Argentina has the world's second-highest consumption rate of beef, with yearly consumption at 55 kg per person - quite a feat. Despite the fact that there are more cows than people in Argentina, the government imports meat from Uruguay to satisfy the extraordinary appetite of Argentinians for a good steak.
All this culminates in the famous asado, the most celebrated gastronomic experience in Argentina. Asado translates as ‘barbecue’ in English; but its literal translation doesn’t capture the essence of the word, and its many connotations.
Every Sunday, families spend the afternoon preparing and feasting on the asado, cooked to perfection on a huge grill, called a parrilla. There is nothing pretentious about the preparation of the meat (although they do turn their noses up at the use of gas barbecues!). It requires only a smoky, wood-burning fire, a sprinkle of salt, and a little patience. You’re spoilt for choice at an asado; from the classic steak, to the ‘morcilla’, their version of a sweet blood pudding, there’s an array of different types of meat on offer. It is always accompanied by a few salads, excellent Malbec, and copious amounts of Argentinian conviviality.
The asado is proof not only of the Argentinian love affair with meat, but also of the importance of familial bonds and ties. Argentinian families often all live in the same town, and so nieces and nephews, uncles and aunts will arrive in hordes and spend the afternoon together.
As with many other aspects of gaucho culture, the asado has been nostalgically embraced by Argentinians and firmly integrated into their gastronomic experience. It connects the past and the present, highlighting the importance of celebrating tradition in Argentina. Cattle ranching first appeared in Argentina with the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. But since then it has become largely associated with the cattle-rearing gauchos who roam the vast flatlands of La Pampa. It is said the grassy, immense flatlands of the Pampa are the perfect conditions to create the juiciest, most tender meat, giving Argentina a worldwide reputation as the home of the steak.
Despite all this, I was told by Argentinians that it is becoming more common now to see families opting for Italian foods, such as pasta or pizza, for their Sunday meal. This is very likely due to the rising price of meat, and may also be a reflection of the more cosmopolitan tastes of Argentinians as they become more connected to the world beyond Argentina. Either way, the family remains very much at the heart of the Sunday celebration.