If you aren’t a vegetarian than one of the things that you cannot miss is traditional South America asado. Asado is a term used for both a range of barbecue techniques and the social event of having or attending a barbecue in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. Asado is even considered the national dish in Argentina where the average intake of beef is around 70kg (around 154 pounds) per person / per year.
As a former expat living in Chile, I can attest to the popularity of the asado. It was a common weekly event where family and friends would come together on a weekend to enjoy a plethora of different cuts of meat and sausages prepared on a old-school coal grill. Vegetables are often served as a side dish but they are often untouched. The meat is so good that it quickly disappears seconds after it gets taken off the grill, washed down with a cold glass of beer or some Chilean red wine.
Here are some basic terms that you should familiarize yourself with
asado – barbecue (comes from asar, which means to roast, so asado means roasted)
achuras – offals or entrails and internal organs of a animal used as food
parilla – grill or open fire
asador – person doing the grilling (typically a man)
If you are visiting any of the aforementioned countries and are lucky enough to be invited to a real asado, then prepare yourself for hours upon hours of heavy meat eating.
Traditional Family-Gathering Asado
The traditional South American asado always started off with some appetizers, also known as achuras (this words comes from the Quechua language which means sharing or distributing). These achuras are often different types of meats/sausages that are eaten with buns or bread. Common achuaras include: chorizo (sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), rinones (kidneys) and tripa gorda (tripe / stomach).
For the main course, the preparation of the meat is immensely simple. The meat is seasoned lightly with some salt and pepper. That’s about it. There is no need for a marinade, spices and/or barbecue sauce; the meat is just that good. Nonetheless, although the seasoning may be simple, the cuts of meat must be meticulously cooked. Some grills have a chain and a hand crank that will raise or lower the grill, keeping the distance between the embers and the meat just right depending on the cut of the beef. Different cuts of meats include:
costillas – rib roast
tira de asado – rack of ribs
colita de cuadril – rump steak
vacio – flank steak
matambre – thin flank steak
pollo – chicken
chivito – kid (baby goat)
Side dishes include grilled veggies, salad and a never ending supply of alcohol.
Ordering at a Restaurant
Many of the cuts of meat mentioned above can also be ordered when eating out at a restaurant. Commercial steak houses often offer a little of everything in a parrillada (mixed grill). Items could include chorizo (beef or pork sausage), pollo (chicken), costillas (ribs) and carne (beef). However, I would highly recommend that travelers also order a prime beef cut. These countries are famous for their beef so dive right in. Some common cuts include:
bife de chorize – sirloin. Thick, juicy and popular cut
bife de costilla – T-bone, a cut close to the bone; also called chuleta
Bife de lomo – tenderloin, thinly cut, more tender piece
Cuadril – rump steak; often a thin cut
ojo de bife – ribeye; a choice smaller morsel
tira de asado – shortibs; thin strips of ribs and meat sliced crosswise
vacio – flank steak; textured and chewy but extremely tasty
Now if you don’t specify, your steak will probably be cooked a punto (medium). If you are extremely picky about the way your steak is cooked than you might benefit from learning a little bit of Spanish so as to accurately describe what you want to your waiter. Jugoso is Spanish for medium rare but depending on the restaurant this could meant bloody or just a little pink inside. Bien cocido means well done.
If you think your Spanish is up to par, here a couple of suggestions of descriptions on how you would like your meat prepared:
RARE: rojo intenso y sangrante en el centro / MEDIUM RARE: rosado y bien jugoso / MEDIUM: a punto pero todavia jugoso / WELL DONE: bien cocido.