One of my favorite rituals when I travel to Argentina happens during meal times. The fact that we have to set up for a large group (which is usually the case) does not interfere in the meal activity at all, you chatter and gossip with each other as you set the table for many, it’s a big family, many will come. The “American” in me, of course, is thinking “This is going to take too long I don’t want to do it.” – Yes, I admit it, have those thoughts. But I remind myself “What is the rush? Where am I gonna’ go? I am on vacation in Argentina, after all.”We usually go during summer, and often we get to eat outside under shady trees and with a very inviting hammock not too far away. Whether we’ve spend all day cooking, or we’ve bought take out or we are eating a delicious Asado, the whole point is to be together, share, eat, drink wine, relax and talk. This will take at least a couple of hours…there is no rush, really.
Oh, but it’s not all a Kumbaya moment, it’s also family time and that means….there is a little arguing, yelling at the kids, kids yelling back, complaining we are too fat or too skinny (yeah right), too full, etc. Then if you throw in a little nostalgia about the good ol’ days, you’ve got yourself an Argentine family meal. Those who finish first and somehow dodge the clean-up will casually and playfully race each other towards the hammock. The lucky winner sleeps it off under the trees to the sounds of birds…really, I’m not kidding. The rest slowly and quietly disappear indoors – yes, now it’s siesta time and time for your own private food coma.
This is not just a ritual of our family – it’s a national tradition to bring many to the table, eat the meal slowly and share the wine. The first time I went out to dinner in Argentina, we were a group 8. When we arrived at the restaurant (10 pm mind you), we were taken to our table and someone brought us bread and a jug of wine. To me, it seemed like they never came back to take give us menus but then no one was really waiting for them, they were drinking wine and chatting. Eventually the menus arrived. Again, to me, it seemed like forever before they came back to take the order AND when they did arrive, they didn’t take written notes…as I looked at the group, I realized, I was the only one paying attention to any of this.
The food was brought out pretty quickly and to my surprise the waiter missed nothing, it was perfect – what do I know? The table became festive, loud and fun and we enjoyed the evening and delighted our taste buds with food and wine that kept coming. When we finished and the plates were cleared, to my astonishment we started all over again with new menus for dessert and coffee. Now, it’s been at least 1.5 hours since we arrived I am thinking (don’ they need this table of 8 for another party? – yes the American in me). The whole dance began again with the waiter not coming to get the dessert order. Again, no one cared or paid attention; they were all simply enjoying each others company. The order is taken, the table gets excited about the desserts (like we’ve never eaten before) and we drink coffee and keep talking. Remember by now it’s 11:30pm (nope, no discussion about caffeine and not sleeping). I will not go into the scenario of asking for the check and then the paying part, you get the picture. About 2.5 hours later we walk out – full, satisfied and content!
These two quick anecdotes of breaking bread are normal in Argentina. Though it takes me at least a day to stop the hyperness and sense of urgency which I arrive with from the US, I am quickly enveloped in the slow, relaxed way they live. I start to really enjoy my vacation and remind myself, “What is the rush? Where am I gonna’ go? I am on vacation in Argentina, after all.”
I hope you consider joining us in April for the Well-being Wine and Food Tour in Mendoza, Argentina – you will love it.
Photos thanks to Garcia Betancourt & Ignacio Gaffuri of Wines of Argentina