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Cows and Christmas: A cultural exchange

Filed in Argentina, Blog by on June 9, 2011

Thanks to my Intercultural Communication class, a rather unique (and delicious) cultural convergence took place.  It began as an attempt to share a “quintessential Argentine” experience and a “quintessential North American” experience, and turned into a kind of culinary fear factor.

Phase One: Argentina’s Turn

A friend of mine, who sweetly agreed to be my cultural exchange partner, drove me out into the mountains for an Asado, otherwise known as Argentine BBQ.  Although rather than a bag of charcoal picked up at the gas station, you use actual wood (go figure) and rather than brown sugar and ketchup you use salt- the Argentine seasoning of choice.

The drive took us outside Mendoza, through the fields of drying grape vines, past the run down neighborhoods they don’t show you in travel brochures and into the picturesque winding roads of the entrance to the Andes.  As with all BBQs, real estate is everything.  Prime picnic territory always has a scenic view, wind shelter, shade trees and just enough distance from neighboring picnic-ers to not feel as though you must defend your plate from scavengers.  Thanks to our guide, we set up camp beside a river in the middle of a mountain canyon.

On the menu: Matahambre a la Pizza.  Translation: Giant slab of meat lovingly smothered in spiced tomato sauce and creamy cheese.  But before the cow can be cooked, the vegetables need to be charred in the fire.  Just the outside though, and not a cremation-char, just a burn-the-outside-char.  The eggplant and onions then became a delicious salad, and when the cow was cooked through and the chef gave the signal, the feast began.

This is not time to go into graphic detail about the flavors that happened that day, and so I will leave you alone with this picture and your imagination.

Phase Two: The USA’s Turn

It was a struggle to come up with an activity that is typical in the US.  The brainstorming session was quite fruitless: we could go to a baseball game — which doesn’t exist here, we could go to a state fair — same issue, and somehow the idea of watching “American Idol” while eating McDonalds just didn’t really entice me.  So instead, I decided we should celebrate Christmas – a la USA.  Which in this case meant Christmas cookies.



Now, estimating recipe yield is never something I pretend to be good at.  I have a chronic worry that there will not be enough, which led to a vat of extra butter cream frosting.  Whoopsi.  And while I was concocting the perfect blend of sugar and butter, it dawned at me that this cultural exchange was a display of some of the more ridiculous foods each culture had to offer.  Would any other country but Argentina have the gumption to turn a cow into a pizza as it cooks on the grill?  No.  And would any other country but ours think it was acctually acceptable to whip together butter and sugar and then smear that on top of a sugar cookie, only to adhere onto said cookie even more sugar?  Nope, probably not.

Never the less, we rolled sugar cookies, frosted them and showered them in sprinkles and candies while listening to Christmas carols.  Turns out the more modern selections on the iTunes Happy Holidays play list do not go over so well this far south of the equator.  “You really listen to this?” was a common question, accompanied by a slight look of horror.  Then to end the festivities, we read The Night Before Christmas, which also was not such a hit, and really very difficult to translate.

So, tummies full of sugar cookies and dreams of cow a la pizza dancing in our heads, the cultural exchange came to an end.  Everyone pleasantly charmed by the wonders we had seen.

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  1. That sounds like such an amazing cultural exchange! An Argentinean Asado and American Christmas. Wish I could have been there! I would have made a yule log pumpkin roll, and would have also way over-estimated how much sugary cream cheese was needed. At least you didn’t offer them a Coney Island hot dog–complete with toppings like cole slaw, chili, pineapple, and banana peppers! Now that is one of the more ridiculous American foods. As far as”The Night Before Christmas,” I can see why there weren’t big on it. Maybe Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer would have had better intercultural appeal…?