War and Parrillas: ISIS and an Argentine Barbecue Boycott
“Traveling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” — Ibn Battuta, medieval explorer (1304-1369)
We pause our regular program today to welcome some new readers, mostly from our sister publication over at International Living.
We’re excited to have the opportunity to share our thoughts and ideas with you. And knowing you’re an International Living reader makes it all the more enjoyable…
You see, we’ve been fans of “IL” for many years. Actually, part of our own decision to relocate (part time) to the “Paris of the South,” as this city is sometimes known, was inspired by editorials we first read in the pages of International Living magazine.
In fact, we’ve taken the idea of “international living” rather to heart.
During the past decade alone, your wanderlusting editor has called eight countries home on no less than five separate continents. And we’ve trekked, hopped, bussed, trained, flown, surfed, and hitchhiked through more than 75 other countries along the way.
We truly believe that travel is the best teacher of them all. And the folks at “IL” know the beat better than anyone.
That’s why we’re happy to have you on board. We feel we already know each other, in a way…like meeting old friends on the road.
We’re going to continue our musing on myths and collective narratives in the next issue. But for today, we thought we’d invite you to a local asado…just to catch up again and get to know each other.
Asados (traditional Argentine barbecues) are truly wonderful affairs. Along with Jorge Luis Borges, the ballpoint pen, and the tango, they surely rank among Argentina’s greatest gifts to civilization.
The barbecue structure itself—called a parrilla—is typically made of brick and resembles, more or less, a standing fireplace. There’s an opening at the front, giving access to the inner hearth, and a chimney above to allow for ventilation. Below the fire pit there’s a space for utensils, coal, kindling, stacks of old newspapers and suchlike.
To begin the asado process, coals are brought to heat in a metal basket (the brasero) inside the belly of the parrilla. They are then spread out across the adjacent brick surface. Next, the grill is lowered over the hot coals, using a simple hand winch system.
At this point in proceedings, the surrounding men begin to exchange critical information about the direction of the wind, the quality and/or price of the meat, and to discuss marinades, bastes, rubs, and various other preparation techniques. Every single member of the tribe has something to say…valuable or not.
For the single men in the group, now is the time to share some unlikely tales regarding recent encounters with the fairer sex. It is also the moment when married men (your editor included) get to showcase their practiced expressions of incredulity.
(Note: This repartee appears to be a non-trivial component of the whole ceremony. We’ve yet to attend an asado at which it was not observed.)
After a few minutes of discussion and joking about, it’s finally time to add the many and various cuts of meat—chorizos, bifes, morcillas, ojos, lomos, salchichas, vacios, asado de tiras, matambrito de cerdos, etc.—and the vegetable/s (optional).
These are placed atop the grill with meticulous care and artful arrangement, accompanied of course by more banter and commentary from the gathered menfolk.
Finally, the asador—the appointed grill master, a most distinguished designation—is handed by his friends the first of the day’s many Fernet and colas (Argentina’s national drink)…
…and thus does the event commences with a most satisfying sizzle.
It was at such a carnivorous affair that we found ourselves chewing the fat this past weekend. The weather was agreeable. The company more so. And the view from the host’s balcony afforded a splendid vantage point from which to gape in awe at the never ending sprawl that is Buenos Aires.
In attendance were a dozen or so locals (porteños)…a handful of Colombians…a few Americans…one Indian…a Norwegian…a Frenchman…and yours truly, hailing from Terra Australis.
Herewith, a few conversational snippets we overheard during our many laps between the parrilla and the kitchen (where the Malbec wine is kept).
“The people don’t want war,” explained the Frenchman to a group of sympathetic listeners. “They just want to get on with their lives.”
“But your president, he seems pretty excited about the prospect of all out battle,” ventured the Indian. “He was in Mumbai a week or two ago…telling Prime Minister Modi how ‘nothing will deter him’ from his quest to ‘battle terrorism’…”
“Hollande is an idiot,” replied the Frenchman, who was in his home city of Paris during last year’s attacks. “A dangerous idiot.”
“Yes, but Modi is an idiot too,” replied the Indian. “And together, well…”
“Right. Hollande declared [the acts of ISIS in Paris last year] an ‘act of war.’ But I think that gives too much credit to the perpetrators. They are not some noble warriors on the battlefield of history. They are common criminals. Thugs. Nothing more.”
“True enough,” agreed one of the Americans, “but we can’t let them just get away with this kind of thing. They need to know it’s not ok to rampage through other people’s cities killing innocent people.”
“Yes, but what do you propose?” queried the Norwegian. “That ‘we’ send in the drones to level ‘their’ cities? Isn’t that exactly what ISIS wants? To draw us into escalated violence. To be elevated to the level of serious combatant?”
“I’d say their acts are serious enough to warrant a commensurate response,” chimed one of the Argentines.
“A serious response is not necessarily one that involves more bombs,” the Norwegian pressed. “At least, that approach hasn’t exactly worked so far. If anything, it’s been used as a great recruiting tool for the various terrorist groups…”
Whoa! The conversation was heating up. We decided to head outside. Over by the parrilla, the exchange was no less spirited…but the topic had gone from a war between meatheads to a war on meat.
“This administration says not to buy beef because the price is too high,” exclaimed the asador, holding forth in admirable fashion from his spot in front of the parrilla. “They want us to boycott asados. Are they crazy?”
There appears to be an ongoing battle here between the domestic cattle industry on the one side…the supermarkets and butchers on another…and whoever happens to be in government any given Sunday on still another.
It’s hard to make horn or hoof of the situation…suffice to say there’s no shortage of meddling in the marketplace and everyone wants someone else to “do something” about it. The rub, of course, is that the solution is often harder to swallow than the underlying problem itself.
In any case…
“I’m not going to have some [unprintable] politician tell me when I can and can’t buy meat to share a parrilla with my friends,” the asador continued, looking a tad ominous with a red-hot poker in his hand.
“This is Argentina! If the government wants to go head-to-head against one of our most treasured institutions, they’re even stupider than I thought!
“¡Anarquia por asado!”
Wars on tactics… Wars on markets…and anarchy at an asado. What more could we say except, “¡Salud!”
And with that, we’ll leave it there for today. Glad to have you aboard.
The major appeal of the traditional Argentine parilla is in its simplicity. For the quintessential parilla experience, rub a handful of salt into a piece of hanger steak and skirt steak—Argentines, like choir teachers, believe the best stuff comes from the diaphragm—and cook slowly on a charcoal or wood grill. The smoke and salt will do all the heavy lifting and infuse the meat with a satisfying, smoky flavor.
But no asado is complete without chimichurri—a tangy green condiment, considered by some to be the keystone of the Argentine barbecue. Here’s a simple chimichurri recipe that shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes to prepare.
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1. Chop the oregano, garlic, and parsley and place in a small bowl.
2. Add the salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to a tablespoons of water.
3. Allow to stand for 2 minutes before stirring in the olive oil and vinegar. Season to taste, and enjoy poured over your meat or as a tasty dip.