In the United States, we are a people on the go. Walking to class with a venti coffee. Driving to work with a microwaveable breakfast pastry. Grabbing dinner in the drive-through on the way to sports practices. Actually pausing from a stressful, busy day to enjoy a meal together with family or friends is a rarity anymore.
The few days I have spent in Argentina so far have helped me appreciate the meaningful rituals of sharing food and drink with loved ones.
Here in Argentina, the art of cooking is preserved as part of the country’s rich culture. Food is thoughtfully prepared, and asado—or grilled meat—cooks for hours until it’s absolutely perfect. If your host or hostess plans for asado to be served at 8 p.m. but the meat still needs a few more hours on the fire, no problem. Your host will serve up a beautiful picado—think of a thoughtful charcuterie platter—to tide you over. It’s always worth the wait.
Mate—pronounced mah-tay—is another Argentinian tradition that invites friends to sit together and have a meaningful chat while they sip a soothing, hot beverage. Dried mate leaves look like tea and hail from the yerba mate plant.
Typically, a hostess will pack the mate leaves into a vessel–usually a gourd–then snake a metal straw, or bombilla, all the way to the bottom of the cup.
Finally, she will pour boiling water over the leaves, almost to the very top. She will always take the first sip to ensure the mate tastes right and is the correct temperature. A few sips, and the first serving is gone.
The hostess then refills the cup and passes it to the person on her right. After the guest drains the liquid, the cup is returned to the hostess, who refills it and offers it to the next person in the circle. The mate leaves will last upwards of 20 times before they need to be discarded and refilled.
Mate isn’t for everyone—the bitter taste is acquired over time. However, when you are offered a mate, don’t ever refuse. The ritual is less about drinking the beverage and more about sharing your soul.
Once I return Stateside, will I forego my venti nonfat latte and Chick Fil-A drive-through and instead opt for a mate and carne asada? We shall see, mis amigos. We shall see.