Land of fire and ice, of soaring mountains, endless pampas and freezing desert, Patagonia is one of the most stunning places on the planet. Bordered in the north by The Colorado and Barrancas Rivers and on three sides by the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans, 90 per cent of the area lies in Argentina and 10 per cent in Chile; over a million square kilometres in total. But with fewer than two million residents, it’s one of the world’s most sparsely populated regions, with a density of just 1.9 people per km2.
Patagonia is a huge draw for adventuresome tourists, hikers, and lovers of nature. But despite the ever-increasing arrivals, it’s sheep farming that has remained the mainstay of the local economy: with roughly 8 sheep per person, residents are never short of a nice lamb stew…
For the Patagonian gauchos, meat is a dietary mainstay, with oodles of mutton and lamb on the menu. But there are also a fair few cattle around, and Patagonian beef is said to be among the best in the world. But why limit yourself to just one meaty dish when you could have the whole lot? In Patagonia, it’s the asado that’s the thing: a local version of the cookout.
A barbeque of types, the asado sees everything from beef to mutton, lamb, chorizo, sweetbreads, kidneys and chicken cooked over a parrilla, a grill heated with wood or coals. Slow and low is apparently the way to go with your asado: meat should be cooked slowly over low heat, and wood is preferable to coals as it gives a better flavour. Seasoning is light and consists mainly of salt, pepper, and a few fresh herbs, and the fare is usually served with savoury sauces such as chimichurri – a condiment made from finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano and red wine vinegar.
Away from the plains, the focus is more on the seafood. Centolla (king crab) and congrio (conger eel) are common, as are melt-in-the-mouth salmon and trout. But should you favour carbs over a protein feast, regional fare includes more than a few grain-based dishes: delicious pastel de choclo (a type of corn pie, which often contains ground beef, chicken, raisins, black olives, onions or slices of hard-boiled egg); the Chilean chapalele (a dumpling made from boiled potatoes and wheat flour); and the Argentinian humita (dough-wrapped corn, sautéed onions and spices, possibly with a little of the region’s excellent cheeses!).