(December 16 – written by “Just Dave”)
We made some progress today on our chore lists. I managed to get Nancy’s gears working better by changing the shift cables. My shifting still seems a little easier so I may swap wheels with her just to be sure that her issue is not in the hub, or if it is, that she gets the smoother hub. In case you think she’s soft – sure, she’s ridden here from Alaska, soft is probably not what you were thinking – well, checkout the photo below. She got a blister on her hand from trying to turn the shift lever.
While on topics of minor medical issues, check out my lovely new tattoo as well. I picked this one up on the hike-n-bike section the other day when my loaded bike decided to fall off the trail and I decided to stop it with my body. I managed to stop the bike but may have given shin a permanent mark in the process.
El Calafate is a lot like El Chalten, only it’s bigger. There doesn’t appear to be as many climber types here but perhaps that’s just because there are more people. El Chalten is about climbing and Fitz Roy. El Calafate is more about the lakes and glaciers (we are heading on a glacier tour today).
Being a tourist town, we’ve found lots of things we like – good coffee, good beers and good food. Kitschy tourist stuff is also on offer. There are stacks of shops selling trinkets, Ruta 40 stickers, mate sets, t-shirts and other doodads.
Speaking of food, we were planning on eating at an all-you-can-eat parilla tonight. The Spanish name for all-you-can-eat parilla is tenedor libre (free fork) and the restaurant we were planning on going to is just down the road from our AirB&B. That was before we met a local when looking for glacier tour information. We asked him about the parilla at the restaurant. He responded “you don’t eat Argentinean parilla at a Chinese restaurant”. Our new friend has parilla every Sunday and only eats at one restaurant – Mi Viejo. So that’s where we went.
Parilla is sometimes called an asado, but this can be confusing. A parilla is technically a grill, and an asado is a BBQ meal or event. But just like in English, where a grill and BBQ can both used to describe events or tools for cooking, asado and parilla are used interchangeable in Argentinean Spanish. For simplicity, I’ll stick with calling what we did tonight a parilla.
Look away now if you are vegetarian.
Argentineans love their meat. If you see smoke, then there’s fire and in Argentina, where there’s fire, there’s likely to be a dismembered cow/sheep/other animal slowly grilling over hot coals. Parilla isn’t just a barbecue, or a cultural tradition, it’s a source of national pride, alongside futbol, Messi, and the Pope. There are no sauces used in a parilla – it’s more primal, fire, salt and meat.
A proper parilla starts with tasty, crispy offal – which is basically all the left-over bits. Think intestines, neck, heart, kidney, blood sausage and chorizo sausage. Perhaps some items that you’d normally skip but worth a taste if offered – don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Tonight we had blood sausage and chorizo (Senior editor’s note – minor correction, Dave had blood sausage and chorizo).
The main course follows and is basically all of the cuts that you are used to – flank, filet mignon, skirt, rib-eye, New York and ribs. These have all been cooked over open coals, often for hours with low heat, treated before cooking with only salt. In Argentina, meat is more often served well-done at the preference of the grill master. If a large group is eating, the grill master often serves meat as it is cooked to his or her preference, when it’s ready – not cooked how the guests might want it. The grill master knows best. Today we sampled lamb, flank steak, pork and chicken. I did my best to get something that was a little less charred without offending the grill master – I like my meat med-rare.
All courses are served with salsa known as chimchurri. Argentineans don’t smother their meat in sauce. In fact, they really don’t like spicy foods. Me, I really enjoyed both the red (chile-based) and green salsas (herb-based) – they can be hot, but are more flavourful than spicy.
Oh yeah, I should mention that roasted vegetables, bread and salad are offered. You can guess how important they are by where they are mentioned in this post and how little I’ll say about them. And yes, an Argentinean red is just about required. But this meal is not about wine – it’s about meat.
So… How was it? I’ll be honest; it was good but not stunning. I’d say that we like our meats a little more marinated. Argentineans eat an average of 190 pounds of meat per person, per year. We’d normally be a whole lot less than that. And if you rule out the two months of chicken overdose we had in Peru earlier in this trip, we’d probably go even lower. But at least we tried a parilla – and now we don’t have to have another one for a while.
Today we head to the glacier – we’ll report back on how that goes in the next blog.