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Argentina's Great Steaks
Argentina is the world's capital of beef, and Buenos Aires the capital of Argentina. So does Buenos Aires have the world's best steak?
It's hard to say no after your first bite into a tender morsel of deeply flavored beef, carefully charred by an open fire. Indeed, aside from the estancias (ranches) on the pampas grasslands themselves, Buenos Aires is probably the best place to eat in a parrilla (steak house). That said, it can be difficult, upon a first glance at the bewildering menu of a parrilla, to know where to begin. Merely speaking Spanish isn't enough: entire books have been written attempting to pin down which cuts of meat in Argentina correspond to which ones in the United States and Europe. There's much disagreement. The juicy bife de chorizo, for example, the king of Argentine steaks, is translated by some as a bone-in sirloin, by others as a rump steak—and it's not as if "sirloin steak" is well defined to begin with.
Don't worry about definitions. If you order a parrillada—everything but the kitchen sink—a sizzling platter will be brought to you. Don't be timid about trying the more unfamiliar pieces. The platter will usually include a salty, juicy link or two of chorizo (a large, spicy sausage), and a collection of achuras (innards), which some first-timers struggle with. King among them is the gently spicy and oozingly delicious morcilla (blood sausage—like the British black pudding or the French boudin noir); give it a chance. Even more challenging are the chewy chinchulines (coils of small intestine), which are best when crisped on the outside, and the strongly flavored riñones (kidneys). Although mollejas (sweetbreads) aren't usually part of a parrillada spread (they're more expensive), don't miss their unforgettable taste and fatty, meltingly rich texture, like a meatier version of foie gras. You'll also want to try the rich provoleta (grilled provolone cheese sprinkled with olive oil and oregano) and garlic-soaked grilled red peppers.
You can also skip the ready-made parrillada and instead order à la carte, as the locals often do. You might try the vacio (flank steak, roughly translated), a common cut that is flavorful but can also be tough, especially if overcooked. You may instead be seduced by the lomo (tenderloin or filet mignon), the softest and priciest cut, and like the immortal bife de chorizo, always a safe bet. Both of those steaks are better when requested rare ("vuelta y vuelta"), or, at the least medium-rare ("jugoso").
But the true local favorite is the inimitable asado de tira, a rack of beef short ribs often cooked on a skewer over an open fire. Done properly, the asado brandishes the meatiest grass-fed flavor of all. As for accompaniments, the classics are a mix-and-match salad and/or french fries. And don't forget that delicious Argentine red wine; Malbecs and Cabernets both pair well with the deeply flavored meat. And though the first time you visit a parrilla the mountain of meat might seem mind-bogglingly high, chances are that by the time you leave you'll be cleaning your plate and gnawing at the bones with the best of them.
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