26 Jun 2007
The Parilla (pronounced parisha) in Rodriguez Pena is one of the Argentine national treasures, jostling for first place here in Buenos Aires with tango. But it satisfies different primeval needs. Unlike tango, total satisfaction is guaranteed in the parilla. I enter with Cecilia and am met by the head waiter. We are immediately recognised and invited to ascend to the upstairs salon. The place, on both floors is crammed with tables covered with large, starched, white cloths, huge napkins and collections of glasses, together with the sharpest of equipment to tackle the parilla. At each table is a family or a group of friends from work, here a pair of young women chatting ardently, and there a quartet of old men reaching out to the plate of parilla to grab another piece of steak. The floors are tiled and the bright strip lighting reflects in the plate glass mirrors that line the walls, giving a brilliant all-round view of the restaurant. I am the only foreigner here and the menu reflects that fact. Cecilia orders our meal. We are to have the parilla, of course, preceded by a salad, accompanied by papas fritas and followed by fresh dates. And of naturally, Malbec to drink, with soda water to help digestion.
It seems no time at all before the waiter, a sprightly 60 something year old with a face that reflects a life in the parilla, returns with the salad. It is huge and contains a myriad of enticing vegetables, from lettuce and tomato to artichoke hearts. It is dressed at the table by the waiter, Cecilia instructing more olive oil, a little more balsamic, a screw of fresh ground pepper. And then the parilla. The plate groans with delicacies. Here we find sausages, bright red, dark black. There are kidneys, small pieces of meat from undisclosed places, and of course intestines. At other tables hands rush to the plate, especially for the small intestines which taste, well, like intestines. We are more measured. As we eat the mound of meat reduces and there is even the prospect that it will be consumed. But the waiter returns. This time he carries a huge dish covered with meat. There must be some mistake. This plate is intended for the large family across the room where at least four generations are dining together. But no, this is our parilla...the meat course! Here are steaks that are so thick and large they almost overlap the dish. With them are other pieces of beef, pork and chicken. This is a vast array, the prospect of which would kill a vegetarian. And then the papas fritas; cooked in the delicious beef dripping until soft, but crisp, and golden. Our setting is unremarkable, replicated at each and every table throughout the parilla. We are surrounded by a mass of hungry meat consumers with hearty appetites and all the time in the world to satisfy them.
Somehow we survive the episode. The dates feel fresh on the tongue and the last of the mineral water eases the moment. Our small jet black coffees taste bitter against the sweetness of the dates. Will we eat again? Most certainly we will. Oh, and the bill, you ask? About 5 pounds per head! Now, are you feeling hungry?