There are two dishes commonly associated with the Patagonia region of Argentina. The first is roasted lamb, the second: local trout. While I made no effort to pack “gear” sturdy enough to endure harsh glacial winds or hikes over rugged landscapes, I did look up what to eat weeks before the trip. It’s all about the lamb and the trout, a fact I confirmed as I glanced restaurant menus in the center of Calafate. Whether what people actually eat is lamb or trout or some variation of either I guess I will never know. It may be that, as in many places in the world that (lamentably) do not deem their real cuisine noteworthy to visitors, the local tourism sector randomly picked two things that the region happened to be producing at the time and made them “authentic regional classics.” Maybe after a while restauranteurs were like, “I guess they want lamb and trout and will pay developed country prices for the two so let’s do that.” So while I doubt that Patagonians only or even mostly consume lamb/trout at family gatherings, the two are raised or caught fresh here so they are of rather good quality. And, well, I am a fancy-pants tourist so who am I to eat at the local pizza chain with the lowly locals? On my day trip to Chaltén I marched my butt right into a place called Ritual del Fuego and paid $120 pesos for some fish and a “salad”. And I only a regretted it a little bit. Chaltén is a wonderful place to set up camp and head out to hike from. Trails to Fitz Roy mountain and Los Tres glacier start at the end of the main street, San Martin. On the other side of that main street is the terminal with buses to Calafate and Bariloche. The reason for this layout is plain and simple: tourists walk from the bus terminal to the hiking trail down a street lined with businesses catering 100% to them. Hostels, hiking gear rentals, supermercados with $200 peso sunscreen, restaurants with – you got it! – trout and lamb. It seems to be a vacation spot for Argentines from BsAs and Bariloche as well as a popular day trip destination for tourists in Calafate looking for things to do after having exhausted the glacier trekking option twice over. I also went to Chaltén. I had some difficulty getting out of there and that experience left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, but nonetheless had a wonderful experience during the day before things went downhill after dinner.
The trails from Chaltén really did bring me face to face with some of the most gorgeous natural scenery I’ve ever set my eyes upon. Glorious, snow-capped Fitz Roy towered over lush green hills, babbling brooks and trees with winding branches. The sun beamed down hard, catching me here and there and tanning my exposed arms. I changed into short-shorts behind a tree half way through. I drank palms-ful of cool, clean stream water and read my book while suntanning on the edge of Capri lake. I also met a really interesting Spanish girl who works as an Emirates flight attendant based in Dubai and has traveled more than I have. We discussed Argentine politics and cultural differences across the globe as we planned each step through rocks and logs and paved trail. We decided to meet up later that night in Calafate, where she was also staying, to attend the festival going on in the town square. Unfortunately that never ended up happening and I can only hope she didn’t wait too long in the agreed upon spot before surrendering to the thought of ill fate having befallen me. At the end of a 7 hour hike we both wanted a beer and something good to eat. Having passed quite a few lakes on the hike and knowing that trout is a lake fish, my mind was set on it and I would settle for nothing less. We asked a scruffy looking rastafarian fellow who seemed like he had been stuck in a Chaltén hostel for quite some time whether he had any suggestions for trucha Patagónico. He pointed to a place nearby, Ritual del Fuego, a place I really doubt he could afford. We went anyway. It was a nice little restaurant on the main street of San Martin, one with the name of the place printed on the plates. Service was slow and definitely not “with a smile.” After sweating quite a lot I was not in the mood for the starchy risotto that came with the fish and I asked for lettuce and tomato on the side instead. Our moody waitress begrudgingly agreed but charged me the same price. When we left the place it was already freezing cold and windy. I wished that I had ordered a bit heavier but I did get what I wanted after all, two large filets of Patagonian trout.
The trout was decent. It was fresh and flaky, clean and sweet (especially for a lake fish) but not really anything tremendous. It was a relatively thin filet, even thinner towards the edges and full of fishbones. It did have a good layer of fishy fat across it, which melted into a creamy, silky sauce-like thing pleasing to the tongue. The fish was baked in a simple butter sauce and some herbs to give it additional flavor. Good but nothing to rave about, just some fresh local lake fish seasoned minimally and very subtle in flavor. I’ve had better pisztráng at Lake Balaton in Hungary.