Buenos Aires–The Argentine Experience

I’d like to put in my plug here for Viator.  No, I’m not being paid to do this.  I’ve just found their site, and their tours, to be super-helpful.  In English (with options in other languages), you can search out activities and trips by country, city, and region. We did a Viator on our honeymoon in Amsterdam last year and had a wonderful time at the Amsterdam Dungeon and on a Halloween-themed dinner cruise.  Because we were getting kind of desperate to talk in English to people, we decided to do two Viator activities in Buenos Aires. The first one was The Argentine Experience.

Sort of billed as a “closed-door” restaurant, the Argentine Experience is part restaurant, part cooking class, and part fiesta. It was started by several ex-pats who wanted to find a way to teach the tourists more about how to make Argentinian cuisine, and was financially backed by a famous Argentinian poker player. Located in the stylish Palermo neighborhood, it is a beautiful bar on the first floor for mixology classes, and a kitchen and long farmers’ style tables on the second floor.

We started the evening with a delicious cocktail made from malbec and fruit juices, and the very nice staff kept our wine glass filled the entire night.

Empanadas are generally translated into English as “turnovers,” although I’m not quite sure I would call them that. Empanadas are a staple in Argentinian cuisine. I think we did a rough estimate at some point and said that T and I have eaten over 1,000 empanadas since we got here in January. That’s a lot of empanadas. (They’re small–that’s why the number is so large.) If you’re unfamiliar, empanadas are pastries filled with meat, cheese, and/or vegetables. They’re generally the size of your palm, and they’re great and inexpensive street food.  The tricks to having a good empanada: 1) good ingredients put into them (in our case, a beautifully marinated pulled beef, some delicious cheese, and some malbec-cooked onions), 2) filling it with the correct amount of filling so it doesn’t leak out and leaves 2 cm around the entire circle of pastry, and 3) doing the repulgue correctly. Repulgue is one of those words that has no real English equivalent. It’s used specifically to describe the action taken to seal up the empanada and get it ready for cooking. Repulgue is an art form… which I am not fantastic at.

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After we made our “normal” empanada (and ate a bunch of the meat and onions on their own… oops), we had the creative empanada contest, where each person had to take two pastry sheets and make something interesting with their empanada.  It is well known that I am not a great artist. I do not free draw, I do not paint (unless it is a wall–I can do that), and I do not sculpt. It’s just not in my wheelhouse. Imagine my surprise when I was chosen as the winner for my “bear-pig-wombat” empanada.  (In reality, it was supposed to be a carpincho/capybara, but clearly my artistic skills were lacking.) I am now a social media star on The Argentine Experience Facebook page.

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We had the absolute best steak we’ve had in Argentina–and apparently it’s all about how to cook it. They have a special method that T took copious notes on–but it involves cooking it for a long time with two sources of heat (one on either side) and minimal flipping of the meat. Regardless, it was absolutely delicious–and I’m still salivating just thinking about it. The sides of vegetables (the absolute first time we have seen steamed vegetables as a side in Argentina, ever) and the mashed potatoes were awesome.

Then, on to some Argentinian phrases and hand gestures! (No, they didn’t teach us any of the dirty ones.) Basically, it was a great crash course in “things your taxi driver will probably say and do while navigating the insane traffic of Buenos Aires.”  It ended with us yelling “Que te pasa!” as loud as we could. (Essentially, “what the heck are you doing?!?” in Spanish.)  It was presented with a great deal of humor–and in terms that all of the Americans could understand.

Then–onto dessert! We made alfajores–which you’ll remember seeing in this blog post. Alfajores are different to every province, but the ones we made were essentially two vanilla wafers with a healthy dollop of dulce de leche in between them, rolled in coconut shavings, and dipped into chocolate. Heavenly.  And of course, because it is Argentina, we had mate.  They make mate a bit differently in Buenos Aires than they do in Corrientes/Misiones. In Buenos Aires, sugar is a required part of mate, since the drink can be so bitter. We were the only Americans who 1) knew what mate was, 2) had drank it before, and 3) had a vague idea how to prepare it. We definitely got the master class here, and drank a few delicious cups of it to end our meal!

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Overall: Total Win. We met a lot of awesome people–both fellow customers and the staff. It was great to share our experience, and to hear what other people were doing in Buenos Aires–and get great recommendations from the staff about where to get the best tacos. (Thanks, Fernando, for the  Fabrica del Taco rec–it was amazing!)  All in all–do it, especially if you’re only in Argentina for a bit and want to meet some of the great people on staff (who speak English) and learn a bit about Argentinian culinary customs.

We wandered around the Palermo neighborhood a bit after our dinner to soak in the great nightlife–it’s a really hopping place, with some fantastic bars and restaurants. (It was way too early for the nightclubs to even think about being open yet–although we saw some burly looking guys hanging around outside a club called Moscow.) We eventually grabbed a taxi back to the hotel, but got caught in a sea of people who were apparently coming back from a concert, or recital. We must have sat in the middle of an intersection for ten minutes until we found a moment to keep driving!

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Want to learn more about The Argentine Experience? Here’s their website, which includes recipes and fun blog posts.  Also, here’s the site for Viator. They do fun trips in lots of cities, and are a lovely way to do a structured tour or outing when you’re not entirely how to book it yourself–often with door to door service. And nope, not compensated by either of these awesome entities.

Final note: I apologize for these pictures–I do not look good in a chef’s hat, but it’s a requirement of the gig.

 

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