Christmas Dinner in Rural Patagonia
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…
Jack Frost nipping at your nose”
Christmas in Patagonia is a world away from Nat King Cole’s wintery classic but replace ‘chestnuts’ with ‘lamb’ and ‘Jack Frost’ with ‘sunburn’ and you’ve got an idea of how Danny and I spent the most wonderful time of the year.
We had been out on horseback all day on Christmas Eve with our gaucho host Anastasio, herding his cattle to new pastures for the holiday period. As we trotted home weary and sunglazed, a wonderful sight came into view: a whole lamb roasting over an enormous open fire.
This, we discovered, is the traditional ‘asado al palo’ (roast on the stick) that Patagonians eat at Christmas. As epic an offering as the landscape of this amazing region, the Christmas asado brings the whole family together around the fire to catch up, drink, sing traditional songs, and argue about football before the roast is ready to devour.
Another asado option that Patagonians love is roast goat, a slightly cheaper option. Unfortunately, as we found out during our stay here, not all families can afford to spare a whole animal, but when this is the case, the community clubs together to make sure everybody can enjoy some festive cheer. Asados are for sharing, and with that much meat to eat, you’d expect so too!
As we luxuriated in the warm weather – a rare luxury for us Brits at Christmas – Anastasio’s wife fed us empanadas to keep our hunger at bay. Empanadas are eaten all over Argentina and usually consist of ground beef with onions, garlic and a vegetable or two, fried or oven-cooked in a thin pastry. They are not dissimilar to Cornish pasties.
Meanwhile, the lamb was slowly evolving from a raw carcass into a delicious-looking feast during its four hours cooking time. Some tips for a perfect asado include regularly turning the strung-out animal, which should be dug into the ground at a 70 degree angle towards the fire, as well as making sure the flames aren’t getting blown around too much by the wind.
Staring at roasting meat for hours on end does strange things to a man, but our patience was rewarded when the first strips of barbecued lamb were carved off – what a wonderful Christmas treat! The Patagonians usually eat it with boiled potatoes, tortas fritas – a typical argentine fried bread – and a simple salad of lettuce and tomato dressed with lemon, oil and salt, making it a rather more healthy meal than our roast turkey with all the trimmings.
Several helpings later, with stomachs stuffed to the sides, Anastasio brought out a panettone for dessert. This tradition, brought over by the four million Italians who emigrated to Argentina in the late 19th century, was a sweet end to our Patagonian Christmas dinner!
Keep up to date with Danny & Harry’s epic trip on the Sumak Travel blog’s AdventureLust category and on Twitter (#AdventureLust). This Friday you can read the full post about their Christmas adventures in Patagonia.