Argentine Asado in the Tigre Delta

Similar to our American barbecue in some ways, the idea of a full asado is foreign—a cultural experience, unique to Argentines. Ours awaited a short way from Tigre into the expansive Paraná Delta. This foodie’s bucket list item—check.

We piled into the dinghy and braced ourselves. The marina behind us quickly disappeared as Frederic ripped through the water weaving between other boats, bouncing over their wake. The canals narrowed. Stilted homes appeared, each with its own dock. We slowed into the creamy tea-colored waters tinted from sediment forced into the small tributaries of this delta, down from the great rivers upstream.

Leaving the bustle of Buenos Aires behind us, this was a different, quiet world. I felt far removed from modernity. The lapping water encouraged me to unplug and decompress. This is the perfect place to, instead, connect with nature… and each other.

We had entered a gateway into the huge delta. Next to its confluence with the Uruguay River, the Paraná River’s tributaries crisscross for 200 miles to form hundreds of lush delta islands before emptying into the Río de la Plata, the enormous river estuary between Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Uruguay, far on the opposite shore. Here, just 45 minutes by rail north of the city center, the Delta el Tigre alluvial floodplain is a popular retreat for porteños (Buenos Aires locals). Waterways carve the only traversable way in.

Our boat puttered toward Frederic’s project property which he runs with Valeria. The silty canals and submerged trees reminded me of the bayou in the US Deep South. It’s a place to unplug and chill out. As an artist, I felt its vibe that has drawn in so many others. And, I was pretty sure I manifested this opportunity. Before leaving for Argentina, I had told Aaron of my dream to experience a real asado. Food reveals the essence of any culture. A few days into our trip, when Maxi and Luis invited us to their friend’s home, my jaw dropped in excitement.

You see, it’s one thing to go to a commercial barbeque joint asado or a parrilla steakhouse restaurant, of which there are plenty of great options. But to be invited to the real deal—an Argentine social event, a gathering of family, friends, neighbors, all celebrating life at someone’s home—now this was special.

Porteños are super kind and generous. I was impressed by their care for stray animals and street beggars alike. They seemed to appreciate life, despite hardships, and know how to celebrate. La vida es buena, I heard frequently. Life is good. It reminded me to cherish every moment and not take any of it for granted.

The tender pulled up to the dock overlooked by a deck connected to the main house. Frederic offered his hand to climb out. We joined the group above, warmly greeted with hugs by Valeria. I immediately felt welcome, tranquilo, chill vibes.

Our hosts encouraged us to explore the property, handbuilt by Frederic until he could take me on a full tour later. In the meantime, they bustled around with their helpers, starting the fire to heat the grill pit, setting the indoor tables, serving up the starters.

Read more about…

6 Elements of the Argentinian Asado

What is an Asado? In Argentina, “Asado” means Barbeque, which refers to the event and/or cut of meat (short ribs or spare ribs). The name originates from the Spanish verb asar, meaning to grill. 6 Elements of the Asado  Photos from our Asado in the Tigre Delta

From the pathway, each handcrafted structure sat elevated on stilts across a wooded landscape. Though it was now winter, I could imagine the site lush with vegetation in summer. This self-sustaining property surrounds a central flood basin, now dry to provide space for soccer volleyball and playspace for the cats and dogs.

Higher ground was reserved for meditation and vegetable gardens. Bee hives were perched in the woods at the far end. A tower behind the main buildings connected a cleverly engineered water catchment and treatment system.

Rentable cabins stood within this eco-lodge B&B, each equipped with a small kitchen. Kayaks and canoes were available to visitors who wanted to venture out onto these tranquil waterways. Although porteños seemed to prefer meat over the bounty presumably held in Buenos Aires’ surrounding waters, I felt sure that if I had dropped in a line, a fish would bite.

I could have spent the whole weekend here, or even a week. Next time I’ll reserve a cabaña (or two) at Lo del Indio, their rentable Airbnb cabins. (Check out their Instagram photos and videos too.) For a dive into eco-tourism (and maybe to brush up on Spanish), I recommend este lugar tranquilo for your ultimate relaxation destination in the serene Tigre Delta.

We continued our walk while Frederic masterfully manned his grill pit. But soon the smoke’s barbeque aroma invited us back from our exploration.

Awaiting us was a delicious breadboard with tender morcilla dulce, blood sausage sweetened with raisins and walnuts. Then everyone devoured trays of choripán, chorizo stuffed between soft baguette, and papas fritas, potato fries cooked in duck fat, garnished with parsley and garlic. The traditional chinchulines, crispy, stuffed small intestines, weren’t quite as big of a hit—I guess you have to be Argentinian to fully appreciate them.

When we moved inside for the main event, more meat came off the grill. The dining tables were spread with several cuts of beef and some pork loin accompanied by simple side salads and more fries. At the far end of the room, a fire crackled in the wood stove.

The feast was extensive; the atmosphere was casual and jovial. The afternoon of tasty food and drinks was enhanced by the lively company in a relaxed setting. We all talked for hours, taking time to get to know each other. The mood felt authentic and connected, the way we humans are meant to live.

Valeria was the ultimate host—and hilarious, with entertaining stories for days. As we exchanged our broken English and Spanish, everyone understood each other. Pano played the guitar while the cat sat on his lap. Malbec wine amply flowed. We talked for hours about typical Argentine culture.

In Buenos Aires, porteños walk around sipping from straws and carry totes equipped with a thermos and tea. What was this all about? Maxi explained his daily maté ritual—yerba maté (pronounced EE-air-buh MAH-tay), that is. His maté cup is a cow-leather-wrapped calabash gourd (hollowed and dried pumpkin) with a carved stainless steel rim and bombilla, the filtered straw required to keep tea leaves out.

According to Maxi, every morning, materos fill their maté with yerba leaves (best without stems) and refill the cup throughout the day with hot water from their thermos, or cold water in warmer months. The leaves will continue to steep all day. Maxi explained the daily health benefits of yerba mate. Yerba leaves, packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, claim to “elevate mood, mental clarity and physical stamina, as well as increase metabolism and elimination.” I mean, c’mon. Who doesn’t need that?

It takes 3-4 days to first cure a new gourd with tea, but they can last forever. While some are made of carob wood or stainless steel, Maxi said the gourd is best for drinking the yerba tea since it enhances the flavor over time with each use.

Next, at a random request (thanks Sammy), Valeria broke out the fernet con coca (aka, Fernandito) cocktail. The amaro Fernet-Branca mixed with Coca-Cola on ice, which apparently has ties to Argentina’s Córdoba province, is at once bitter, sweet, herbaceous, and spiced with a hint of licorice. My first taste wasn’t decidedly positive but made me come back for more. The flavor profile reminded me of another popular digestif that we tried a couple of nights before, the negroni—equal parts gin, Campari, and vermouth, garnished with orange peel—with Italian roots like so much of Buenos Aires.

These drinks took some getting used to, but then it happened. We too acquired a taste for them. Now we enjoy our daily maté and occasional fernet or negroni (similar to our enjoyment of sweet vermouth with citrus acquired during travels in Spain).

As for this afternoon’s asado, we tried to duplicate it with a meal at Don Julio a couple of days later. Although we highly recommend the restaurant for an exquisite meal—the matambre a la parrilla was melt-in-your-mouth delicious (US flank steak would be the closest but can’t compare)—there was no replacement for the company we shared, nor the ambiance and hospitality at Lo del Indio.

The day waned. We had to get back to the mainland before darkness set in. Returning to the bright lights of BA, I imagined the delta islands. There must be a staggering display of stars in the pitch-black night sky. Now the memory of this magical day lives with us as one of our most cherished travel experiences. We have eternal gratitude to Maxi and Luis for introducing us to Frederic and Valeria and to them all for treating our group to such a special day.

Lo Del Indio

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