Texas & Argentina: Soul Republics

by Liz Caskey on October 26, 2011

Photo by Eduardo Amorim at http://www.flickr.com/photos/bombeador/

Having just spent 10 days in Texas, a true study in a very unique subculture within the United States, I was struck by the similarities between Texas and Argentina. They seem to be two “countries” (or perhaps, Republic is a better word) that are kindred spirits. Soul cousins at two opposite extremes of the American subcontinent. Here are a few that caught my attention:

Geography: Driving around the hill country of Texas, it reminded me of the arid scrublands in parts of Mendoza between the northern and southern “oasis”, where they plant vineyards and orchards. Parched earth dotted with thorny bushes, mesquite trees and pump jacks drilling for oil. If it weren’t for the irrigation, Mendoza would be a desert. Texas, particularly with this year’s severe drought, reminded me of that thirsty landscape with its vastness, the open spaces, and a wide horizon. Obviously, omit the Andes.

Cattle is King: Texas is a frontier state with huge ranches where cattle is raised for beef. Hmm, what other country springs to mind when you think “steak”? Argentina, claro. Beef is taken very seriously in Texas where rib eye, T-bone, even the ubiquitous hamburger are revered by locals. I won’t even touch the subject of the ubiquitous barbeque (more on that below).

Cowboys & Gauchos: Argentina has its gauchos and Texas has its cowboys. Essentially, their functions are similar. They are horsemen and ranchers, who herd their cattle from one field to the next. Both have an iconic, romantic notion and garb. Rodeos are huge in Texas, as is western Argentina in the Mendoza province. Heck, folks in Dallas told me about a glitzy affair where the cowboys, and cowgirls, get decked out in their diamond-studded jeans, boots, and bling.

BBQ is a religion: The phrase “Don’t Mess with Texas” should really be, “Don’t Mess with Texas Barbeque”. Want to spark a spirited foodie debate? Ask who has the best barbeque. There’s a list longer than you’ll be able to eat in this lifetime. In fact, Texas Monthly recently launched a Texas Barbeque iPhone app to identify the best spots in the state, convenient on road trips. On this particular trip to Houston, my clients took me out the “hood” to eat at Burns Bar-B-Q (previously ranked the best the month before). Sure, we were the only Caucasians in there, but man, those ribs were memorable as was the sauce, a key component to the BBQ lovin’. Like Texans, Argentines mean serious business when it comes to asados, barbeques. More than grilling up some meat, it’s an art, a social occasion, a way of life—usually involving a lot of alcohol too.

Gettin’ Saucey: Argentines love to slather their grilled meats with pungent sauces like chimichurri and the crunchy salsa criolla. I could hardly believe that chimichurri has gone so mainstream that you can now buy it ready made at Costco. However, in Texas, the preferred “fixins” for BBQ is sauce. It usually has a tomato-based component that can be mixed with vinegar, spices, fruit jams, soy sauce, here the only limitation is the cook’s creativity. As the meat, or poultry, crisps over the fire (infused with aroma of mesquite wood), the sauce is brushed on—or served on the side. Central Market has nearly a whole aisle dedicated to barbeque sauce. I confess to wanting to import Salt Lick’s flavors by the case. Any ideas on how to ship?

Other lesser similarities would be an intense love for fútbol—in Argentina that would be soccer and in Texas, American football, particularly college and high school. I noticed in a couple places where “pies” were actually empanadas, folded over turnovers that were fried and stuffed with fruit, or my favorite, peanut butter. I didn’t get out to the Texas State Fair in Dallas, which everyone said was a good time—especially to see Big Tex, the huge Ferris Wheel, and observe this weird phenomenon of frying anything and everything. Hmm, I wonder if the idea for fried Snickers bars took off in there…


Photo: by Mark Norman Francis at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mn_francis/

I had an awesome time in Texas. The hospitality balled me over. In fact, one afternoon in Houston I got semi-stranded with no car after a meeting somewhere near Buffalo Highway. In despair with no taxis in sight, a nice lady offered to give me a ride to the West U area. Turns out she had friends in Santiago. No, she wasn’t a pyscho (would I be telling this story otherwise??). She was simply kind, and I must have looked desperate enough to offer help (when I suggested walking, she burst out laughing). I gave her some South American wine recs in exchange for the ride. That type of congenial attitude though I encountered again and again. Just don’t make me drive on Texas highways again—e.v.e.r.

So y’all Texans that have been to Argentina, any other similarities you’ve found between the two countries? Feel free to chime in.

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