Over a year ago, D and I had dinner with some friends at an Argentinian restaurant. It was a place that my friends and I frequently visited, so we already knew our favorite dishes, but it was D’s first time there. While studying the menu, he was immediately fixated on the “parrillada mixta” – a platter with a variety of meat, including steak, short ribs, chicken, sweetbreads, and blood sausage.
“We HAVE to get this!” he exclaimed.
“No. It’s really expensive, and too much food.” I argued.
“But when are we EVER going to eat this again?!”
He had a point there. The restaurant was far from where we live and it wasn’t the kind of thing you’d eat often. So I gave in. We ordered it and a huge platter arrived on a sizzling grill. It was meant for 4 people, but the 2 of us tore through it. Given that it was the first time my friends were meeting D, I’m sure he made quite an impression.
It was a lovely meal. A taste of Argentina in Los Angeles. And that was that.
Fast forward to now, and we’re once again faced with a mountain of meat in front of us on a sizzling grill. Except this time, we’re in Argentina. That December evening, while stuffing our face and laughing over what pigs we are (clearly, some things never change), we never imagined that one day we’d be eating the same meal on the other side of Earth, in its home-country of origin.
Same meal, but not quite the same.
Argentina is famously known for a few things: tango, malbec, and consumption of beef. We’d be remiss to come all this way and not partake in them. But obviously, of the three, we were most eager to partake in consumption of beef. And for that, you go to a parrilla (or steakhouse).
After doing a bit of research, we decided to go to Las Cholas in the hipster Las Canitas neighborhood (an area known for its many parrillas), for its great value and reputation. We sat in the bright, airy second floor covered terrace, on wicker chairs and a layer of stone beneath our feet.
Immediately, we got good vibes from this place. The complimentary bread and sour cream spread were absolutely delicious. I couldn’t stop eating even though I knew it’d make me full before the meat comes. And the lemonade came in the cutest jug ever!
Observations about Buenos Aires: It’s an American misconception that chimmichurri is the sauce of the Argentines. Rather, bread here comes with a light and fluffy whipped sour cream spread. Orange juice and lemonade are the popular (non-alcoholic) drinks here.
We started our meal with an order of the provoleta completa, a cheese dish that came in a cast iron skillet. The warm, melty slab of provolone was topped with oregano, onions and tomato. We greedily devoured it, and only paused briefly to take note of the fact that we were in fact eating pure chunks of cheese.
Finally comes the meat! Even though it was only the two of us, we ordered the parrillada completa, the complete mixed grill, just like last time (like I said, some things never change).
There were the usual meats: skirt steak, hanger steak, short ribs, chicken, and pork sausages. But there was also the more interesting pieces: intestine and other organ meats.
But the most interesting by far was the blood sausage. Now, I’ve had blood sausage when we previously got the parrillada platter at the aforementioned Argentinian restaurant in Los Angeles. I was rather proud of myself for trying it and I actually quite liked it. But I now understand that what I had there was an extremely sanitized American version of this Argentinian creation.
What I had then was a sausage stuffed with rice, minced meat, and spices, with a little bit of sauce that you can assume is made from blood. What I see now in front of me is a sausage with a mushy, completely indecipherable deep purple filling. No rice, no discernable pieces of meat. Just mush.
I cut off an end piece, and willed myself to try it. It stared back at me, taunting me. Finally, I picked it up with my fork and plopped it into my mouth, casing and all, and started chewing.
Immediately, the mush oozed through the entire inside of my mouth, thick and viscous, like glue. It stuck itself everywhere, to the roof of my mouth, under my tongue, in between my teeth and cheeks. It felt as if my mouth was swimming in molasses, except without the sweet taste. I’ve never eaten anything with a texture like this. Somehow I managed to force it down and spent the next few minutes cleaning out the insides of the mouth, where the mush left a sticky, slimy residue.
After a while, I looked around to see if everyone rejected this vile piece of food. Surely, even Argentinians can’t honestly like this! That was when I noticed that everyone was spreading the blood sausage filling on bread. Duh! Why didn’t I think of that?
The taste was actually pretty good. It’s one of those foods that you’re not entirely sure you want to know what it’s made of, but it was spiced enough that the taste was not unpleasant. It was the texture that did me in.
In the end, after we could no longer shove any more food into our mouths, this is what we ended up with: take homes on the left, and rejects on the right.
What: Las Cholas is very locally well-known for its great value. True, there are fancier and better parrillas in town, but you won’t find one that even comes close to what you get at Las Cholas for your money. And I quite like the rustic charm of the place.
Where: Las Cholas is located in the Las Canitas neighborhood of Buenos Aires, on the corner of Arce and Arevalo.
How much: I could barely believe it, but the parrillada plate was a mere $192 Argentinian pesos, or $24US (going by official exchange rate. This reminds me that I’ll need to explain the complicated money exchange rates separately). I forgot to mention that it also came with a bowl of fries. This portion is recommended for 3 people.
The final verdict: Even though we did not love everything (as evidenced by our reject pile), the value was good enough that we don’t feel like we wasted money. And plus, we ended up with couple of meals’ worth of leftovers. We will definitely return and get just the steak and short ribs. I also hear that the empanadas are the best in town.
But as for the blood sausage? I think it’s a pass for next time.
Have you been to a parrilla in Argentina? Do you like blood sausage? Share your stories!
This post is part of the #sundaytraveler series. Check out this post Travel Memories with Mom by Pack Me To (@packmeto), and don’t forget to support all the other participating blogs (links at the bottom of post)!