Patagonian Feasting: El Calafate, Argentina

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Leaving the lush green, red and orange autumnal colours of Ushuaia, a short journey on the other side of the mountains revealed a Patagonian landscape completely opposite to one I’d just left behind. Here there were no tall trees or hills covered in greenery, but a barren landscape only  dotted by a few shrubs and the native calafate bush, which lends its name to the town of El Calafate.
The sheer emptiness of a landscape that rolls for as far as the eye can see is a thrill to behold, invoking an overwhelming sense of being humbled by the immensity of nature, and all this is before one has even set eyes on a 30,000 year old glacier as big as Buenos Aires called Perito Moreno, let alone the other ancient glaciers that are the main attraction here, dotting the gigantic Argentina lake with deep blue icebergs.

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Grilled lamb

I was hankering after some Patagonian lamb, after having seen flocks of them grazing the nearby fields and a restaurant,  La Tablita, near my hotel had caught my eye earlier in the day and when it looked full at dinner, my feet automatically led the way to the front door. There really was no need to look at the menu, it was grilled Patagonian lamb with a bit of pumpkin puree on the side. Big mistake! The lamb, I can only say with much gusto, is that it is by far the best tasting lamb I have ever tasted. However, my one portion could have easily fed two very hungry people, and I succumbed half way through with great despair and sadness. But what a tasty animal that fed me tonight!

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Lamb stew

The following evening I teamed up with a fellow traveller and we made our way to Pura Vida a restaurant we had both, individually, gone to the night before, only to have found it shut (on a Wednesday mind you!). The first thing about the restaurant is that there is something intensely comforting about the décor with its wooden interiors, mellow, warm colours, a cosy cottage feeling. According to the waitress, the house speciality was the lamb stew in a pumpkin so that’s what it was. She did mention it wasn’t that big, but oh! What a lie that turned out to be! When the monster arrived it was a whole pumpking carved out and filled with lamb, peach and vegetable stew, covered with parmesan and baked in the oven. A mammoth of a dish. Luckily, fellow traveller decided to take her food home and share my lamb. Once again it was so very, very good, so comforting, just perfect with a bottle of Malbec and for the cold Patagonian night. Buenisimo!

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Meat platter

You’d be surprised at how hungry you can get after spending 6 hours on a catamaran, marvelling at rolling hills and snow peaked mountains that only serve as the background for icebergs and glaciers. Having met another fellow traveller and one who had actually gone trekking on the glaciers, the consensus favoured a restaurant minutes away from our hotel. Don Pincho with its sweeping view across the lake and valley seemed to favour its customers towards the meat platter for two. This was just the opportunity I was waiting for as having seen people in every restaurant I’d been to ordering such a thing, I now had a dining companion with whom I could partake of this Argentinian tradition. True to its heritage, what turned up was a gargantuan sizzling heap of beef, lamb, pork, chicken, morcilla, chorizo and veal kidney! Our first reaction was to laugh at the sheer size of the thing, then egging on our macho appetites, made vows to not let the game of man vs. food turn in favour of food. Things seemed to be going well halfway into the meal, and then food got the upper hand and we haplessly watched as every attempt to fit another bite into our expanding stomachs started to fail until eventually, we conceded defeat, agreeing that this was a plate for 3 people. Yet, a carnivorous feast beautifully cooked still warrants finger licking even in mans downfall over dinner. Brilliant!

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