If you aren't following my steady stream of excited food chatter on Twitter , then you may not realise I am currently doing some extensive food research in the land of wine, coffee, red meat, chocolate and all things toxic- I am eating in Argentina, and I thoroughly approve.
A few days ago I took a 20 hour bus from the capital of Buenos Aires to Bariloche, in the Patagonian Andes where today, I tried Caranto.
Caranto is made by cooking meat and vegetables under ground (The name Calanto comes from the type of rock on which the meat is cooked.) Pits are dug into the soil and wood is placed in them, onto which a fire is built. The fire is layered over with rocks, which are heated by the flames. It takes a few hours for the fire to heat the rocks through, after which leaves are piled onto the hot rocks to trap in the smoke and absorb the fat whilst the meat, which is placed on top, is cooked through from the heat.
My only previous experience of Caranto has been on survival documentaries, and it is something I've been keen to try, so we found ourselves a restaurant where caranto meat was being carried on trays from table to table, distributed by waitresses onto waiting plates. We arrive, and a man pulls back a heavy blanket which covers the pit of leaves, revealing a deep pit filled with whole chickens, piles of apples and lumps of blackened steaks, smoke billowing out from the piles of leaves covering the pit.
A scruffy little caranto pit.
Not a great photo! I will replace it when I get the opportunity so you can get a better idea...
Typically, you are served 5 portions of vegetables and meat- sausage, beef, chicken, lamb and my favourite (unusually) pork; with a soft, wrinkled whole baked apple. Each meat came with a variety of squash mashes and baked sweet potato, brought to the table one at a time. The meat and vegetables (and the very air of the restaurant) smells and tastes distinctly smokey, yet different -more earthy- than typical barbeque'd meat.
I'm not especially a fan of red meat or BBQ food (you may wonder what I'm doing in Argentina... Did I mention the chocolate and the wine..?) but it was nonetheless a good meal, and well worth the very traditionally South American experience.
Please check back for more Argentina posts, including recipes, experimentations with South American cuisine and illustrated gourmet guides!