If, as Nobel Prize winning novelist Rudyard Kipling once said, “the first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it,” then we say the second is to taste it.
Anyone who spends any time with us here knows food is an integral part of our travels, and that we love to sample as many different local dishes as possible everywhere we go. Increasingly, being able to cook these dishes has become a focus for us. We can’t bring back the smell of a quiet Sunday morning, but we can cook up international foods and replicate delicious memories from our travels forever.
That is why, although Argentine cuisine can be meat heavy, we searched for a cooking course in Buenos Aires and discovered the charming website for Cooking With Teresita. There we found three options – an Empanadas class, a wine tasting, or a full day culinary tour. The full-day combines empanada making and wine-tasting with a full four-course meal after a tour of locals markets in the suburb of Adrogue, a town about 45 minutes outside of central Buenos Aires by bus. In honor of Dani’s birthday we splurged on the full culinary tour.
As only happens in Latin America, we arrived 15 minutes late to Teresita’s home, and were the first ones there. While we waited for another couple to arrive, we talked South American travel with Teresita and her charming husband Raul. We toured their rustic, sprawling home (including a large kitchen with enough wine glasses and copper pots and pans to feed an army) and they pointed out paintings and knick-knacks on the walls from various places they had traveled in Patagonia, Greece and the United States. Conversation was easy and pleasant and we felt right at home.
That ease continued when the other couple arrived and the six of us headed out into the town of Adrogue, where Teresita and Raul have lived their whole lives. Quaint, bustling and full of life, most people are employed in the capital, so there are trains and buses running very frequently to and from Buenos Aires. Yet when I asked Raul how many tourists visit here, he and Teresita both laughed and said we were probably the only four tourists in town that day.
This made the experience feel very special and more authentic as we learned about unfamiliar vegetables at a small outdoor produce market and witnessed way too many different cuts of meat at the butchers (the omnivores with us had a field day learning about Argentine beef, while Dani and I gawked at a very large tongue in the display case). Teresita brought us to a deli and then on to a bakery, and as we strolled through town the four of us asked Raul and Teresita anything and everything, from related foodie questions to politics, history and lots of little language questions. I really appreciated Teresita’s excellent level of English, as she was able to explain and translate very intricate details of food and culture.
One thing she told us was that the dough of the empanadas in Argentina are made almost exclusively with lard, something us vegetarians might have preferred staying blissfully ignorant to, especially after making it a mission to sample as many roquefort (blue cheese) and Caprese (tomato, cheese and basil) versions as possible around town the few weeks prior. Luckily for us, Teresita had pre-made dough just for us back at her house, so that we could eat as many as would fit between the four courses we were about to stuff ourselves with.
When we returned to the house, bottles of sparkling wine were popped and there was a quick half hour demonstration on making empanadas. Because the course took place in their home, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the experience is watching the loving dynamic between Teresita and Raul, who is the ying to her yang. He is quiet with a charming, shy smile, while Teresita is boisterous, vocal and excited to share her passion and knowledge of Argentine food and wine. With his apron on and his attentiveness to refilling our champagne glasses, Raul was a supportive partner, doing many of the smaller, important tasks that kept the afternoon flowing, while we learned from Teresita how to knead the dough or braid the empanada’s edge.
We prepared the dough and learned how to fill, fold and form the empanadas. The fillings had already been prepped the night before, unfortunately, so we didn’t learn how to make that or how to fry / bake the empanadas. This was a shame, especially because Teresita is very knowledgeable and I feel like we would have a learned exactly how to make a good Argentine empanada from her. Whereas with other cooking courses we have literally had back aches and sore feet from standing and doing so much work in the kitchen, with Teresita, the actual cooking course part was a quick demo, and then we became guests at what essentially became a fine dining restaurant.
We joined the other couple outside at the table on the back patio, finishing our bubbly, getting to know each other, nibbling on our gruyere, fresh bread and our first Argentine white wine. The next dish was a Spanish tortilla and salad, paired with a second, different white wine, then came our empanadas, followed by the main dish which was a special vegetarian menu for us and Argentine steak for the boys. This was paired with a delicious red wine, which was refilled at least once for us all. At this point things begin to get a little fuzzy, but there was definitely some delicious homemade strawberry ice cream and a dessert wine to finish off the long lunch.
Although the afternoon was supposed to end at 3:30, the four of us were chatty and ended up overstaying a bit, but Teresita and Raul were gracious hosts until the end, when we decided it would be a good idea to extend the good time to a local Adrogue bar and order two more bottles of Malbec. Yikes!
We would have appreciated water on the table with the meal, or could have easily cut out a bottle of wine or two from the experience, if only to reduce the pricey $130 per person rate. However, in all fairness, guests of Cooking With Teresita definitely get value for their money, between a personalized (if basic) culinary walking tour, cooking demo, a four course meal that could have been served in a chic Palermo Soho restaurant and at least seven (I lost count) glasses of wine and champagne. We were able to ask everything we’d been wanting to clear up about Buenos Aires, too, which was an added benefit for us after spending over three weeks in the city at that point.
While I’m not sure how great my empanadas will be the first time I attempt them on my own, I feel like we were able to take away a really insightful look into authentic Argentine life and love of food and wine.
Cooking With Teresita includes three different experiences:
- One day empanada cooking class (3.5 hours; includes empanadas and wine pairing; US$55)
- One day culinary tour (5 hours; market tour, empanada making, 4-course meal, 4 – 5 wines; US$130)
- Argentine wine tastings (5 dishes with 5 – 8 wines; US$110)