Our current time zone: GMT +8 (We're home in Singapore!)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cold Comfort Food

Ushuaia was hit by freak snowfall while we were there. But freak weather is normal weather. Life goes on, tours still continue (unless they are on water) and people still hit the streets. So we followed suit, even though the town was totally whited out.

Thick snowfall creates an eerie atmosphere around a marooned ship in Ushuaia Bay

It was pretty fun walking around in the snow. Except that the wind kept blowing big fat clumps of snow into our faces. I swear it aimed at our eyes on purpose - otherwise how did even Dan's beady little eyes get snowed in?

The wind is not cooperating here

In fact, the wind was having a helluva fun time messing around with us. It sneakily dumped a sky-load of snow onto our backs! *shakes fist at Mr Wind*

Human icicle

Well, snowing or not, we still had a great time exploring the town. We had expected the southernmost city in the world to be either an undeveloped outpost or a stinky one dominated by the fishing industry. Ushuaia turned out to be surprisingly spiffy and rather upmarket! There were high-end branded items in the window displays and the mannequins in the shops donned glamourous evening gowns, sequined party dresses and sunny beach gear - such as Quicksilver bikinis. Bikinis?!?

Hanging out in town

Hitching a free ride - on a stationary bus

Being heavily tourist-oriented, Ushuaia is pretty pricey for backpackers. We managed to get a private loft room with 2 beds at Torre Al Sur, a hostel under the Hosteling International network for 40 Argentinian pesos (US$10) each - probably the cheapest in town. We had carted bags of rice, pasta and instant noodles with us from Chile, enough for meals throughout our stay.

But as Ushuaia is home to some must-try Patagonian specialties, we set aside some dough to sample some of these dishes.

First up, the centolla or king crab. Due to the city's proximity to the ocean, seafood is popular with visitors to Ushuaia. Of all the marine creatures up for grabs, the king crab is the most wanted item on the menu.

This is what Ms Popular looks like:


We would have liked to have an entire crab to ourselves to slowly deconstruct over the afternoon but we eventually decided on having it cooked in the restaurant's signature sauce - some creamy pepper mixture, which I can't remember the name of. And it was GOOD! The chunks of crab meat were huge, fleshy, fresh and springy. The strips of meat from the legs were the width of our fingers. We ate straight from the bowl instead of scooping portions onto our individual plates - so as not to waste a single crabby morsel. After that, we mopped up every bit of the sauce with 2 portions of bread rolls - just like eating chilli crab back home.

Thank goodness the centolla looks better on a plate than in the tank

We tried eating the crab with bread at first, then thought it was a complete waste to drown the succulent meat in dough. So we ate it the Singaporean way - eat the meat on its own and use the bread to mop up the sauce.

As the island of Tierra del Fuego is largely uninhabited, sheep take the place of humans on this huge desolate land mass. Free-range sheep are happy sheep. Happy sheep, like happy cows, taste really good. Thus, Fuegian lamb was the second item that we were after.

Bodegon Fueguino serves up cordero or lamb in 12 different ways. Instead of sharing, we each ordered an individual portion as the waiter had warned that the servings were not large. In any case, a plate of lamb was only 38 pesos (US$9.50), less than half the cost of the king crab dish we had the day before.

The service was perfect, the rolls were good and even the butter was divinely curled

We ordered the roast lamb for Dan, and the grilled lamb in red wine sauce for me. I usually don't eat lamb cos I hate the strong lamb-y (sorry, no other way to describe it!) smell of the meat. I found the meat here okay and definitely palatable. But the first bite of Patagonian lamb didn't send us into the high heavens like our first bite of bife de chorizo in Salta did. My red wine sauce was quite a failure - tasted like ordinary brown gravy - in comparison to a similar alpaca steak dish in Puno, which was doused in a much tastier version of the same sauce.

I preferred the veggies to the lamb actually

We had initially only shortlisted the centolla and cordero for sampling. But our friend Nicholas, who owns a chain of Japanese restaurants in Singapore, brought the Patagonian Toothfish to our attention. Called the merluza negra in South America, the Patagonian Toothfish is also sold as Chilean sea bass in the USA and mero in Japan. While I don't know what the Japanese name mero refers to (except that it sounds expensive), the toothfish is definitely not a sea bass - it's waaaaaaaaaay uglier. (Go ahead and surf the Internet for pictures of the fugly bugger!)

The toothfish lives in deep waters (from 300m to 3,500m!!) in the sub-Antarctic zone. Similar to cod, it is an oily fish that has a thick layer of fat under its skin - offering a healthy dose of Omega 3 - to keep it warm in the freezing waters. But it is much much MUCH better than cod. The meat slides off in neat segments when cut and the buttery flesh literally melts in your mouth upon each bite. I swear I could feel each mouthful melting away - so much so that I didn't dare chew too fast!

Most amazing fish dish ever

While doing some post-dinner surfing on the Internet about our meal, I discovered that some ocean watch environmental groups have placed the Patagonian toothfish on the list of endangered species. Oooooops. Erm, sorry? Well I take comfort in the fact that that was probably the one and only time I would be eating it, because outside of this sub-Antarctic zone, the merluza negra/mero/Chilean sea bass would cost many times more. (It already wasn't exactly cheap here in Ushuaia, costing as much as the king crab, and yet hardly enough for one person's dinner.)

So while our crab, lamb and toothfish meals in Ushuaia were not huge, they were definitely hugely satisfying. After eating, we would brisk walk (brisk - cos I can't bring myself to walk slowly in cold weather) back to the hostel and wind down from a lovely meal, with a view of the evening lights over snowy Ushuaia.

Our window ledge caked in the day's snowfall

Goodnight cold, cold, world


All Inclusive Vacations said...

in the images that place is very nice can tell us where is that this place and what kind of food is that

Tunster said...

Hi bro,

You finally tried the Toothfish!!! wow...envy envy sia..........

Looks incredibly yummy. The fugly crab too :) looks really good. Wonder if we can steam it....hehehehe

Dannie said...

Tunster: Not sure leh... I think shd be able to lah... there were so many ways of preparing the crab on the menu!

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