La Estancia Experiencia

La Granadilla

La Granadilla

As incredible as it seems, our time in Argentina is drawing to a close.  In 3 weeks we depart for an epic Brazilian tour prior to returning to home.  We all have mixed feelings about leaving Argentina and returning to the States which we’ll dig into a little bit in future posts.  A return to reality looms large as I’ve begun the job search from here recently.  Erica and I agreed long ago that we’d refrain from any discussions or activity pertaining to a job search or what comes next until May.  I’m so glad we did this so that my “grass is always greener” brain cells could soak in the moment.

That said, we’re still in Cordoba and trying to squeeze every ounce of experience out of our time here.  We recently checked off a big bucket list item that should be everyone’s goal when visiting Argentina: la estancia experiencia.

To clear up any confusion, estancia can refer both to old Jesuit missions and ranches, to active ranches, or mostly commonly to guest ranches.  We made it a priority to experience an estancia before we left.  A recent visit by some friends from Portland provided the perfect excuse.

After much research, Erica managed to settle on La Granadilla, located about 75 km southeast of Córdoba.  There are a number of estancias in the region, but La Granadilla seemed the most affordable for our group and kid friendly.  Typically, an estancia stay is full board, meaning 3 meals per day are included in the cost.  They tend to be remote and not easily accessible to public transportation.  In the end we located a mini bus transport company that agreed on pick up and return for $1,400 pesos rather than rent a car.  A 6 passenger rental car in Córdoba (hard to find by the way!) tends to cost the equivalent of $100 USD per day.

One reason we had not yet experienced an estancia was the cost.  For the most part, we’ve found the cost of many to be quite high.  After searching the web and requesting pricing by email, Erica picked a winner with La Granadilla.  The estancia is located near the pueblo of Alta Gracia and perched against the Sierras Grandes.  Typical to the region, the mountains are sparse and rugged.  Just about every plant will give you a poke.  We rented a basic detached villa with a kitchen, queen, 4 twins and a bathroom set apart from the main structure that included breakfast, lunch and dinner for each day.   Our bill in the end added up to $7,000 pesos, but also included extras such as corkage, drinks, WINE, an extra lunch and horse back riding for all of us.

Shortly after we arrived Ben spotted Vicky, a friend from school in Córdoba.  In the oddest of coincidences, it turned out that Vicky’s parents own La Granadilla.  The family has owned the estancia since the 1930s!  Vicky and Molly became fast friends and Ben garnered his fair share of girlfriend teasing during the course of the weekend.  The staff was wonderful and included two college girls who served as nannies in a way for all the kids while the parents ate.  The rest of the guests included a number of other Argentine families with young children.  Activities such as hikes, games and horse back rides were posted each day.  One of the most difficult parts of this year for the kids has been the inability to just run out the door and play outside given safety concerns and security.  At La Granadilla the kids ran free and were exhausted every night.  The boys would race outside in between World Cup games to play on the soccer field.  Saturday we were lucky enough to watch the Iran-Argentina game at the estancia with a huge group of Argentines.  I’ve never been much of a futbol fan, but there’s nothing like watching it with Argentines.

Meals were served in a communal dining hall and were announced by a dinner bell.  Breakfast tended to be the usual light fare, preparing us for the lunch and dinner to come.  Lunch and dinner were each 3 course and plentiful.  Mains included pastas, milanese (think fried veal cutlet), and asado.  As an authentic asado in Argentina, this asado included every internal organ you might imagine delivered to our table on a small grill still sizzling.  I’ve tried stomach now!

Just before we dug into the asado our wonderful estancia experience hit a speed bump when all the open space and play time resulted in an injury.  Courtesy of his brother, Ben wound up on his back with a fractured collarbone.  I’m frankly surprised it took this long, but thankful it wasn’t worse.  After a rough stretch he realized he was going to miss out on asado and insisted on taking his place at the dinner table with his arm slung in a USA soccer scarf.  7 years old and 3 broken bones already.  It appears his rugby career in Argentina is at an end a bit early.

Locating an estancia to stay at can be a bit daunting since many don’t seem to utilize the web very well and none post pricing.  Erica settled on La Granadilla after finding great reviews on Tripadvisor.  This is a decent page as a starting point for the Córdoba region.

Bagna Cauda


The culinary delights continue in Córdoba as we had the good fortune yesterday to enjoy bagna cauda for the first time.  Bagna cauda is a wickedly good winter dish, traditionally from Italy.  As is the case with locro, each family seems to have their own secret recipe.  Bagna cauda tends to either be oil or cream based, with garlic and anchovies making up some of the key ingredients.

Bagna cauda is eaten communal-style like fondue.  Our friend German has not only master asador skills, but also a wonderful bagna cauda recipe.  While the kids chowed on choripan, the adults dipped away with accompaniments like chicken, broccoli, sweet potato, milanese, carrots and bread.  It’s a deliciously salty dip that’s heavy on the garlic, always a good thing in our minds.  The rule of thumb apparently is one head of garlic per adult.  Yikes.

Kids table with choripan

Another beautiful Sunday spent with friends, wine, great food, and a little Fernet con coca.

Dipping treats


It is hard to have a conversation about Argentina for 5 minutes without talking about meat.  We are only half kidding when we list carne as one of our primary reasons for moving to Argentina.  The reverence placed on the asado and its importance in Argentine society can’t be overstated.  The priority placed on family in Argentina is a wonderful change from the States.  Many of our friends grew up in Cordoba and live mere blocks from siblings and parents.  The concept of moving to another city or country for work is rare.  An integral part of this family first culture is the Sunday asado with friends and family.  We have been very fortunate to have had many opportunities to enjoy asado during our time in Cordoba, so while I’m far from an expert asador, its time to share some of the best part of Argentina.  Before I continue though, a brief glossary of terms is necessary:

Asado:  Basically a barbecue.  Though a BBQ in the States might mean an hour with hotdogs and burgers, an invitation to an asado tends to mean you’re on the hook for at least 4 hours, not that you’re watching the clock after the wine and excellent meat.  This is the term for the event itself and the Argentine method of cooking.

The parrilla and tools ready to start

The parrilla and tools ready to start

Parrilla:  The actual barbecue.  This typically references the structure of the actual cooking space that can come in a multitude of designs.  Usually the parrilla is housed within the quincho (next term) and includes the grill and rack for combustibles surrounded by brick.

El quincho

El quincho

Quincho:  This is the eating and socializing space typically separated from the house.  While house hunting in August a realtor asked Erica what the English translation for quincho was.  The realtor was astonished and horrified to find that there is none.  I suppose if you imagine nearly every house in America with a “man cave” built around their BBQ outside, you’d understand the quincho.

Tools of the asador

Tools of the asador

Asador:  The grill master. Lena: The name assigned to any hardwood that’s used for an asado. Typically sold in plastic bags at any kiosco or neighborhood store. Prices range from $13ARS to $25ARS. Carbon:  Charcoal is probably too generous on this, but close.  This is typically lena partially burned and bagged up and available pretty much anywhere.  It tends to be a few pesos cheaper than lena.  While many people prefer the flavor from using lena over carbon, it takes less time to be ready for cooking.  We’ve been slightly amused and pissed to discover the occasional brick in the middle of a few bags of carbon now and then.  A trick to charge more for less based on weight. Carniceria:  The meat market.  It has been fun to gradually learn and experience the difference between cuts of meat in Argentina and the US.  Finding a high quality, reliable carniceria in the barrio has been part of the adventure.  When buying meat for an asado the general rule of thumb is to be prepared for 1 kilo per person.  Much to the chagrin of the nation, Uruguay recently surpassed Argentina in annual beef consumption.  Needless to say they can still put it away nicely.  Standard purchases from a carniceria for an asado tend to include vacio, chorizo, morcilla, matambre and asado (short ribs). Fiambres:  Appetizers.  Typically meat, cheese, olives and bread platters.


The method of cooking meat in Argentina has been a stark difference from our push button gas grill in Portland.  There’s nothing fast about an asado.  Many families gather on Sundays for a weekly asado, which might be in the shape of lunch or dinner depending on the designated start time.  It is standard for guests to bring sides, salads, bread, desserts or drinks potlack-style while the asador handles the meat.  Depending on preference, the asador will get the lena or carbon started in advance of arriving guests.  The fire is started in a compact, elevated grate to the side of the primary grill.  There is no charbroiled grilling to speak of in our experience.  The idea is to allow the lena or carbon to burn into hot coals before they are shoveled in a thin, even layer under the grill.  Meat preparation is simply olive oil and parrilla salt (basically kosher salt), lots of salt!  A good trick I noticed once was lemon added to some cuts as well, but I’ve never seen anyone use a dry rub or sauce of any kind.  I get the impression that might be blasphemy.  Many parrillas have extra bells and whistles such as grease catchers and grills whose elevation can be changed.  The coals essentially smoke and sear the meat slowly, resulting in a wonderfully smoky flavor.  It’s tricky to learn how to keep adequate coals at the ready as the coals placed under the grill cool in order to maintain even heat and judge what heat will blacken the meat versus cook it perfectly.  As the meat cooks guests snack on wonderful fiambres and hang out in the quincho.


Typical sides cooked on the parrilla include thinly sliced potatoes with paprika and oil, bell peppers, provolone a la parrilla (provolone cheese with oil in a tin dish cooked until bubbling and served with bread), and onions (tossed directly into the coals and peeled after roasting).  It’s common to serve the cut as it comes off the parrilla rather than wait until all the meat is ready.  In fact at a few man-asados I’ve had the privilege of attending, it’s common to bring your own asado knife and pass around forks to eat communally off the cutting board sin platos.  Salads of tomato, potato, arugula or carrot are pretty typical sides along with bread.  Of course no asado is complete without dessert after the gluttony.  Some of our favorites have been helado and home-made dulce de leche.  If Fernet with Coke appears at the end of the night you can be assured you’ve lived a good life.

Pollo para parrilla

Pollo para parrilla

A huge part of our family’s experience here in Argentina has revolved around the asado.  Given the importance placed on asados and the role it plays in family relations we’ve been exceptionally grateful to have been included in the experience with a number of Cordobeses and expat friends here.  Wherever we land when we return, we hope to carry back the tradition and technique of the asado and build our own quincho.

Costilla, chorizo and vacio

Costilla, chorizo and vacio

Yelling and listening quietly


We arrived in Cordoba just the other morning, but some times it feels like we’ve already been here for at least a week.  After a whirl wind couple of days filled with incredible asados with friends and house hunting, we tried some sight seeing downtown today, but that was kind-of a bust because it’s a holiday.  It’s a national holiday to honor the death of Jose de San Martin who was a leader Argentina’s successful struggle for independence from Spain.  We thought that maybe there would be some fun stuff happening downtown, but I guess it’s more of a holiday where you hang out with friends and family.  Which has gotten me thinking about all this “family” time we’ve had over the past month.

Frankly, I’m exhausted.  The constant stream of questions from Ben, our middle child, is almost more than I can handle.  I know that he’s a kid who needs to know the plan; he needs to know what we’re doing next IN DETAIL, but often (honestly, most of the time), I don’t have that answer.  I don’t know exactly where we’re going, but I gave the taxi driver an address, and here’s hoping he’s going to get us there.  I don’t know exactly what time everyone will be at the asado, but we’re going to get there around 12:30, or 8, or whenever, and when everyone else shows up, they show up. I don’t know what the taxi driver’s name is, or why he’s talking on the phone while driving, or what that sign says.  I’m just trying to take it all in, too.  I do know, however, that this is just Ben’s way of making sure that everything is ok, and that his parents are in control, at least, sort-of.  All this makes for a pretty short fuse.

Put that together with the fact that we’re staying in a guest house/bed and breakfast, where the people are wonderfully kind, but our quarters are close, and unfortunately, my best parenting techniques are out the window.  Rob and I are trying to be very conscious (and at the same time help the kids grasp the concept) of the other guests, so we spend a lot of time telling the kids to “be quiet!” and “stop running!” and “don’t slam the doors!”  I have lost count of how many times I’ve said to the boys, “And what about your behavior did you think was acceptable on ANY LEVEL?!?!?!?!”  With this phrase, I hope to accomplish two things:  make the kids shut up, and use confusing enough language so the non-English speakers here will have no idea of what I’m saying to my kids.

In all of this crazy, there are amazing glimmers, though.  Incredible moments that I grab and hold onto tightly:

*Molly dancing in her seat on the plane as she listened to music with her headphones.

*Ben and Elliott watching some cartoon in Spanish, then chatting about it IN SPANISH, I’m sure, without even realizing that they were speaking Spanish.

*Molly telling our friends that her Spanish is “fantastic.”

*Ben chatting with just about anyone who works at the hotels where we’ve stayed like they’re old friends from way back.

*Rob getting us downtown on the bus from our hotel without a hitch.

On Wednesday we’re going to the boys’ school to meet their teachers and have a look around, then they’ll start school on Thursday. I’m hoping I’ll be able to keep myself together when we drop them off on Thursday, but I’m not betting on it.  This is a BIG DEAL, and I would give almost anything to be a fly on the wall and listen in on their conversations.  I promise I would listen quietly; they wouldn’t even know I was there.