When speaking of South America, I have so far only written about Peru. They are, obviously, very different countries. From the point of view of this blog, the biggest differences are in the poverty levels and in their favorite cocktails (No, I don’t equate them in importance). Argentina had a poverty level of 13.9% in 2009, compared with nearly triple that rate in Peru–36.8%. Argentina has had remarkable success in reducing the rate of Chagas’ Disease to background levels (there are notable exceptions in certain regions of the country, most importantly the Gran Chaco), whereas in Peru there seems to be roadblocks, like less money and lack of political will.
As for cocktails, we’ve already mentioned the Pisco Sour, the national cocktail of Peru. It’s an easy drink to like, and the pisco kind of creeps up on the drinker in gentle way. Searching for the national cocktail of Argentina, the consensus seems to be that anything mixed with Fernet-Branca, especially Coca-Cola, is considered characteristically Argentine. Fernet-Branca, however, does not come from Argentina. Fernet originated in Milan, from a formula crafted in 1845 by Bernardino Branca. It uses around 40 different herbs and spices, including myrrh (follow this link for Monty Python’s info on this), chamomile, gentian root and saffron. Italians call it an amaro, meaning bitter, and it was purported to have medicinal qualities, being good for gastrointestinal upset, menstrual problems, hangovers, and cholera, thus allowing me to make this post in good faith on a public health blog. As for these claims being true, you are on your own.
This stuff is horrible. “Acquired taste” is only true if by acquiring you mean having your taste buds removed. Here are some quotes gleaned from the Internets:
Fernet Branca: the trendy drink that makes you gag. Fernet Branca is an Italian liqueur with a taste so pungent that your first sip has a good chance of making you either want to throw up or wash your mouth out with Pepto Bismol.
From the Atlantic.com
Your first sip of Fernet Branca, an Italian liqueur, will be akin to waking up in a foreign country and finding a crowd of people arguing in agitated, thorny voices outside your hotel window.
It is the colour of road tar, smells like hell, tastes worse, and has to be shot straight back, with no hesitation.
I wrote this post after trying to find something out about myrrh, but it led to this. Never having been to the country, Argentines are free to refute my claim that Fernet and Coke is the national drink.