Dear Food Diary:
We landed in El Calafate from Buenos Aires on a sunny afternoon. Our goal was to see the Perito Moreno Glaciers, but due to time conflicts, our travel agent arranged for us to spend the rest of our day, plus dinner and a show at Estancia 25 de Mayo, the glaciers had to wait ’til dawn. When I read the itinerary, I wasn’t thrilled, it sounded all too “touristy”. And though in a way it was, the minute we arrived to the Estancia (Ranch) I was all smiles. The sky was glorious and the smell of fresh grass was enchanting. So gorgeous, fekt like I was in a dairy ad. As a city girl I’ve never had a late afternoon quite like this…
Mate sharing and Cafe Carretero
We were welcomed with a true Argentinean tradition, sharing mate between our new amigos. The mate is traditionally made out of calabash gourd. Filled with yerba and drunk through a bombilla (silver straw), one straw for everyone to pass around and share, hot water is being poured continuously. Many of the fellow tourists didn’t participate, which is understandable, I grew up with this, so it didn’t bother me.
Mate has a grassy finish, it can be bitter at first but then it has a sweet note, I happen to love it. Some people add sugar or even orange juice for sweetness, I prefer it the original way.
The cafe carretero is the type of coffee the gauchos had on the road. The water, sugar and coffee ground are boiled together with a burning wood stick thrown in. After letting everything settle on the bottom, it is served. Very strong and smoky, perfect after the flight.
People always ask me about the gauchos and cattle in Argentina, I always respond with a smirk “I grew up in Buenos Aires, the closest to a gaucho were the fake ones cheesy restaurants hired for “ambiance”. Cow was usually steak by the time I saw them, either hanging on a fire pit or on my plate“. Sad but true.
Sheep herding with dogs:
Sheep shearing demo:
Hike and wine tasting at Arroyo Calafate
The hike was quiet and pleasant. The water was so clean and pure, we helped ourselves with our wine glass. Sweet with a soft mineral quality on the tongue.
After the hike, we had a picada, which sorta translates to “picking” small bites or appetizers while drinking (in this case, wine). It usually consist of cured meats, cheese, olives and bread. A very typical mid-afternoon snack to hold you till dinner (Argentineans eat late, restaurants usually open again at 8pm, after their siesta, for dinner service that lasts well into midnight).
Parrillada Dinner with Patagonian Lamb and a Show
I couldn’t wait for dinner! I’m not a fan of lamb, but the cordero Patagonico (Patagonian lamb) is famous for their unique quality of tender meat and none of that unpleasant gamey flavor.
The pure air, clean grass they were raised on and the fact that it is grilled whole on an open wood fire makes it super juicy, tender and smokey.
The classic empanada criolla is still my all time favorite flavor. Beef, onions, carrots and hard boiled eggs. Think juicy beef stew in a flaky buttery pastry. Sooo good, I haven’t found anything like it in NY.
It is very common to have the meat served Parrillada style on the table, a mix of meats and inners. There was lamb, 2 cuts of beef, chicken, chorizo and morcilla (blood sausage). The burning hot plate keeps it warm.
I usually like asado the tira (thin short rib) or asado de costillar (thick ribs). I find he meat around the bone to be more flavorful and always juicy.
The lamb was very good, simple and just salt was added as with all the meats. On the side, I love the tart and smokey chimichurri to cut the fattiness of the meats and a bright red pepper and onion salsa criolla.
The morcilla (blood sausage) is as rustic as it gets. Chunks of pork skin (I’ve never seen them that big, usually it’s more subtle), tons of onion and spices cover the deep iron flavor of the blood. It’s thick and decadent, in the most humble way imaginable.
For dessert there was flan casero with dulce de leche (homemade flan with Argentinean caramel sauce) which has a much richer and denser texture than regular flan, it also isn’t as smooth as I like them. The bread pudding was nicely caramelized but I was too full at this point and it seemed to heavy for me.
Overall it was a truly fun experience. And though dinner wasn’t the best parrillada I’ve had, the Patagonean lamb sure made up for it. We did a final cheers with a glass of rich Malbec at hand and looked forward to our day tomorrow, glaciers, here we come!
P.S. Chubby’s Rating:
El Calafate 9405 , Argentina