Take a look at the photo below. Once I saw this, I knew I had to write something about it.
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. That is a pata de vaca, or cow hoof. Much to my surprise, this is also a pata de vaca:
Anyway, I'm not here to talk about plants, so let's get back to the more interesting of the two.
Let me show you one more photo. Why? I don't know, for some reason I'm fascinated by this thing.
Ok, now that I've gotten that out of my system I'm ready to move on and explain what cow hooves have to do with Argentina.
So, what do cow hooves have to do with Argentina? Nothing really. This pata de vaca is simply a fancy (or creepy) cup for drinking mate.
Argentina is famous for mate. What is mate you ask? The simple answer is tea. But the simple answer isn't good enough for us, so let's get to the real answer, starting with our vaca de pata.
The vaca de pata, while it is rather bizarre looking, is used to drink the tea. And this is actually what's called mate. Mate is the name of the "cup" used to drink tea.
Here's a photo of a more traditional mate:
What are mates made of you ask? OK, maybe you didn't ask, but I'm going to tell you anyway.
Los mates pueden ser de calabaza, alpaca, madera, plata, hueso caña, y también los hay de plástico, vidrio, metal, loza
Mate can be made from pumpkin, pewter, wood, silver, calf bone, and also from plastic, glass, metal, and ceramic
Traditionally mate is made from pumpkins. I don't know much about that process, but I do know how to search YouTube and I found this video you can watch for a short lesson on como hacer y curar un mate. Get those Spanish ears ready!
Now that we've established that mate is actually what you drink the tea from, we need to talk about the tea itself, which is called yerba mate.
Yerba mate comes from a tree that looks like this:
When it's ready to be put in your mate it looks something like this:
Brewing yerba mate isn't quite as straight forward as making some good old fashioned Lipton ice tea. The short version of the story is that the yerba mate goes in the mate, then you add hot water.
I mentioned hot water; luckily Argentinos heat up water the same way we do, by using a pava.
Pava means kettle, as in a tea kettle. You may also hear it called a tetera. And yes, pava also means turkey. Technically when talking about turkeys a pava is a female turkey, and pavo is a male turkey, but we're not here to talk turkey (bad pun, I know).
My explanation of the mate making process is far from exact, so here's a quick video that explains everything.
OK, so now we know the technical differences between mate and yerba mate. If you watched the video, you may have noticed that the leaves and the water are mixed together. It doesn't seem like a very tasty beverage. You may have also noticed something that looks like this:
It's called a bombilla. You put the bombilla into the mate. If you look closely at the bottom of the bombilla (the gold piece), you'll notice several little holes. The holes are used to filter out the yerba mate leaves leaving you with the wonderful flavor of the tea.
Drinking mate in Argentina is like drinking sweet tea in the south, it's a tradition, virtually a mandate.
When you walk into a friends home in Argentina, the conversation might go something like this:
Hola, ¿unos mates?
¿Dulce o amargo?
Sweet or bitter
Como tomes vos
However you drink it
Don't let the word vos confuse you, it's just another way to say tú. It's called voseo, and that's a topic for another post.
Well, that's it. Now you know a little bit about drinking mate. Oddly enough, despite having been to an Argentinian restaurant and having learned so much about mate, I actually didn't get try any. They didn't have any for the customers, just their own personal stash. Go figure.
¡Hasta la próxima!