Article by Sarah-Émilie Nault originally published in the May-October 2015 edition of the Atmosphere magazine. Read the latest edition here.
Appreciated by food-lovers all around the world, barbecuing is one of the small pleasures of life that are meant to be shared. From Cambodia to Newfoundland, Buenos Aires and beyond, the barbecue brings people together, and is flavoured with the preferences, ingredients and customs of its creators.
For centuries, the mountains and teeming coastal waters have been feeding the people of Newfoundland. In a part of Canada where nature still reigns supreme, fish, seafood and game form an integral part of the province’s traditional cooking.
Whether during a camp-out deep in the woods or a day at the beach, in summer as in winter, the boil up, a very local and rustic version of the Canadian barbecue we know, is always appropriate. Armed with a kettle (often just a tin can), a long branch and a grill to place over the fire, the cook heats up some water for tea, toasts a few slices of homemade bread and grills some freshly caught fish like trout and Atlantic salmon, or lobster and other seafood.
The boil up is more than a moment of simple pleasure in the heart of nature; it’s also therapeutic. Hiking is good for the health, but taking the time to chat around the fire is great for the soul. Legend has it that worries aired during a boil up stay there…
Siem Riep, Cambodia
In Cambodia, there’s nothing more authentic or delicious than a Khmer traditional barbecue. The simplest way to experience it is to sit down at a table at a local restaurant decorated with signs for Cambodia Beer, and set to grilling the seafood, strips of meat and phom pleung (fire mountains) on little individual grills placed before each guest. This method of cooking is a sacred ritual with precise steps and timing.
While different from the typical Western barbecue, the traditional Khmer barbecue makes a lot of sense. Early in the morning, far from the touristy markets of Pub Street, the first step is to visit Phsar Leu Market, where the authentic action takes place. The excitement created by hawkers and shoppers, the freshness of the local products, the orgy of colours, the aroma of herbs and above all the best meat are the fundaments of a real Khmer barbecue. It’s also the perfect place to meet people, since Khmer tradition would have it that this special meal—along with one or a few cool beers—is made to be shared with friends in the countryside.
Partially cooked marinated meat is skewered, then placed over burning coals, while frogs and fresh fish are caught in the nearest body of water. As traditional music plays, women chop hot peppers, lemongrass and garlic, adding water to make the sauce known as prahok. Don’t be surprised if one of your hosts suddenly starts climbing up a coconut palm tree; he’s just looking for some juice to accompany this traditional Khmer barbecue.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
In Argentina, asado or asado criollo is much more than a simple technique for grilling meat. It’s a true art form and a decidedly social activity.
It is said that Argentinians are born knowing how to cook asado. Argentinian barbecue is no less a vital element of their culture than music and dance. Tradition, perhaps even the Argentinian national identity, dictates that each gesture made by the asador (barbecue chef) is part of an orchestrated choreography of the art of cooking, serving and tasting of the meat. Every cook approaches the parrilla (grill) differently. The temperature of the grill, the distance between the meat and the coals, the quantity of coal and wood, the cooking time and the precise moment when the meat is to be turned vary from one asador to the next.
Argentinian traditional barbecues are certainly not restricted to the animal’s most prized parts; on the contrary, up to a dozen pieces of meat may be salted, poked and grilled before being laid horizontally, vertically or even crisscrossed, over the fire. Sausages, sweetbreads, ribs, tripe, kidneys and other parts of the cow are laid next to chicken, pork, lamb and vegetables (typically peppers). All the above is then plunged into a bath of the infamous hot sauce known as chimichurri, and the feast is rounded off with a mixed salad and a glass of Malbec, the full-bodied, slightly spicy wine that put Argentinian vineyards on the map.