From The Past: Modern Argentina, the El Dorado of to-day

(After snagging an edition of “Carpenter’s World Travels: The Tail of the Hemisphere – Chile & Argentina” by Frank G. Carpenter (You can view a photo from it here), I’ve developed an interest in how Argentina was viewed, in the days of old, by travelers, journalists, and writers. Particularly on the subject of asado and beef–food in general too. When the New York Times unleashed some of its archives for free a while ago, I was hoping to jump on top of that and post some old school nuggets of information. Unfortunately, most of what I am seeking is still under lock and key–for a price, and it’s useless for me to post a snippet without offering a link to view the whole piece. Fortunately, however, there are many other sources of juicy archived information to be gleaned. From The Past is a new category to cover just that.)

Here’s an excerpt from “Modern Argentina, the El Dorado of to-day” (1907), by author W.H. Koebel.

Up to the present the Argentine has concerned himself very little with the various schools and fashions in diet. In the camp he is an eater of meat, pure and simple. The days have long since gone by, it is true, when an animal was wont to be slaughtered in order that it might provide the wherewithal for a single meal, and when the rest of the carcase was left upon the plain as a present for the carrion fowl. Yet, though more economical methods have supervened, meat remains yet the staple food. Until recent years, notwithstanding the richness of the soil, few, with the exception of some British Estancieros, have troubled about the cultivation of vegetables. There is an increasing tendency now, however, to add these latter luxuries to meals, and the kitchen garden is becoming a feature of the small native estancia as well as elsewhere.

The standing Camp dish is the “Asado.” This may consist of any portion for preference the ribs of cattle, or even of sheep, roasted. One may obtain “Asado” in a Buenos Aires restaurant, it is true. In which case, however succulent it may be, it is as characterless amongst dishes as is a caged robin amongst birds. In order to estimate the true ” Asado” it should be prepared by Gauchos, and partaken of on its native plain. The method of its cooking is simplicity itself. A huge iron skewer is stuck in the ground at an angle, so that the meat upon it rests over a blazing wood fire. Then, when the fare is sufficiently roasted, one of the more homely uses of the Gaucho’s large knife becomes apparent. With it each slices off the morsel he desires from the spit, and the meal proceeds with a most delightful sans gene.

“Asado con cuero” is a dish afforded by beef cooked in similar fashion. But in this case the hide has been suffered to remain, and the meat is roasted in this latter. The dish was formerly far more common than is at present the case. Indeed, in view of the increased value of the hide, the fact of being offered an ” Asado con cuero ” may be taken as a special compliment.

While the ideas of slaughtering a whole cow just for some ribs has faded away and asado con cuero is still prepared by various meat lovers, the principles are still the same. You can’t compare a slab of restaurant meat to asado in the campo, nor does anyone give much thought to veggies other than cleansing their palates with a few nibbles off some salad, potatoes, or roasted peppers while carving into their meat.

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