Monday, July 12, 2010

Wittiest Review of Argentine Cuisine Anyone Will Ever Write

If you want straight facts and great photos of Argentine cuisine, the sensible alternative is the wikipedia article (click here), where you'll learn that Argentinians used to consume an average of 100 kilos (220 pounds of beef per year.  The photos of grilled beef, empanadas, alfahores, and even a plate of spaghetti, will serve as a basic guide.

But if you want to laugh until you wet your pants, read the blog post, "Argentina on Two Steaks a Day."  The  author, Meciej Ceglowski, would surely be a hit on late night TV for original wit blended with obvious credibility.  Think The Daily Show crossed with the old PBS Julia Child shows.  Here are some choice excerpts, but really, read the whole thing here

Now for the rationale for the title, written back in 2006 when beef was still plentiful.

The classic beginner's mistake in Argentina is to neglect the first steak of the day. You will be tempted to just peck at it or even skip it altogether, rationalizing that you need to save yourself for the much larger steak later that night. But this is a false economy, like refusing to drink water in the early parts
 of a marathon. That first steak has to get you through the afternoon and half the night, until the restaurants begin to open at ten; the first steak is what primes your system to digest large quantities of animal protein, and it's the first steak that buffers the sudden sugar rush of your afternoon ice
 cream cone. The midnight second steak might be more the glamorous one, standing as it does a good three inches off the plate, but all it has to do is get you up and out of the restaurant and into bed (for the love of God, don't forget to drink water).

When he ridicules the national sweet, dulce de leche, I finally found the vindication that I've been seeking for avoiding this omnipresent sugar high that reveals the unrefined tastes of Argentinians when it comes to dessert.  I mean, what can you say about a culture that does not know about chocolate yet?  This:

There is a more serious kind of confectionary panic that goes beyond glazing, and it brings us to the true dark side of Argentine cooking. I am talking about dulce de leche.Dulce   de leche is a culinary cry for help. It says "save us, we are baffled and alone in the kitchen, we don't know what to do for dessert and we're going to boil condensed milk and sugar together until help arrives". This cloying dessert tar is so impossibly sweet that you wish you were ten years old again, just so you could actually enjoy it. It is everywhere.

There is a special dulce de leche shelf in the supermarket dairy case, and the containers go up to a liter in size. Even the churros are stuffed with it - the churros, Montresor! For anyone who has had pastries in Europe, the added horror is that dulce de leche is identical in color, texture and consistency to a number of much less sweet, tasty fillings, like the earthy chestnut material the French call crème de marrons, or the tart kind of plum butter popular in Eastern European bakeries. You see a thick layer of dark brown jam-like material and think, this couldn't possibly be caramel, there's just too much of it. And so worldliness leads you to great giant bites and then disaster.

Thank God, therefore, for the ice cream.

And he wins hands down for the explanation for the nearly invisible breakfast (coffee or mate and a croissant):

I spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out how meals work in Argentina, and they remain a mystery to me. Dinner is clear enough: people tend to go to restaurants beginning at ten o'clock (for those with small children), with the main rush around eleven, and dinner is pretty much over at one or so in the morning. And breakfast - or rather, its absence - follows as a logical consequence of eating a steak the size of a beagle at midnight. But I have yet to figure out whether people eat some kind of meal in the afternoon, and if so, when. Wander into any bistro or restaurant between eleven and six and you will be served a delicious lunch-sized meal, but you are likely to be the only person there, with the waiter mopping floors in the corner and the parrilla stacked with raw meat for the midnight dinner rush.

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