The next morning, I woke up leisurely and popped out to grab some coffee and a quick breakfast.
Juan recommended that I spend a bit of time exploring the Puerto Madero area of city. En route, I wandered through Plaza Mayor and decided that I would take a stop off and wander into the Cathedral Metropolitana. This stunning cathedral was built on the site of the original colonial church and was not finished until 1827. It’s a significant religious and architectural landmark and carved upon its triangular facade and neoclassical columns are bas-reliefs of Jacob and Joseph. The spacious interior is equally impressive, with baroque details and an elegant rococo altar. It honestly was stunning!
The Cathedral is also a national historical site which contains the mausoleum of General José de San Martín, Argentina’s most revered hero who led the country to independence in 1816. In the chaos that followed, San Martín chose exile in France, dying in August 1950 in Bologna-sur-Mer. His remains were brought to Buenos Aires, thirty years later, in 1880. Even today his mausoleum is constantly guarded by two soldiers and outside the cathedral there is a flame said to be keeping his spirit alive.
After spending some more time in the Cathedral I continued walking down towards the water’s edge walking through the green parks juxtaposed next to the impressive buildings in the financial quarter of the city; San Nicolás.
I soon made it down to Puerto Madero; often referred to as the ‘new Buenos Aires’. This shiny new area of the city is home to lofty skyscrapers, and regenerated brick warehouses that have been converted into some of the city’s most exclusive lofts, offices, hotels and restaurants. The area has a fantastic cobbled promenade with a mix of upscale restaurants and cafes. It’s the perfect place to wander around, soak up the atmosphere and so some people watching – that’s exactly what I did!
Contrasted against the modern buildings in this area stands the imposing Fragata Sarmiento docked proudly on the river. Over 23,000 Argentinian naval cadets and officers have trained aboard this 85m sailing Bessel which travelled around the world 37 times between 1899 and 1938. On board are detailed records of its lengthy voyages, a gallery of its commanding officers, plenty of nautical items including old uniforms, and even the stuffed remains of Lampazo (the ship’s pet dog). Built in Birkenhead, England, in 1897 at a cost of £125,000, this impeccably maintained ship never participated in combat.
Having spent some time exploring the area and soaking up the late afternoon sun, I wandered back towards the hostel ready to get myself sorted for my plans that evening. I couldn’t resist however stopping of for a bit of snack at Pizza Al Corte where I had my first taste of empanadas! I opted for two of the traditional flavours; Carne (beef with olive and egg) and Jamon y Queso (ham and cheese). All I can say – delicious! I could totally understand why these are so popular here!
One of my favourite things to do in a new city or a new country is to learn more about the traditional food and drink. More so recently I’ve wanted to take this interest a step further and have got really into participating in cookery classes. I did a bit of research prior to coming to Buenos Aires and in the end settled on booking a lesson with a fab husband and wife run workshop called Tierra Negra cooking lessons. The classes were held in their very cool apartment in the trendy neighbourhood of Palermo Soho. Annoyingly there was a total transport strike that evening, so I wasn’t able to get a bus or the Subte (underground) across to Palermo. In the end I had to grab an Uber, and a journey which should have taken 10 minutes took over an hour! I was therefore a little late for the class, but the hosts Veronica and Manuel were super accommodating and pretty much waited for me to arrive to get started.
When I arrived at the class, I met the three other ‘students’; two French girls who were travelling around South America, and a chef from New York who had come to Buenos Aires specifically to learn more about the cuisine.
We were first offered up some tasters of delicious of Provoleta cheese which had been grilled and served with native chillis. I had tried this cheese a few days earlier at Juan’s asado so I was super pleased to get to taste some again – it’s delicious! It’s a firm, waxy cheese, not to dissimilar from halloumi which is one of my absolute favourite cheeses ever!
Alongside the cheese we were given our first wine of the evening to try. I say try, we were poured a full on glass, which was then topped up a little while later – that’s my kind of taster!
The first wine, Bodega Nanni Toronto’s, Cafayate, was a delicious crisp white from Salta, Northern Argentina. Up until now I had only really tasted Argentinian red wines, so it was fab to try a white and, I wont lie, it was super nice.
Whilst we sipped on the wine, we got ready to start preparing our first recipe of the evening; traditional empanadas.
The name ‘empanada’ comes from the Spanish word ‘empanar’ which means ‘to bread’ or, in the case of the empanada, ‘to wrap something in bread’.
It’s believed that the modern empanada is a derivative of the Indian Samosa and the first empanadas were made in the Iberian peninsula, specifically Portugal and Galicia during the Medieval period. Recipes for empanadas have been found from as early as the start of the 16th century. Since their arrival in Argentina some centuries ago, empanadas have become a fast food staple, particularly in Buenos Aires and can be found all across the city.
A typical Argentine empanada is made with a flour based dough and some of the most common kinds are ground beef, cubed beef, ham and cheese, ham and onion, spinach and humita (sweet corn with white sauce). The fillings often include other ingredients such as peppers, onions, hard boiled eggs and olives. Empanadas can be either baked (Salta-style) or fried (Tucuman-style). I couldn’t wait to get learning how to make these little beauties!
The first thing we learnt to make was of course, the dough. The dough is made of flour, salt, butter, egg, a bit of sugar and water which is all combined by hand and rolled into a ball which is placed in the fridge to prove.
Whilst the dough settled Manuel set about showing us the flan’s he had prepared earlier for desert! Although the flans weren’t part of the cookery course, the dulce de Leche which the flan would be served with was. Unfortunately, because I was a little late for the class I missed the tutorial of how to make the caramel goodness, however Veronica made sure to take me into the kitchen to show me the pot bubbling on the stove and gave me a quick rundown of how to prepare it.
Dulce de leche is extremely popular across Latin American countries and is translated in Spanish to literally mean ‘candy made of milk’. Dulce de leche is prepared by combining milk, sugar, vanilla and baking soda in a heavy saucepan. The mixture is brought to the boil with the heat then being reduced to simmer, uncovered, until the mixture caramelises and thickens. Delicious!
Flans popped back in the fridge, and the Dulce de leche simmering nicely, it was time to learn about how to prepare the fillings for the empanadas. Manuel started off by sweating the onions in a pan, whilst giving us a quick lesson about the different cuts of meat used in the empanada preparation.
Typically two different cuts of beef are used in traditional empanadas. In this class we would be using the cut from the top of the neck, and instead of grounding the beef into mince, we would be chopping it finely which would ensure that the meat would not be tough when cooked.
The beef is added in with the soft onion and a different blend of spices added for flavour. Manuel explained that we would be using paprika, cumin and chilli flakes made from Quitchitucho chilli from the north of Argentina.
To the cooked meat and onion, diced spring onions, chopped olives and cubed boiled eggs are added and mixed together. Manuel explained that normally, once all the ingredients had been incorporated, the mixture would normally be left to marinate or one or two days for the flavours to really infuse.
Whilst we let the filling cool, we set about making the filings for our second set of empanadas. These weren’t at all a traditional filling, however the combination of ingredients are some of my favourite; hard mozzarella, tomato and basil; as Manuel described it – this was ‘pizza done by the Spanish’. Sounds good to me!
Fillings prepared, it was time to get rolling with the dough. We separated the ball into four, dusted with flour and rolled into four even tortilla shaped circles, all of equal thickness. A large spoonful of each filling is placed the centre of each circle of dough, and then becomes the tricky part… the folding!
Manuel explained that, traditionally, there are different ways of folding empanadas of meat and cheese varieties. We were given a little demonstration and let’s just say; Manuel certainly made it look easy!
Starting with the meat empanadas, the dough is folded in half, over the filling and pressed hard to seal around the edges. The edges of the dough is folded by using your thumb to pull out a bit of the dough and stretching it and folding it across to make the recognisable curls around the empanada. Manuel explained that traditionally, there should be 12 folds around the empanada; each one representing one of the 12 apostles. It may need a bit more practice…
The cheese empanadas were slightly easier to handle, with the corners of the dough being stretched and pulled round, almost to resemble tortalini pasta. I thought I had done quite well with mine, until they were placed next to the chef from New York’s efforts on the baking tray. Gah…
The empanadas were doused with melted butter for extra crisp before being added to the oven to cook for seven minutes in a high heat.
Whilst the empanadas were prepared ready for the oven, Manuel brought in the pot of bubbling Dulce de leche straight from the stove and explained to us how to tell whether or not the caramel is ready. Spooning a thin layer onto the back of a wooden spoon, Manuel used a teaspoon to draw a line down the centre, apparently if the line remained in the caramel, and did not run, the Dulce de leche was ready! It certainly smelled amazing!
Up next on the agenda, it was time to learn how to make the sauce which is traditionally served with empanadas; Llajua, a spicy sauce which originates from Bolivia and the north of Argentina.
The sauce is made by combining finely chopped tomato, olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and Locoto chillis (habaneros are a good alternative!). It was as easy as that!
It was soon time to sample wine number two; a Familia Cecchin Malbec from Mendoza; heart of the Argentinian wine region. This medium bodies, reserve, Malbec was absolutely delicious!
The aroma of cooked empanadas soon started to circulate round the flat and the fruits of our labours were placed in front of us. Now, not to brag, but I think we all did a pretty good job! Manuel explained that the way to properly eat an empanada is to take one bite, place a spoonful of Llajua in the hole and continue to eat. The class that had previously been quite loud and chatty soon went noticeably quite as we all delved into our plates of fresh empanadas – they were incredible! Definitely something I would want to try making once I came back home.
Once we had finished the empanadas (or wolfed them down!) it was time for a little break from the food and a chance to try our third and final wine; a late harvest Viognier Desierto (‘dessert wine’) from the Pampas. I must admit, I’m not normally a fan of sweet wines, but after an evening of dry wines and savoury foods this was absolutely delicious! Something i loved about this class was how Veronica, a trained sommelier, was so passionate and knowledgeable about the wines we were tasting and so enthusiastic not only about describing the wines to us, but the actual areas they originated from. It was fascinating!
Soon it was time for dessert, the flans were taken out of the Bain Maries and plated up using the freshly made Dulce de leche. Oh wow. This was INCREDIBLE.
I can’t recommend this class enough for people visiting Buenos Aires who have an interest in local food and wine. Veronica and Manuel were the most amazing, knowledgeable hosts and I definitely ate enough food and wine to keep me going for a week. What an evening! It’s safe to say I slept incredibly well that evening…!