses of meat, chicken, sausages, salads and vegetables, as well as polishing off every bottle of wine and beer our hostel bar had.
The great thing about asado, as with anything Argentinian, is that it’s not just about the meal itself, but also the company, conversation and camaraderie. As a solo traveller, I relish the opportunity to talk to other travellers and bond with them over mishaps and triumphs of our journeys so far. For that evening, we were like any Argentine family, sharing not just food but also personal stories, in the mountains of Mendoza.
As our first asado, without any Argentinian assistance, we did ourselves proud. And it isn’t all that hard to recreate for yourself. All you need is to grab a bunch of friends, uncork some malbec and fire up the barbie.
All photos in this post were taken by the author and subject to copyright.