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Moving Box Bet – Argentina AND Uruguay!

7 Mar

If you are unfamiliar with our Moving Box Bet series, check out Justin’s first challenge from Peru, and his second challenge from Chile.

It took a long time for us to find a suitable food challenge for Justin in Argentina.  This mostly has to do with the fact that just about everything we’ve come across here is delicious!  Argentina has a lovely mix of Spanish and Italian heritage, and as a result you get some great pasta, pastries, and meat.  All of these we love, so you can see the dilemma.

In Argentina, people eat a lot of meat.  A lot.  Parillas (place that cook meat on a grill) are a dime-a-dozen, it’s an Atkins diet dream come true.

One thing we discovered in our quest to get better at reading menus is that people here eat every part of the cow.  Seriously.  Every part.

This diagram is missing a few key elements...

It is not uncommon to find sweetbreads or other organ meats on the menu.  Lonely Planet even lists ‘ubre’ (udder) in the food glossary, which mean you must be able to find that in at least a few establishments.  We had resigned ourselves to the fact that we would simply have to find a place that could grill up some good thymus gland and that would suffice for Justin’s challenge, despite the fact that it’s really not all that unusual.

That was before we met our couchsurf host.

We had the pleasure of staying with a fantastic family for most of our time in Buenos Aires, and we shared the concept of the Moving Box Bet with them in the hopes that they could point us towards a reputable place for Justin to complete the challenge.  Much to my delight, our host exclaimed that there were way more unique parts of the cow that could be cooked and eaten.  Parts that she in fact knew how to cook.  Parts like the brain.

Until this point I was totally unaware that you could waltz into a butcher and just ask for a brain, but apparently you can.  Our first few attempts at locating this precious item were unsuccessful and we had resigned ourselves once again to the thymus.  On our second to last night we were heading out to dinner with some friends of our host’s daughter and we happened to pass a butcher.  We popped in and low and behold, the man had not one, but TWO brains available for us to choose from! Jackpot!

The brain was frozen, which was ideal since we were on our way to dinner and didn’t have time to run back to the apartment before we were due to meet the rest of our party.  Our host’s daughter simply had them double bag it, and she casually popped it into her purse as if it was no big thing to be carrying a frozen brain on your way to a restaurant. I was giddy over the whole situation and kept bursting into laughter at the thought of the brain just chilling in her purse during dinner.

Tragically this was the ONLY NIGHT we have ever forgotten our camera in the last 4 months.  Go figure. I could not get over our luck at finding the thing, and our sheer stupidity for not having the camera to document the moment.

The next day, true to her word, our host expertly cooked the brain (just a tip, you have to soak it in vinegar for about 15 minutes, remove some sort of filmy outer membrane, and then you can boil it) and had it ready to go for dinner that night.  There is a long history of people eating brain in different parts of the world.  In Italy they used to chop it up and use it as filling for ravioli.  You can also slice it thinly, bread it, and fry it, like Milanese.  The possibilities are endless.  For the purpose of the challenge, I requested that it remain whole, you know, so Justin could see it for exactly what it was before he ate it.

We actually shared a lovely full meal with the family that evening, and brain wasn’t the only thing on the menu.  We had decided that since we’d only be in Uruguay for a short time, and since the menu is very similar, that Justin would eat TWO things that night and one of them would count for Uruguay.   If Lonely Planet can lump them together into one guidebook, then we can lump them together into one challenge. We decided on something you can find easily at every parilla in Argentina and Uruguay – morcilla, or blood sausage, to round out the evening.  In all, I consider it a spectacular success.

Bikes. Wine. Empanadas.

17 Jan

Obviously we went to Mendoza for the wine.  What we didn’t expect was to stumble upon a great little hostel, the Empredrado, which offered not only a free glass of wine every day (hello amazing!) but also a free empanadas making class!

We have completely fallen in love with empanadas, in all of their forms, so we were super excited to be learning how to make them on our first night in the city.

My first empanada!

As it turns out, they are ridiculously easy to put together, especially when you can buy the dough, pre-cut to the perfect size, in any grocery store in Argentina.   Basically, you prepare your filling, which traditionally is meat with onion, part of a hard-boiled egg and a piece of olive, though really you can fill them with whatever you want.  Once that’s sorted out you put a little bit on one side of the dough, fold it over and crease the edges together.

Place the ‘raw’ empanadas on a baking sheet, brush with butter, pop them in the oven and voila! Perfect empanadas!

The first tray is finished. Don't put them too close together or you end up with siamese-empanadas.

The next day, full of energy provided by my new favorite snack food and with some new-found friends, we headed out to sample some of the local wine.  It’s incredibly easy to rent a bike for the day in Maipu, just outside of Mendoza, and just peddle yourself around some of the local vineyards, stopping to sample wine or grab a bite to eat along the way.   You can take a city bus out to the town, and then walk around the main square where you’ll have your pick of bike rentals.  Prices seem to be around 30 pesos per day at this point, but there is definitely a little bit of room for haggling if you are there in a slower season.

Maps in hand we set off down the dusty road.  Our plan was to ride out to the furthest point on the map, about 12 kilometers away, and then make our way back while sampling along the way.  I’d highly recommend this route as it seems that cycling 12K after a day of drinking might be less than ideal.

It’s easy to see the similarities of this area with parts of northern Italy, especially with the abundance of Cyprus trees that lined our route and we were thankful for the shade in the near 100 degree heat.

There were way too many wineries for us to be able to hit them all, but we made it to Vistandes, Carinae, Di Tommaso, and Vina el Cerno, with a stop for lunch before the last tasting.  The cost for a tour and tasting ranges from about 15-30 pesos per person.

In the cellar at Vistandes

Our least favorite was Vistandes, which was unfortunate because it’s a relatively new operation with a lovely building and a great tour guide.  What made it our least favorite was that they served us bottom of the line wines, and only two of them, for the tasting.  Why would we buy something when you give us the worst of your production after putting the best of the bottles out for display on the tasting table?

Carinae had astronomy themes running through their wines.

Carinae offered a few different flights of tastings, and for a few pesos more we were able to sample some of their reserve wines.  We also ordered some cheese to snack on and it came with their own olive oil, which was some of the best I’ve ever had.

Original wine tanks at Di Tommasa

Di Tommaso was a lovely place with some antique casks and an incredible cellar.  They keep a bottle from every year that they’ve produced and you can can view the ever-growing stack in the private cellar. They gave a wide variety of tastings, and will deliver any bottles you purchase to your hostel for you the same day so that you don’t have to ride around with them in the hot sun.

Vina El Cerno was a clear winner, if for no other reason than that their ‘tasting’ was really 4 nearly-full glasses of your choice from their selections.

I mean, sometimes it takes 8 or 10 sips to get a proper taste....

After El Cerno we took a detour into an olive orchard and spent some time leaping about, which really, after a great day of sampling Malbec, is the only logical thing to do.

Wine! Hooray!

The Moving Box Bet – Chile

5 Dec

Justin’s first Moving Box Bet challenge in Peru was pretty easy.   So easy that even I participated.  We decided to crank it up a notch for the Chilean challenge, and crank it up we did.

Take a look:

Video not showing up?  Try this –  Moving Box Bet – Chile

Justin’s next Moving Box Bet challenge will take place in Argentina.  Contact us if you have a suggestion for what he should eat!

The Moving Box Bet – Peru

13 Nov

When we were packing up to leave NYC we decided that since everything would be in storage for more than a year, it would be a good idea to number the boxes and create a list that had the numbers, and a basic idea of what was in each box.  If we can manage to remember where we put that list, it should be helpful in terms of unpacking when we return.

Packing sucks.  In an attempt to make it suck a little less, Justin and I made a little wager about the number of boxes we thought we’d end up with when it was all said and done.  We wrote our numbers down, and sealed them in an envelope.

At the time, we couldn’t think of what the winner would get.  Money would be pointless since we share that.  A nice dinner cooked for the winner didn’t seem big enough.

Eventually we decided that it wouldn’t be so much what the winner got, but what the loser had to do.  We threw around a bunch of ideas, but finally settled on one that seemed perfect…

The loser has to eat one strange or unusual item of the winner’s choice in ever country we visit. 

Justin lost.

I’ve been researching all the interesting food items available in Peru – cuy (guinea pig), was high on the list, but so was anticuchos (beef heart on a skewer). Having not run across anything more fascinating, I decided that whatever we came across first would be what he would eat.

The other day we were wandering around Ollantaytambo when we came across a vendor with meat skewers.  We asked the woman tending the grill what each skewer was.

Pollo, carne, anticuchos.

So it was settled.

Justin takes the plunge!

As it turns out, anticuchos is very tender, and rather tasty.  So tasty in fact that we went back for a second skewer for me.


Justin is convinced that I’m going to be trying all these interesting foods along with him, and for now that’s fine, but I suspect that when we get to Southeast Asia he’ll be on his own…

The Time We Attempted To Eat Locally In Shanghai.

5 Aug

Original Post: July 26, 2007

Yesterday, Justin and I took a taxi into somewhere downtown Shanghai (I mean really, it’s like there are 9 or 10 areas that could be classified as downtown, so we just picked an area and went) to try to find some food. We stumbled upon a restaurant that hadsome pictures and a little bit of English on the menu. We ordered what we thought would be a reasonable amount of food for the two of us, so we were pretty suprised when they brought out gigantic dishes piled with enough to feed at least 4 or 5.  Our waiter was highly amused by our mistake, but in all it only cost us $15, so it was a hell of a deal 🙂 We had chicken (without the head and feet this time) a beef with bamboo dish, some kind of dumpling soup, and fried rice.

It would have helped to understand the menu headings for "large" or "small" portions...

The true highlight of the meal had nothing to do with food.  On our table there sat this funny little chicken thing and if you aligned an arrow dial with your astrological sign and put a coin in its mouth is would spit out your fortune in a little pill capsule. We each got one but as they are in Chinese we have no idea what they are saying…

Tonight we are taking the overnight train toBeijing and will be going to the wall first thing Friday morning! We will be updating from the road, hopefully with some regularity.

Harpoon Brewery BBQ Tasting

2 Aug

Ashley and I were driving around listening to a local radio station when there was an announcement for the 11th Annual Harpoon Championships of New England Barbecue the following weekend at the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor, VT.

Forty teams competed for prize money and trophies with a select few selling their award-winning barbecue to the public.  There were great Harpoon varieties on tap for our tasting pleasure, a live band (minus the vocals, which was nice) playing some good music and a sunny, blue sky.  What more could we ask for?  This was exactly what we needed in our first week of transition from New York City.

We strolled around the grounds and had a small sampling which included beans, ribs, pulled pork sliders/sandwich, wings and, of course, chocolate-covered bacon.  I’ll venture to guess that Ashley enjoyed the chocolate-covered bacon the most.  I’m going with the pulled-pork sandwich from, none other than, the Bastey Boys booth.  This booth had a number of different sauces to taste with the sandwich and we sampled as many as we could until the pulled pork ran out.  All in all, we enjoyed everything we sampled.

This was the booth to beat!

Mmmmm....sweet and savory!

Of course, the best part of the day was the tasty brew.  We’ve only been to Harpoon Brewery a couple of times because we usually go to Long Trail Brewery (Bridgewater Corners, VT) instead.  I do have to admit that Harpoon is slowly growing on me.  I tried the Belgian Pale Ale which had a tangy aftertaste (not too bad).  However, I really enjoyed the India Pale Ale and its hopped-up, cheek-puckering aftertaste.  There’s nothing like an hoppy brew!  I am definitely willing to visit Harpoon, again, to give it another shot.

After strolling around for a couple of hours we found a picnic table in the shade.  We sat listening to the live band play some instrumental, classic rock tunes and enjoyed the surroundings.  Sunshine (and shade), tasty beer and easy-going people.  I could get used to this.

The Most Amazing Huevos Rancheros in Texas

31 Jul

The Tamale House in Austin, Texas

Ok, fine, perhaps I should have titled this post “The Most Amazing Huevos Rancheros in Austin” since admittedly I didn’t eat ALL the huevos rancheros Texas has to offer, but still…I’m pretty sure this place is THE BEST.  There are so many excellent restaurants in Austin, but when we asked my brother for a place we could get some good, cheap breakfast tacos, The Tamale House was the first on his list.  It’s located just off I-35 in northern Austin, in an area that’s a bit run down.  The building is small and has only a few tiny tables inside, and a few more tables outside.  You place your order at the counter and the food is made right in front of you.

What makes this family-run place so great?

  • There are more than a dozen kinds of breakfast taco available, all for less than a dollar
  • There is nothing on the menu over $5
  • Everything we had (7 tacos plus the huevos) has great flavor
  • The huevos rancheros looks a mess, but is huge, and is smothered in an amazing, secret sauce
  • It was super fast
  • Did I mention everything had great flavor?
  • It’s small, a bit grungy, and totally full of charm

The Tamale House isn’t fancy, it isn’t trendy, it isn’t new, but it IS cheap and it’s good.  Get the huevos (and a taco or two).

Grocery Shopping, China Style

22 Jul

Original Post: July 24, 2007

On our way home from shopping the other day, we stopped by Carrefour, the huge local grocery store.  It’s like a super Wal-Mart with all kinds of items for the house, yard,  and a full grocery section. I have to say, there is some strange stuff  in that store.  There were dozens of fruits and veggies I’ve never seen, you can buy live sea creatures for dinner – they have big tanks of fish, turtles, frogs, eels, and more creatures that I couldn’t identify. While we were standing there one of the fish leaped out of the tank and was flopping all over the floor.  

My, what big, prickly fruits you have...

They're better fresh apparently.

Can't have them scuttling away

They also have HUGE vats of rice, you just get a bag and fill up as much as you need.   Next to the rice vats is a whole isle devoted entirely to soy sauce, akin to our salad dressing section.

Rice. Is it really filled all the way to the bottom? What happens to all that bottom rice that never gets scooped up? Does it get rotated? So many questions.

There’s a prepared food section as well with loads of tasty looking dumplings and rolls, we picked up a few to have for dinner tonight, though we are less than clear on what exactly is inside them.

Still have no real clue what was inside these, but all were delicious.

Also delicious!

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