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February 18, 2011 ·

How would you like your Argentine steak?

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It’s definitely not a secret that Argentine beef is famous for being the best in the world because all the cows here are still grass fed, living happily free-ranged in the campo (countryside/field). I am pretty sure that the high quality of the beef has everything to do with how Argentines eat their steak, and I’m not talking about how to prepare them. I’m talking about how much they like to cook their meat when they consume them.

Back home in the northern hemisphere, when you eat steak, you are always recommended to not go over medium, if not, that piece of steak is pretty much dry and wasted. I personally liked it a bit pink on the inside and definitely very particular about it, so my order was always medium rare. (Also in case I couldn’t finish it, it’d still be edible after reheating the next day!) However, as much as how you’d like your steak is as a personal preference as your choice of perfume, the way of the steak eating, which I thought was pretty universal, got challenged big time when I started chowing down meat in Argentina.

First thing I’ve noticed, when you go to any typical parrilla (steakhouse), don’t expect them to ask you how you’d like your steak. The first time when el mozo (the waiter) just walked away after I ordered my ‘bife de chorizo con puré de papas, por favor’, I was very puzzled and on the verge of calling him back and said ‘I haven’t told you how I want my steak yet!’ Well, at that time my Spanish skill was not adequate for me to do that, so I just sat and waited, and hoped for the best. Out came my steak and it was well done, and I thought this was just all wrong! But then one bit into it, I was completely surprised of how tender and flavorful the steak was. It was no doubt better than any medium rare meat I have ever had outside of Argentina!

Whenever I shared a meal with Argentines and told them that I like my steak medium rare, they would look at me like an alien and questioned, ‘but the meat was not cooked? How could you eat that?’ As I came across more similar occasions like this, I slowly understand that this Argentine common sense that steak is to be consumed if not bien cocido (well done), definitely somewhere close to that. No matter where you go, there’s only one way to eat the steak; thus, a typical waiter, who is not in the ‘tourist industry’ per se, would not occur to him that he needs to ask.

Nevertheless, there are touristy parrillas where the waiter would actually ask how you’d like your steak (you know, respecting your custom from home). There you can order yours jugoso (medium rare/juicy) or a punto (medium) as you wish. However, from my various experiences, a lot of those times, the steak would actually arrive a bit more cooked than as ordered or they would just have it cooked through like usual. That always made me wonder if it was because they cannot believe someone would want to eat steak a little bloody? Or, may be it was impossible for the parrillero (the cook at the grill) to not cook the meat well because that’s almost betraying his trade? Or, the locals were actually trying to educate us gringos the correct way to eat Argentine meat?

I have eventually stopped asking everyone trying to find out the truth. Now, I just dive right in when Argentines serve me steak, because I have the utmost trust that whatever they do, it won’t go wrong!

Isabel

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