Traditional asado south america patagonia

How Argentinia spoiled my 15-year vegetarian streak

Most people know me by a few adjectives. For anyone who has met me post-college, “vegetarian” is likely one of those words. For better or worse. 

The entirely of my life’s overlap with Adam’s has been one where a meal is ruined if a mistaken soup order comes with chicken — even the lingering aftermath appalls me. So perhaps you can imagine his world turned sideways when I confessed I’d been secretly dreaming about the carne (beef) empanada he’d ordered in Buenos Aires. By this time, three days later, we were in El Chalten, Argentina (my favorite place of anywhere we visited in Patagonia!) when I smelled a burger drifting from a nearby restaurant. A drop of drool nearly betrayed me before I could confess.

“It still freaks me out. But I think maybe after we finish this backpacking trip, if I’m still drooling, I’m going to think about maybe trying a bite of a burger.”

During the 3 days of hiking, I thought about it. A lot. I decided that after 15ish years, I’d have a bite of a hamburger. Not 3 hours later, we walked straight from the trail into the same restaurant where I had that fateful whiff.

I choked. Adam enjoyed his burger while I had pumpkin soup and a mushroom empanada across the street.

Empanada not a hamburger
An empanada, not a hamburger.

One month later, all of this was a silly memory. I easily turned down a very special Patagonian roast lamb, cooked in our honor by our host-family for Easter Sunday. (See photo at the top.) I was so far away from my near-hamburger encounter. And then two months later we were back in Buenos Aires, land of that first carne empanada, enjoying a backyard asado. Our host warned us that there would be only meat. Literally, there would be nothing else except meat for dinner. Not even a sprig of parsley in the chimichurri. It didn’t cross my mind to seize this opportunity, rather I brought (the likely first and last) vegetables to grace the parrilla grill. I had my fill of beautiful roast peppers, eggplant and zucchini when the smell of the steak sent drool running. Suddenly a square centimeter bite was inside my mouth. It tasted exactly like that enticing whiff of hamburger and I really really liked it. My gateway drug?

As a committed adventurer, I decided I had to try Argentinian beef once more. Two days left in Argentina and my time was running out. No time to find the perfect Argentine specimen and sadly only a hamburger or an empanada were conceivable options. Give me a break – nothing grows in a garden that must be chewed as much as a steak. In the end, it was a carne empanada from Buenos Aires’s famous pizza joint, Guerrin. Bite one was magical and reaffirmed my first speck of steak in 1.5 decades. Bites two and three were fine. Bite four hit on the texture discontinuity that I had tried to avoid. Yep, I was done. I’m still done. While I surrendered to the power of Argentina’s superior* beef, I’m back in my comfortable, beef-less bubble.

*What makes Argentina’s beef so damn irresistible:

  1. Grass fed** (no grain, corn, or creepy stuff) on their plentiful Pampas. They’re not perfect down there and sadly many factory farms have replaced large grass-fed herds.
  2. A very serious traditional asado process

** To be fair, I didn’t learn first-hand about Argentina’s beef industry. For all I know, the beef I ate was as bad or worse than the standard we grow at home. Argentina’s beef brand is as powerful as their red wine brand, and the power of suggestion is a seductive force.

carne empanada guerrin
Carne empanada, a hamburger disguised as an empanada

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