What springs to mind when you think of Argentina? Sumptuous red wine? Delicious steak? Tango? All of the above?
After struggling with the food and drink in Bolivia, arriving into Buenos Aires was a breath of fresh air, and the Argentine Experience made me fall in love with the ‘Paris Of South America‘ immediately.
Argentinians are more crazy about football than the Brits. That was the first thing that struck me as our bus rolled through the streets of Argentina. They also love their red wine too, and with a constant flow of Malbec on their doorstep, it should come as no surprise.
After dumping the bags at our hotel, we headed out to the Argentine Experience, located in the Palermo area of Buenos Aires.
This was not a cooking class, we were told as we walked through the door. It was a cultural experience about the food, drink and people of Argentina.
I walked up the stairs into a room that looked like it was laid out for kings and queens. Amazing decor, colourful Argentinian artefacts and a fabulous setting for dinner. Except we weren’t here just for dinner…
THE PART WHERE I MADE EMPANADAS
To me, empanadas are like little Cornish pasties. A yummy snack or starter, filled with meat and potato. Little did I know that empanadas come in many different forms in Argentina, with many different tasty fillings!
Our first port of call was to make our very own carne empanada. I got the pastry, added the meat filling, and used my fingers to delicately fold and twist the edges of the pastry to make a nice, presentable edging.
Into the oven it went, with a little label for everyone to know who’s was who’s. Or to see who’s was good, and who’s was shite. Thankfully, mine turned out well!
Next up was a free for all competition. We were tasked with making another empanada. This time, we had to shape the empanada into an animal. We spent 15 minutes shaping our creations, and then another little label was stuck into the top of the animal empanadas with our names on. To see who’s was good and who’s was shite. This time, mine was shite.
Some of the others however, were amazing! Rabbits, kangaroos, crocodiles (at least I think there were crocodiles) and even lions!
Throughout the duration of the Argentine Experience, we were all made to wear lovely chefs hats and an apron. Safe to say we all embraced the whole experience!
THE PART WHERE I HAD SOME OF THE BEST STEAK AND WINE IN BUENOS AIRES
With the empanadas now crumbled up in our bellies, it was time for the main course. Pasture-raised, Argentinian steak.
Not only was this a thick-cut, Argentinian fillet steak, the team at the Argentine Experience had recruited some of the top chefs, to source some of the best beef in Argentina. The result? A mouth watering fillet steak, cooked to perfection. The chef cooks the steak on one side for fifteen seconds, then flips it over and cooks it for another fifteen seconds on the other side. This continues until the steak is cooked to your liking.
A valuable tip was learning how to order steak in Latin American Spanish, with a Buenos Aires twist. You could go for rare (muy jugoso), medium rare (jugoso), medium (a punto) and well done (bien cocido).
Complete with creamy mash and roasted vegetables, this was one of the best steaks I had in the whole of Argentina.
|Perfectly cooked fillet steak|
What is the perfect accompaniment for a juicy steak? That’s right, red wine. Not just any red wine in this case. The team picked two Malbecs from boutique wineries in Mendoza to ensure the flavours of the steak complemented the wine, and vice versa. Given I had been eating less than edible food in Bolivia for the previous 2-weeks, I cannot describe how good this tasted.
THE PART WHERE I DRANK YERBE MATE
Mate (pronounced ma-tey, not mate) is a South America herbal tea that is incredibly popular in Argentina, Southern Brazil and some areas of Uruguay. Wherever you travel you will see locals, lorry drivers and social circles all carrying a mug of mate and a flask of hot water.
We were shown how to make a cup of yerba mate. Unlike making tea in the UK, you add a lot of tea leaves and only a relatively small amount of water.
First you fill the mate cup up with dried leaves. Then you cover the cup with your palm and shake the ceramic mug to gather dust on the palm of your hand, which you then blow off – do this three times.
You then you add a metal straw (known as a bombilla), and then add hot water – around 85°C – any higher will burn the tea.
Voila – my mate was ready to drink!
Yerba mate is a very social drink that people share. It is passed around from one person to the next, but you should never touch the bombilla, as that causes consternation. Oh, and despite their being many variations of the tea, yerba mate is generally incredibly bitter!
THE PART WHERE I ATE ALFAJORES
The best way to counteract the bitterness of the yerba mate? With a deliciously sweet alfajores. These are sweet biscuits filled with dulce de leche, dipped in coconut and coated in chocolate. Yum!
I soon learnt that alfajores were everywhere in Buenos Aires, and there are lots of different varieties to delight the taste buds! Naturally I tried quite a few.
THE PART WHERE WE LEARNT ARGENTINE GESTURES
With the last course over, it was time to finish the Malbec and learn a little more about the people of Argentina.
Argentinians are famous for ‘speaking loudly’. Not so much with the volume of their voice, but more the flamboyance of their arms – especially when they are disgruntled.
Argentinians speak with their hands, so we were taught ten different gestures to keep an eye out for during our time in Argentina.
Ojo! – I’m watching you!
You’re breaking my balls!
What do want me to do?! During which I got a little carried away with the aggression…
The Argentine Experience was started by Englishman Leon Lightman (black shirt in the photo above) and he sheds an incredible light on Argentinian culture, gained through living there for many years.
He pairs it with great food and drink, and sees it as a great opportunity for people to meet other travellers that they possibly wouldn’t have met, as they may have be travelling as a couple or a small group.
I’d recommend doing this experience early upon arrival into Buenos Aires, and then take your learnings with you all around Argentina. Give it a try – I’m sure you’ll love it!
The Argentine Experience – Buenos Aires
A brilliant cultural experience, and some of the best steak in Buenos Aires!
If you’ve just arrived into Buenos Aires, and you’re looking for a fun evening with good company, great food and a cultural experience, give this a try. It was one of my best nights out in Buenos Aires!