Buenos Aires – Tan Crudo! more or less literally means “it’s too raw!” But it’s an idiomatic expression, used a lot here, and means something to the effect of “You’re a blithering idiot, incapable of boiling water, let alone cooking edible food!” Argentines seem to love the expression, as do other South Americans I meet. I hear it a lot from Henry, who, like many of the rest, seem to feel that food should be cooked until it no longer retains any resemblance to a formerly living organism. This applies to meats, which are generally preferred a uniform greyish brown, preferably with nicely charred bits around the outside (this, by the way, is a lot of why sushi bars here are not only difficult to find of good quality, but only sparsely and furtively attended by locals). It includes vegetables, the once vibrant colors boiled, broiled, or baked until they resemble desert camouflage, and have the texture of wet paper towels. Certain items are excepted, like lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, and celery, but only if served in a salad – the moment they are to be cooked, they apparently must be cooked thoroughly, no halfway measures are allowed.
As if these two weren’t sacrilege enough, it also includes pasta, which, having “come up” through an Italian kitchen as my first cooking job, and worked in other Italian restaurants, I cook al dente. Given that the preference is for noodles that are cooked so close to their original paste state that they are only held together by mere surface tension, “Tan Crudo!” is decried in our dining room on a regular basis. Not that that stops me from cooking my pasta only to a point where it retains some “tooth”, but I do get to put up with diatribes on the evils of eating raw foods (he didn’t talk to me for 24 hours, other than a thorough lecture, the day I had steak tartare; and he still brings it up about once a week).
Depending on the foodstuff, we often eat separately. Not different dishes, but when possible I’ve reached the point where it’s easier to just pull my dinner off the stove, plate it, and leave his in the pan cooking. Generally I’m finished with dinner before he declares his fit to eat. I have to admit, I have a certain level of dread of our planned visit to New York later this year, envisioning him sending dish after dish back to the kitchen for more complete cooking. To my chef friends, just be prepared.
Rio de la Plata – It’s off to Uruguay again, this time on a bit of a PR jaunt. I was e-mailing back and forth with my friend Ken up in New England and he mentioned that he’d been invited on a press trip to tour some wineries in Uruguay. We exchanged a bit of information, figured out a way to get together at some point around the end of the trip, and then it occurred to me, why not see if they’d invite me along as well. A few more e-mails to the various people involved and I, too, was “on the list.” But it was January and February, and as is the custom here, various vacations were taking place, and no further details or confirmations were forthcoming. With less than two weeks to go, last week, anyone else who had been on that list had backed out. I too, finally gave up waiting and informed the agents involved that I couldn’t keep turning down other work. A flurry of exchanges and we settled on a much shortened trip (4½ days instead of 10), especially given that I don’t need much travel time to get to Uruguay, and had some familiarity with the country and wines – allowing us to skip over certain parts.
It also means I’m on this trip solo, which isn’t as much fun as exchanging various catty remarks with other food and wine journalists as we travel. I have a “handler” who will be escorting me around for the next few days, whom I will meet in about an hour. Which, finds me at the unholy hour of 7:30 in the morning on the Buquebus, one of the ferry lines that crosses the river throughout the day. Despite being 20 minutes late leaving the dock, it should only take slightly over an hour to reach the city of Colonia del Sacramento, where the whirlwind tour begins. The crossing is a mere 55 kilometers, the giant catamaran therefore moves at slightly less than 1 kilometer per hour. But then, the PR company sprang for the extra 40 pesos or so to get me on the “rapid” transit. There’s also a boat that takes 3 hours to make the same crossing. I think I could row faster than that – I’m guessing they just let it sort of drift across, with an occasional burst from the engines to keep it on course.
The Buquebus is a comfortable way to travel, if it wasn’t for the unending expanse of cappucino colored water outside the windows (the river isn’t polluted, it’s just filled with stirred up silt from it’s trip down from the mountains), you’d think you were on an airline experiencing a bit of turbulence. Reclining seats, a snack bar (okay, you have to go get your own food), and overhead monitors playing a looping series of vignettes on various events (mostly sporting) in Argentina and Uruguay. Undefinable music plays in the background, punctuated regularly by the Buquebus theme jingle, which, by the end of the trip, begins to feel a bit like living in the middle of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Coffee is by Nescafe®, from a machine that produces any of eight versions – from a simple largo, to espresso, to cappuccino, and other variations. Despite being a machine, and instant, an attendant stands at the machine and “makes” the coffee for you. Nescafe®, in Latin America, has become a proprietary eponym that refers to any instant coffee – “I’ll have a nescafe.” I accompanied mine with a small frollta, a latticed pastry of membrillo paste cooked down with port wine. Mine, reassuringly, had the name of the woman who made it on the label on the back – thank you Mabel Lillian Poggi. Unreasuringly it tells me that it was made 6 days ago and ought to be sold by the 13th of next month. Pastry that’s good for a month (with no preservatives)??? I think not.