April 25, 2008
Sunday afternoon. The smoky smell of asado (barbecue) is in the air, drifting over from the neighbor’s house. People walking down the street seem to stop and sniff the air. It’s late summer in Argentina, and there’s no better way to spend a Sunday than barbecuing with friends and family.
Driving down the street in General Alvear on Sunday morning, all the shops are closed and almost no one is out except for a few weekend tourists from Buenos Aires buying things at artisan market stands to take home with them. And as we motor along, we pass a vacant lot between a store and some houses and we see this:
"What the…? What is he DOING?!" I say (in English-I was so excited!)
"It’s a guy barbecuing…" says my husband, as if it’s nothing unusual to see a blazing fire right out in the open as you’re driving down the street.
Yup. A guy, in a vacant lot, barbecuing a whole goat, over an open fire, on a Sunday morning.
My American brain said: In an open lot? And he hasn’t been arrested? Or, no one has called the fire department? No news crew has come out to cover the story about the lunatic who decided to light a fire in an open space and barbecue a whole goat? Nope. The only thing people are doing is walking by, admiring the goat and the blaze, sniffing the air, and hoping for an invitation.
I love Argentina.
Of course I made my father-in-law drive around the block again and stop. Argentineans are so proud of their culture and are totally willing to share it-this man was delighted. He happily shared his techniques on the perfect barbecue and let me shoot some pictures.
He’s very dedicated-he goes out to the forested area outside of General Alvear in the early morning-around 5am-to collect the scrub pine branches he uses for the asado. He uses pine for its fragrance and the special flavor the pine smoke adds to the meat. He uses larger logs for the real heat of the fire.
Using a long iron rod, the coals are moved around and the fire stoked so that the meat is cooked evenly. The meat (in this case, a whole goat) is fixed onto an iron rack, (I know-it resembles a medieval torture device!) splaying the goat open flat. The rack rotates on the iron bar stuck into the ground, making it like a spit, so the meat can be turned periodically to get more or less heat.
This is truly a labor of love-from collecting the pine branches for the fire, preparing and racking the meat, and cooking it over an open flame-the cooking process itself takes over 4 hours-Argentineans are dedicated to (and famous for) their barbecue. This man took such obvious pleasure in spending his time and energy to do this, and to do it well. It’s another example of the way Argentineans are free to enjoy their lives, (no list of Sunday chores) and that they enjoy simple things like food and the effort it takes-to the fullest.