Atkins, it ain't

Not much has suffered during my two months of life in Argentina, save my waistline. My belly isn’t hanging down over my belt just yet, but give me another two months with Argentine cuisine, and the Great Spillover might just begin.

How to sum up the Argentine diet?

Umm…meat and sweets.

There you go.

Argentines are big meat eaters. In 2007, per capita beef consumption was 149 pounds a year, according to one source, down from 396 pounds per annum in the 19th century. Yikes.

I mean, they do have good reason to enjoy consuming cow – their country is one of the major producers of the stuff (the country has just under 40 million people and some 50 million cows) and its quality is way up there. The majority of restaurants seem to be parrilla (grill) places offering numerous beef cuts, chorizo sausages, blood sausage, short ribs, breaded meats, pork, barbecued chicken, and so on, ad infinitum.

This was tea meant for two

But hey, why be forced to choose just one animal part? Go for the gold with the meat feast platter – oh, I forget the name. The first time I saw one of those being carried out – a large, raised platter heated from below piled at least four inches high with cuts of meat – I thought some banquet was happening in the next room. It was for the family of four at the next table.

But man, after a while, it gets to be too much. I’m no vegetarian, and am really not a health fanatic when it comes to my diet. But here, order a hamburger or a lomito and what you get is heart attack on a plate.

The beef, that’s fine, but usually it’s covered in a slice of ham, a half-inch layer of melted cheese, and then an egg, boiled or fried. Oh, don’t forget the sea of French fries that come with it. Tired of that, there’s pizza and pasta, which Argentines eat mountains of. Cream and red meat (really?) sauces are preferred.

Desert anyone?

My typical breakfast

Oh yes, there is the divine dulce de leche, a thick caramel paste that once must have been the nectar of the gods. It’s often layered between short-bread cookies dipped in chocolate (alfajores), or stuffed into mini croissants dusted with confectioner’s sugar, or simply eaten out of the jar by addicts like me, until they go into sugar shock.

Don’t forget the flan, which also has a dulce de leche variation, or the gelato stands on every street corner, where for about US$2.50, you can get a big Styrofoam container overflowing with three of your favorite flavors. They say it has less fat than American ice cream, you know, so what’s the harm?

Note the empty nature of the jar

I don’t know why Argentines, with all these high-carb, high calorie, big-portioned meals, aren’t just huge. The men do tend to be bigger than Europeans after, say, the age of 40, but they don’t in any way approach the American girth. What gives? They’re not all dancing tango 24/7.

So I complain and I regret and I just continue to eat it up. Asceticism can wait until I return to Berlin. (I don’t want to talk about it!)

In fact, after I wrap this up, I’ll probably head out to the restaurant here in Iguazú recommended in my guide, supposedly the best in town. What I’ll order? Probably a big hunk of cow flesh and a glass of Malbec.

Because when in Rome…