If Salta was beside the sea, then it might just be one of the most livable South American cities we’ve been to. I am of course bias, having lived near the ocean my entire life. Nevertheless, it has plenty of other redeeming features – a spectacular and dramatic desert on its doorstep (complete with deep red canyons and huge cactus trees), orange tree lined piazzas (laden with ripe fruit), an array of bakeries selling sugary donuts and a pedestrian friendly city centre. There’s also a high percentage of men sporting variations of the Maradona mullet, giving the city an 80s edge that makes you want to pull your jeans up higher and walk with a stagger.
On top of all this, Salta presented us with our first Argentinean pirilla (steak and grill restaurant) experience. And what better place to pop our cherries than the traditional local grill house ‘La Monumental’. Unaccustomed to the portions (and cuts of meat), the GLG and I ordered the mixed grill, a side salad and a plate of papas fritas (potato chips) for a hearty lunch. This was met with a raised eyebrow and a few quiet words from our bow-tied waiter – did we gringos know what we were ordering? You see the portions in Argentina are none other than gigantic. You could feed a small army with a mixed grill (and I’m sure they do). A Tenderloin can look like a small aircraft carrier. Plus, there’s enough baskets of bread to sink a ship and tasty condiments to boot – which are all part of the service. Yes, we could do some serious damage in this country. Juicy and tender, it was all it was cracked up to be and more. I saw something shift in Tim’s eyes then and knew that he was a changed man (little did I know that this would become a daily ritual that would later result in a meat overload a week later).
Another must-go pirilla is the family owned ‘Casa Molino’. We arrived around 8pm to discover that the restaurant didn’t even open till 9pm. Fortunately, they let us in for a bottle of wine while they set up for the evening and started the grill. Soon people were flooding into this restaurant, filling its massive garden courtyard and 4 surrounding rooms. Jam-packed with locals (not a gringo in sight), we were all treated to various bands that came and went during the night. Even the waiters joined in, grabbing an instrument in between waiting tables. It was around 1am when we finally left and the owner looked at us astonished and exclaimed – ‘Are you leaving already?’. Yes, I said. Alas, we had a flight to catch early the next morning. He shook his head, ‘but the real party begins when we stop serving food and start dancing on the tables!’ I asked what time they closed up and he laughed, ‘we have to kick people out at 5am.’ I was astonished – it was a school night. It was suddenly clear that we were going to have to change our schedules in this country or get left behind. Let the party begin!