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Life

Gourmet Destinations - Argentina

Wander the streets of Buenos Aires and it won’t take long to hit you; the mysterious, alluring aroma of grilled meat wafting from a restaurant door, or, just as likely, somebody’s backyard. Food in Argentina is a big deal. It’s as deeply entrenched in the culture as tango or ‘the beautiful game’ and when it comes to cooking, the term fast food is something of an oxymoron.

Much of the cuisine revolves around meat. Mention the word ‘vegan’ and most people will assume you’re talking about Dr Spock. Argentines are the world’s second largest consumers of beef; each person chows down around 58 kilograms a year and more than half the restaurants in the country are parrillas, named after the grill the meat is cooked over.

None of this is to suggest it’s as simple as slapping a quick steak on the barbecue while rustling up a salad. Anything but. In Argentina, the cooking of meat is seen as an art form and is treated with appropriate reverence. “It’s about taking your time,” says Elvis Abrahanowicz, co-founder of Sydney’s acclaimed Argentine restaurant, Porteno. “It’s all to do with the fire, getting the embers just right and warming them up slowly. There’s hardly any heat in it.

“If you’re cooking a whole animal, you always have a fire on the side rather then smashing it full of coals. You really only cook it on one side. It gets the heat into the bones then the bones get hot so it’s almost cooking from the inside out.”

Influences

Argentine cuisine has heavy Mediterranean influences, thanks largely to Spanish colonisation in the 16th Century, as well as a massive influx of Italian immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If beefsteak is the staple, it’s almost always accompanied with chimichuri sauce, a simple but fiendishly delicious combination of garlic, onion, olive oil, oregano, red wine vinegar and lime juice.

And then there’s chorizo, though as Carole Poole, a former Argentine native now living in Australia, explains, “It’s sacrilege to call a chorizo a ‘sausage’, as it is so much more; nothing I’ve tasted anywhere else in the world comes near to the flavour of a good chorizo.” Cooked on an asado, the Spanish term for barbecue, chorizo is often served simply in a crispy bread roll and regarded as a meal in itself. Meat is often seasoned minimally, using mainly salt and pepper. Of greater importance is the way in which it’s cooked, as well as the cuts chosen.

“Apart from the chorizos, and equally important, are the different cuts of meat that comprise the ‘asado’”, explains Carole. “Favourites are skirt steak, f lank steak, sweet breads, black pudding, and even small intestine, always garnished for extra flavour while cooking with chimichurri.” The usual accompaniments for an asado are fresh crisp bread, green salad and frequently, potato salad. Creme caramel or flan is the dessert of choice, often drizzled with dulce de leche sauce, a deliriously delicious sweetened milk confection.

Family Affair

Aside from the cooking itself, part of the importance of food culturally in Argentina stems from a desire for friends and family to convene and spend quality time together. “It’s everything,” says Elvis. “I think because of the mix of cultures, everyone wants to bring it all together and share it, it’s created its own cuisine, one that people are super passionate about.

“If we had an asado at my house, it’d be an all day affair, a big eating fest! Everyone gets up early. The girls would get making fresh pasta and the guys would get the fire going, and my dad and uncles would cook all day.”

None of this is to suggest that anything overly elaborate or pretentious would accompany the cooking process. If anything, Elvis’ father, Adan, who works alongside his son in the kitchen at Porteno, is known to actively eschew expensive gear in favour of more old-school methods. “My old man is the MacGyver of making barbecues,” jokes Elvis. “He’ll make one out of anything, a few bricks, some wire mesh. We still cook like that.”

The point was reinforced after Adan bagged himself a $7000 state-of-the art barbecue after winning a cooking competition a couple of years back. Apparently Adan lit it up once, after which it languished in the garage gathering dust, never to be used again. Perhaps it’s a fitting metaphor for Argentine food, where simplicity is key and less is so often more.

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Calmer Waters at Likuliku Lagoon Resort Fiji
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 20 Apr 2017
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A week in an  overwater bure  comes at a premium price, but as the Group General Manager, Steve Anstey explains, “They are complex. They cannot just be built anywhere and their construction and maintenance is difficult and costly.” Part of the complexity lies in the fact that they have to be built on a flat seabed surrounded by coral reefs, with the latter providing essential stability.  But if that’s ringing environmental alarm bells, never fear, as Steve describes, “We were all acutely aware and concerned for our precious reef during construction and together with the Mamanuca Environmental Society, we took elaborate steps to protect them at all times.”  As well as the tides, the overwater bures have to withstand extreme  weather events like Cyclone Winston and thankfully they stood up to its incredible ferocity.  Lizard Lodgers Although the sea life is certainly the star of a visit to Likuliku, there’s another wild inhabitant that’s stealing a spot in the limelight. You have to look very carefully, but in a vegetation-filled enclosure near the resort’s main building are some unique lizards lounging around.  The Malolo Iguana was though to be extinct until a chance find in 2010 saw an injured one rescued from behind of the Likuliku bures. Unfortunately, this little guy didn’t survive, but much to the delight of iguana aficionados the world over, several more have since been found, seven of which call the resort home as part of an observation and breeding process. Five Star Sustenance
Diet is obviously crucial to maintaining the health of the iguanas and behind the resort, several native plants are grown in the kitchen garden. This little patch of carefully tended vegetables, herbs and local fruits also provides sustenance for Likuliku’s two-legged guests and executive chef Shane Watson can be found there throughout the day, picking produce for his  ever-changing menu .  Shane was part of the resort’s opening team in 2007 and stayed for two years before spending very successful stints in Sydney, Thailand and finally, Perth, where he took the Print Hall restaurant to two Chef Hat-status in just two years. Having returned to Likuliku in 2015 with his wife and daughter, Shane clearly relishes the relaxed vibe of Fiji living. At the same time, though, the cogs of his culinary mind are in constant motion, rising to the challenge of island cooking.  While he grows a variety of fresh produce in the garden, a lot of his ingredients arrive by barge and if something goes awry with the delivery, a good imagination in the kitchen is critical. Thankfully, Shane has good relationships with local suppliers, especially for fish, but it hasn’t been all smooth sailing with sourcing regular supplies. An early challenge came when Shane met a doctor who’d started a prawn farm. So he took the half-hour drive on sealed roads followed by a further two hours up through the hills only to discover the ‘farm’ was a tank in which he found about 20 prawns!  Another challenge came early on when Shane happened upon a local who kept ducks and ordered 20 in one go. But it turned out this was the whole flock, so when he returned for more, there were none left. Thankfully, this farmer has since mastered his trade and now provides a steady supply.  One of the constants throughout Shane’s tenures has been mud crab, which he handpicks from the trees. Yes, you read that correctly. Wrapped in reeds, these live crawlers are hung up by farmers in the roadside foliage ready to sell to passers by. Shane is a regular customer as it’s a feature of one of his signature breakfast dishes, the very popular mud crab omelette. While the omelette features consistently, the rest of the menu changes daily and with the seasons. Shane will also design a personal menu to cater for dietary needs. Blissed Out
As the sun settles into its ‘bedroom’, Likuliku winds down too, leaving its well-nourished guests to retreat to their bures, the sound of the calm waters lapping against the sand the perfect closing soundtrack to a day in paradise.
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