“Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls.” - James Joyce’s “Ulysses”
This Capital meat-lover recently traveled to the meat-lover’s capital, Argentina, to savor its extraordinary cuts of beef and learn what true love is. What I learned was that meat, in all its varied glory, is not only Argentina’s national dish and most celebrated export, but also the country’s favorite hobby.
The Argentine appetite for bife (beef) is well-known, but there are some things you have to see to believe. Take my first meal: Apparently my father had sent advance word of my carnivorous ways to the family friends with whom I’d be staying in Buenos Aires. Being super-accommodating people, as most Argentineans are, my new friends had me seated before the largest serving of molleja (sweetbreads) I’d ever seen…within an hour of walking through customs after an 11-hour non-stop flight.
Here in the United States, sweetbreads are a delicacy, doled out in delicate portions. In Argentina, aside from a drizzling of fresh lemon juice, grilled thymus glands are served undecorated, unaccompanied and on plates that barely contain them.
This “little something to nibble on,” as it was described to me, was followed by numerous types of sausage, ribs and steaks. Clearly, meat-eating was serious business in Argentina and I was going to have to go to work if I was to represent my country with any degree of pride.
Needless to say, our nation’s reputation was well-defended.
That initial dining scene repeated itself ad infinitum, and occasionally ad nauseum, over the next 10 days as I traveled around the country. I quickly learned never to tell anyone that I liked a particular dish because I’d be eating it for the next six hours -the average length of time Argentineans spend at each meal.
Every other trendy restaurant in the United States may have “grill” in its title, but in Argentina, they’re really all grills, or parillas. And the grilling doesn’t stop once the meat hits your table.
The most common appetizer, an asado, usually consists of morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo (Spanish sausage), matambre (a flank-like cut) and molleja (it’s everywhere I tell you!), all served on a chafing dish above hot coals. The meat continues to sizzle even after the defibrillator paddles have been brought tableside for the fourth time.
Your typical asado is enough to satisfy most normal people’s meat-cravings for a month, but in Argentina it’s just enough to rev up your appetite.
The two most common entrees are bife de chorizo (sirloin) and bife de lomo (filet). And, like every Argentine dish, they are served with nary a vegetable in sight. I did often see, and occasionally enjoy, the most utilitarian of salads: a simple pairing of watercress and lettuce drizzled with oil and vinegar. But this offering took second-billing to the meat dishes and was, as far as I could tell, always eaten like the broccoli children dutifully race through before getting ice cream.
It’s safe to say that all of Argentina is on the Atkins Diet. And why shouldn’t it be? Argentineans look much healthier (read: thinner) than Americans and they don’t suffer from heart disease and high blood pressure like we do.
Still, after a week of that fabled grass-fed beef, which the foot-and-mouth-fearing Food and Drug Administration has barred from our country, I realized I was more in love with the Argentine attitude toward meat-eating than the meat itself. The cuts I savored–and I savored them everywhere, from Buenos Aires’ best restaurants to estancias (ranches) where “the meat” had until recently been mooing at me–were rarely better than the finer steaks I ate back home.
It was the carnivorous culture that made these dishes extraordinary.
I can’t tell you how often I saw a swim fin-sized steak land in front of a gorgeous, near-anorexic Argentinean girl (they’re everywhere too!) and her digging in like it was a salad appetizer.
That’s something for the brochure.
But regardless of the comparisons between Argentine and American steaks, my own carniphilia only increased. And in my case it is love of all things meat-related. Steaks, chops, ribs, roasts: they all taste great to me. Even offal–animal innards and extremities that include brains, feet, tongue and tripe–has a special place in my heart. [Insert artery blockage joke here.]
I wasn’t always this way. It all started in 1997 when I first walked into 837 2nd Avenue. Fellow meat-lovers will no doubt recognize this as the address of the original Palm in midtown Manhattan. (Note to Ed.: There is no “The” in the restaurant’s title.)
My first “real job” after college landed me on the corner of 42nd and 2nd. After four years of dorm-prepared mac & cheese, I quickly began making up for lost time. If it was 1) French, Fusion or New American, 2) reservations required extortion and 3) it served food stacked higher than 7 inches, I was there.
That is, until one day when a fellow compulsive diner told me about a great steak joint right around the corner from my office. There, through Palm’s unadorned entrance, I entered into what has become the longest committed relationship of my life.
The $19.99 lunch special, which allowed me the choice of a filet or strip–as well as an appetizer, side, coffee and dessert–became a staple of my diet for as long as I worked in the city. At Palm I learned about the different cuts of beef, the various ways they can be served and, most importantly, the value of ordering my steaks cooked rare.
Returning to my recent excursion, this last point caused no little bewilderment among my Argentinean friends. Firm believers in taking gorgeous cuts of meat and burning them to a crisp, the Argentineans with whom I dined alternated between confusion and repulsion whenever I specified, re-specified and then had to clarify that, yes, I wanted my steak to touch the grill only long enough to char its outside and seal its juices inside.
Aside from that minor disagreement, my new personal Mecca and I got along famously.
On the flight home I sat next to a vegetarian American who had spent the last several months working at an NGO named Help Argentina. At the risk of hindering readers’ own meditations on the concept of irony, I’ll simply say that my already low opinion of do-gooder organizations and their self-righteous employees took a nosedive after that episode.
During the 11-hour flight back home, I kept chewing over one of my favorite lines: If God hadn’t meant for us to eat animals, he wouldn’t have made them out of meat.
Raul Damas is director of operations at Opiniones Latinas, a Hispanic-focused polling firm.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Elisha Maldonado
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond