Buenos Aires is often associated with steaks, but they are far from the most common cut served up in the parrillas (meat restaurants) of Argentina‘s capital. In fact, many of the cuts are different from the European or North American standards. It’s often the tastier (and cheaper) bits of beef – and a fair amount of offal – that is most popular in BA, so here’s a guide to getting the most of parrilla menu and ordering like a local.
Firstly, here are the secrets to cracking the carta (menu). Asado is best translated as barbecue, parrilla (pronounced ‘parr-e-sha’ with the Buenos Aires accent) is the grill itself or the restaurant that specialises in serving meat, and parrillada is a platter of different types of meat, often served sizzling on a charcoal-heated grill. Achuras means offal.
It’s also worth remembering that all the meat is shared between everyone at the table, and it all arrives in a fairly strict order. Also non-negotiable is a bottle of Malbec, so fill up your glass, leave your preconceptions and squeamishness at the door and tuck in.
Straight in at the deep end with chinchulines (chitterling). It doesn’t help that they look like what they are: small intestines. But crisped up they can be the highlight of an asado – imagine pâté wrapped in crispy crackling.
The best thing on the menu (for this writer anyway). There are two types of molleja (sweetbreads). There is the thymus gland from the neck or the pancreas around the heart known as molleja de corazon. The latter are better, but both are served crispy on the outside and have a creamy scallop-like texture inside. They are delicately ‘offally’, and with a squirt of lemon a delectable dish.
Image by Magalie L’Abbé on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
These little sausages, which usually appear alongside the chorizo at the beginning of a meal, are very similar to black pudding, though perhaps a little more peppery than you’ve had before.
Asado de tira
Once the offal and the chorizo have been gobbled up, it’s time to pay attention to the main meats. Asado de tira is probably the most common cut at an Argentinian asado. It is a long strip cut across the ribs with the tasty, fatty and fibrous meat dropping off the bone.
Vacio is far from the most tender cut of beef, but is often the tastiest. It’s cheap and unctuously meaty; no wonder it’s on everyone’s plate.
Known in the UK and US as the skirt steak (very trendy now), this is best flash grilled nice and red in the middle. It is rich in meaty flavour.
Image by Capitu (ou Marcela) on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
If, after the above wonderfully tasty cuts, you’re still not convinced to skip the steak, bife de chorizo (like sirloin) or ojo de bife (rib-eye) are the ones to watch out for.
No asado is complete without the sauce chimichurri. Made from parsley, garlic, oil, oregano and vinegar, and sometimes with chilli flakes (it’s as spicy as Argentinian food gets), you quite simply can’t have your meat without it.
Somehow cheese always seems unhealthier once it is melted, but who cares, you’ve just gorged on half a cow anyway. This little roundel of Italian cheese is grilled along with everything else and is, as you’d imagine, oozy and addictive.
Image by Isabelle Boucher on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
This salad has somehow become an asado standard. It is a mix of boiled potato, carrots, peas and hard-boiled egg, all mixed with loads of mayonnaise. It may be the only vegetable on the table, but it is by no means healthy.
There are more dishes on the menu that even some Argentinians can’t stomach, not least of all the stomach or mondongo, which is common in hearty Andean stews.
The riñones are kidneys, the seso is the brain, pulmones are lungs, higado is liver, and the ubre is the udder. All of which is probably enough to make a vegetarian shudder.