Tag Archives: Argentina

Fernet Branca & Coke in Buenos Aires, Argentina

24 Oct
By Patric Baird
 
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There is much for the discerning traveller to eat and drink Buenos Aires, and not all of it is good.
 
Let’s start off with the nicer and more palatable, ending with the not-so-good.  It’s all very subjective, of course – one man’s meat etc.
 
On a recent trip to Argentina, we spent much of our visit in the company of our friend Marcelo, a local, well versed in the city’s food culture and more than familiar with our desire to seek out that which exists beyond the numerous fast food joints.
 
Beef and Buenos Aires go hand in hoof, so our man in BA had arranged lunch at one of the city’s best known, and most highly regarded steakhouses, or parillas.
 
La Brigada, in the ‘atmospheric’ (slightly scary) San Telmo district was our destination.  Located on the other side of town from our hotel, a taxi would have been too expensive so we took a bus, happy in the knowledge that our friend was well versed in the city’s public transport system.
 
It turns out that even a BA native can find it difficult to get to grips with easily getting around the sprawling metropolis – suffice to say, we arrived at La Brigada long after the hour which our table was booked for.  So long after that lunchtime service had nearly finished and there were now plenty of tables available.
 
Various cuts of cattle were ordered and eaten, the delights of chimichurri steak sauce were discussed and another box was ticked by the intrepid worldinaglass team.  You may argue that a steak’s a steak, but unless you’ve eaten the best cut of the best meat in the best restaurant in the best city of the best country for beef in the world, your opinion is worthless.
 
Speaking of worthless opinions, here’s my two pesos worth on the flipside of the country’s meat and drink.  Having extolled the virtues of Chile’s national drink – the pisco sour – elsewhere on this blog, I feel that some balance is required when it comes to Argentina’s national drink, Fernet Branca.
 
Throughout our stay, Marcelo had been urging us to try this digestif at every opportunity with the assurance that it was, mixed with Coca Cola, a truly delicious concoction.  We came close, on many occasions, but inevitably succumbed to further pisco sours which, to be fair, were even nicer than their Chilean counterpart as the Argentinean recipe tends to omit raw egg white.
 
Subconsciously, I think I knew that I wouldn’t like it – any drink which involves herbs and spices automatically rings my ‘avoid at all costs’ alarm bells.  But then, in the words of the Brazilian (close enough) writer Paulo Coelho, “People never learn anything by being told, they have to find out for themselves.”
 
And to push the point even further, Coelho goes on to say “Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.” A clunky metaphor maybe, but somehow appropriate in this case.
 
It’s impossible to avoid the inevitable – I said that.  It wasn’t until I had reached the business lounge at Buenos Aires airport on the day of our departure that I finally accepted that a nettle had to be grasped and a bull had to be taken firmly by the horns.
 
I poured myself a Fernet Branca, topped it up with Coke and took a sip.
One, never, ever to be repeated, sip.

Pisco Sours and Ceviche on Easter Island

22 Aug

By Patric Baird

What do you do when you arrive on Easter Island, having flown for almost 24 hours from the UK?  Have a lie down? Head straight for the iconic statues which are featured all around the island? Or, as I did, go into town for a much anticipated lunchtime cocktail, namely Chile’s national alcoholic beverage, a pisco sour.

Actually there’s some dispute as to whether Chile or its neighbour Peru have ownership of this sub-tropical tipple;  they do it differently anyway, with the Peruvian version containing egg white, sugar syrup and angostura bitters, whereas the Chilean version is a simpler mix of the spirit pisco, sugar and lime (or lemon) juice.

To confuse things even further, both countries have their own version of the spirit itself, although maybe only an expert could distinguish the subtle nuances in taste between each of the South American country’s offering.  There’s no denying that Chile has the best bottle – one of the country’s biggest manufacturer is Capel and their Pisco Reservado comes in a black glass bottle, shaped like one of Easter Island’s statues.

So what is pisco and why the odd name?  It’s basically a brandy made from grapes, much like its Greek cousin, grappa, sweet tasting and ranging in colour between almost clear to a dark yellow hue, depending on the quality and strength of the liquor.  Some say the name comes from the Peruvian town of Pisco (probably the most likely explanation), but Chile disputes this (not surprisingly), claiming that the word pisco is of Quechua origin and means ‘bird’.

There’s another school of thought which suggests the word pisco means a clay pot, so make your own mind up on that one.  More importantly, how does it taste?  On its own, not much to write home about but, when turned into a pisco sour, it has a unique and delicious taste and, as it turned out, the perfect pairing for that other South American staple, ceviche.

The Japanese don’t have a monopoly on raw fish, although ceviche, which is found in most coastal regions of the continent, as well as in Central America and as far west as Polynesia, is usually ‘cooked’ by marinating the raw seafood in a mixture of citrus juice, chilli and seasonings.   Each region has its own particular style, with mainland Chile and Easter Island favouring fillets of halibut, or the native and delightfully-named Patagonian toothfish, marinated in lime or grapefruit juice, flavoured with garlic, red chilli peppers, mint and coriander.  Combined with a refreshing pisco sour, the zing of a well-made ceviche proved to be the perfect antidote to seemingly incurable jet lag and was by far the best thing about Easter Island – until I got my first glimpse of those amazing statues, that is.