If you want to make real friends in Argentina, you need to get into mate culture in a big way!
The health benefits of this wonder drink are well-documented. But it's a bit of an aquired taste, to be honest (I'm acquiring it), and it's rather more complicated to prepare even than loose-leaf tea, which I drink plenty of. Then there is the whole ritual of mate, that is, how it is drunk in community with others. There are procedures to be learned and followed, and everyone has her own opinion on what kind of mate (container) to buy, which type of bombilla is best, and what brand of yerbe mate is superior to the rest.
But I'm learning...
I was lucky enough to sip my first sip from the mate of a teacher in one of my workshops in January, who shared with me some of the rituals about how the drink is passed from cebador (server) to each person in the group (typically to the right) and back. She also explained to me that one does not touch or move the bombilla (many "newcomers" tend to want to use the metal straw to stir the drink -- a big no-no in mate culture).
My next mate experience was on the rocky beach in Punta Ninfas, where our guide shared mate with us while hanging out with the elephant seals. That was pretty cool!
Getting the Equipment
Once back from that trip, Tats and I decided to look in earnest for our own mate equipment. Tats figured she'd need a large mate, preferably wooden, as she had heard they were easier to keep clean. Being an extrovert, I was more into the whole sharing and ritual thing, so I was okay with a smaller mate. At the suggestion of the two Marias, I bought a small, handcrafted one in Recoletta, along with an alpaca bombilla.
A week later, I fell in love with a hand-carved gourd at the San Telmo market, and "had" to buy it! Now I have two mates, and I love them both!
There are a variety of different mates available on the market, and many websites to help you decide which is best for you.
The bombilla is also a matter of personal preference, and -- again -- many options are available, each with its own benefits.
Unless you get a ceramic mate, the next step in the mate adventure is curing the container. This helps to seal off any small holes in the gourd, and give the mate its initial flavour. If done correctly, it's also supposed to help prevent mold.
Curing is rather a longish process (up to a few days, if you follow all the steps); again, many online resources exist to help you with this. Here are a few of my current favourites:
Preparing and Drinking
Once your mate is finally cured, you can actually prepare and drink it! We've chosen to use "Mate Suave", which is a smoother, slightly less bitter yerbamate. Currently we use the Union brand, though we're thinking of trying Rosamonte, which we've also heard good things about.
Preparing the mate properly ensures proper extraction of the drink's nutrients, and therefore, maximizes health benefits.
Conflicting ideas exist regarding how the bombilla is to be inserted into the yerbamate, but it is generally agreed that once inserted, the bombilla is not to be moved or "stirred" while drinking.
I'm still experimenting with this, but to date I have more or less successfully drunk mate on my own and with the boys several mornings before school. Tats, who is less picky about proper preparation, has downed multiple large helpings from her giant wood gourd.
As we improve our technique, we hope to share mate with more new friends here in Argentina as well as introducing the tradition to those back home once we return to Canada. Leave a comment, and let us know if you're interested in a session! :)
Eager to finally make use of the rooftop, brick BBQ atop our building, we decided to host an Asado at our place last Sunday night. The timing was perfect, as it was Joel's final night in BsAs (our friend had been visiting for the week from Portugal, and was scheduled to return there the next day), so we used his departure as an excuse to host.
We invited the two Marias and marinated and skewered some tofu and veggies to grill (yes, yes, very un-Argentine!)
We bought chicken and beef. We even bought charcoal.
And then it rained.
Determined to "BBQ" anyway, we shoved everything into the too-small gas stove in our kitchen, and piled the resulting half-cooked, charred-in-various-places tidbits high onto an assortment of plates on the table. Thankfully, we had purchased some excellent, super-spicy chimicurri at the market that morning, and we also had some Mike's Hard Lemonade which I had brought with me from Canada in January, as well as some other, more local refreshment. So in the end, everyone was happy.
The boys entertained us for some time with various skits and songs and poems, and then finally, they were convinced to go to bed. Afterwards, we ordered ice cream for delivery, at the only place open that late.
The helados came packed in dry ice, which we immediately used for various smoky experiments! Then we easily polished off the two half-kilos, and wished we had ordered more.
All in all, I suppose the non-Asado turned out to be a success in the end.
Tigre. About 40 minutes by train from our place in BsAs, it seems a world apart. Expanses of green grass, spacious houses and other buildings, a HUGE indoor/outdoor market to rival the biggest in the capital, and a river define this place and differentiate it from the more claustrophobic city we call home this year.
The train ride itself was an interesting experience. Although the distances are considerably greater on the train, it costs far less than the subte! $1.50 (pesos) gets you there, and the shopping and entertainment experience is unlike even the busiest day on the subway here in BsAs: We were entertained by a boy singing (in a beautiful voice, I might add) -- he was with his dad, who was on crutches; allegedly there were no siblings and no mother, just the two of them, as he announced before he began to sing. Then there was an Aboriginal pan flute and indigenous string instrument guy (also very talented), and a fellow blasting some horrible pop music out of a portable CD player (the CDs were for sale... sales, needless to say, were slim).
In addition to the music, the captive train audience was subjected to no fewer than eight sales pitches. Peddlars were selling everything from iPod nano knockoffs to Sube card protectors and make-up kits. There were also several guys selling chocolate of various kinds, an Alfahors peddlar, someone selling chewing gum, and a kid w handwritten bits of paper.
Once in Tigre, we wandered along the scenic route into the market area, where we met our friends and their two daughters at a cafe. After some more meandering, through the market, we stopped at the river to enjoy the view. A street dog had the same idea, and was leaned right up against the fence, watching the water intently.
(Click to enlarge.)
On the way back to the train, we stopped for some waffles. Then it was time to catch the train home to our little corner of Buenos Aires, where the locals were getting ready to celebrate the first night of Carnaval!
Yesterday we went to visit our new friends. They have the cutest dog, named after Dali's girlfriend!!! She is super excited and so hyper with visitors, that one of the Marias had to wear her attached to a leash around her waist for the first part of our visit, until things calmed down a little.
The gals had a special message for us on their bulletin board, including a reference to an inside joke we had already shared with them. The visit was a big hit with the boys, too, thanks for the fresh-squeezed lemonade and home-made truffles that were on offer!! (The adults drank mate -- we were given another lesson in this cultural phenomenon.)
We had so much fun together that around bedtime, we moved the party over to our place, put the kids to bed, and then shared some traditional Venezuelan food with our new friends. (They, too, are extranjeros in Argentina!) Although English is not their first language, the two Marias conversed with us for hours -- how mentally exhausted they must have been by the end of it!
It is not often one finds people one connects to in this way, and we feel very lucky to have made this aquaintance.
Our new friends, Maria and Maria (no, seriously!)... after stopping by to see them at their photography booth at the market, we walked to the verduleria to pick up some fruit on the way home. While we were groping the peaches and plums, Simon called out, "Look, Mom! There they are!" and sure enough, there they were again, on the bus on *their* way home!
A few stray photos from the last night in PM, and the next day, before heading back to the bus station for the 19-hour ride back to BsAs...
Our hosts decided to take a photo on our final afternoon at La Calandria in el Doradillo, before driving us to the bus terminal. They sent us the shot when we arrived back home in Buenos Aires. Dany and Patricia were lovely, gracious hosts; multi-talented, yet very humble people. How nice it would be to go back in May and see the whales!!!
While waiting for one of my sessions to begin this afternoon, I had the opportunity to learn a little more about Mate... the ubiquitous Mate gourd and thermos were not foreign to the teacher candidates, and one of them shared her Mate with me, while others gave me the low-down:
I also learned that to cure a mate gourd, one should fill it with mate and hot water, and let it stand for some time (3-5 days). Then it is ready to be used for drinking. In general, "mate suave" is tastier; care should also taken to brew using water at the correct temperature. Water which is too hot may burn the mate leaves.
Mate apparently curbs appetite; poorer families may only have one meal a day, and drink lots of mate the rest of the day.