OUR MAN IN BUENOS AIRES
One doesn’t need to spend too much time in Argentina before the cultural importance of the asado becomes clear. The ritual of grilling entire animals to be shared between family and friends represents something so much more than a meal: being perhaps the one thing that all Argentines have in common, it unites them in a way that other cultural icons divide. People may argue about Evita or tussle over tango, but asado means asado to everyone.
Of course, each asador has his own methods, his preferred cuts, his individual approach and eccentricities. Nonetheless, it is often a surprise to a visitor that when Argentines say ‘barbecue’ they are not referring to burgers and bangers, but the entire cow. This wasn’t always the case. Travellers in Argentina during the 19th century reported the horror of seeing cow carcasses left in fields, having been stripped of their hides and a small amount of meat for individual consumption by their owners. Perhaps it is this memory that led Argentines to devise a way of cooking absolutely everything on each animal, as perhaps a tribute or apology to years of wastefulness.
Asados are such an integral part of Argentine culture, and represent such a source of pride, that it often bemuses the locals when foreigners have a go. I have witnessed several such asados, where the foreigner huffs and puffs, while the Argentines stand back, arms crossed, watching, always eager to step in should disaster threaten. Effort is always appreciated, but sometimes it is best to let the experts do their thing…
– Archie Whitworth