My third day in Buenos Aires I was signed up for a cooking class and I chose to travel on the metro. I purchased my SUBE card in the underground station, literally outside my hotel. It is like London’s Oyster card, it is prepaid and deducts use for every journey on either bus or metro. Simple and straightforward, this has been a very practical marriage between digital and plastic. Guidebooks and those who had visited Bs As before me had said it was a nightmare to use public transport. Small change was required and not easy to get hold off, and people used to stand with jackets open as mini small change money exchanges at an extortionate commission; this no longer happens. Lovely sky blue in colour, mine celebrating 200 years of Argentina’s independence in 2016.
The Buenos Aires metro system uses a similar system to Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris, colour coded lines. I worked out my route, made my way through the long air-conditioned tunnel and got on my first train then switched to another. The hardest part was locating the venue, landmarks were difficult to identify and having found the street it was about a ten-minute walk to reach the correct block. Norma of www.argentinecookingclasses.com answered and told me I was too early and advised a coffee. A nearby coffee shop was located and I discovered that black coffee comes in chico small or grande, large. Chico is an espresso my fav way to drink coffee.
Perked up by a dose of decent caffeine, I made my way back to find my classmate had arrived. Flavia was from Brazil and in Bs As to learn Spanish. We began by making the filling for the Empanadas, the small filled pastries that look like Cornish pasties or being Scottish a bridie. We then made the pastry something I am good at, but my techniques were not suited to this type of dough as it is neither kneaded nor rolled just formed into a ball then left to rest. For convenience, we used dough made by a previous class and the next would use ours, as pastry needs to settle.
Another Argentine classic is the filled biscuit , alfojores, looking like macaroons; the filling is the ubiquitous but delicious dulce de leche, caramelised condensed milk. A gentle dough is made with a fine grating of lemon zest added to the mix. Once more, we used the previous classes dough and cut the dough into tiny circles to be baked.
The next stage was filling the empanadas. This was a bit tricky but became fun. You can buy pie cutters that fold over to create the shape but we were shown the traditional way. The circle is placed into your left hand, a spoonful of mix was placed in the middle then folded over. Rather than just squeezing the edges together, you pull from the edge then fold over making your way around the half moon shape till reaching the end. This is called the repulge, it creates a double seal, but also helps identify the filling as different shapes and seals are used. Although we used the same filling of beef, Norma showed us other shapes, one like a large tortellini which is the vegetable filling and similar looking to a Cornish pasty with the closure sitting at the top, is the traditional shape for chicken.
Empanadas went into the oven, as the alfajores discs came out. While they cooled we were shown how to make the lentil and chorizo stew which is eaten to celebrate Argentina’s independence from Spain though it was similar to Spanish dishes I already knew.
The alfajores were ready to be completed; the disks sandwiched together by dulce de leche, a little dabbed on the outside then rolled in coconut. It was therapeutic, as I find cooking when done in a relaxed atmosphere. The empanadas were also ready, golden and tempting. We then had lunch together sampling the empanadas with chimichirri; the classic Argentine sauce, made from chopped onions and paprika, oregano, garlic, wine vinegar and oil. A tiring but lovely morning had come to a tasty end. I made my way back to the metro station with Flavia my classmate, chatting about our future travel plans.
My fatigue had finally caught up with me; a siesta was required. Retuning to the land of the living later than planned, I organised visits and trips for the rest of my stay. Nick Thomson of Destinations Travel Edinburgh, had advised some things would simply be easier to set up locally.
The following day continued on the foodie theme and I was doing a tour with www.bafoodtours.com round San Telmo, the oldest district in the city. Sunday proved to be a good day as it coincided with the street market. We met at the permanent covered stall market of San Telmo; Amelia our guide and two Australian friends who had just visited Antarctica. We made our way through the market and I bumped into the young lad from Guernsey who had been sitting next to me on the flight. Leaving the market, we made out first stop, wine, cheese, and cold meat tasting. We tried four wines, one white and three red, merlot, malbec, and cabernet sauvignon, I found the first two reds quite peppery and strong and preferred the lighter cab sav. The selection of sausages was good, but I was to find all the cheese creamy but rather bland.
We then made our way through a throng of streets heaving with people, street vendors all hawking their wares, antiques, vintage glass, woollens, shoes and empanada sellers, wandering round their trays bundled high with the mini pastry parcels, and I was able to identify the fillings.
Our next stop was a veritable feast. Jorge, Amelia’s husband had gone to reserve a table, as they don’t take bookings on a Sunday. We began with more sausage this time freshly cooked, there were three different types, all tasty with a chunky mouthfeel like a good butcher’s sausage. There was also a dish of provoleta cheese melted with herbs, which gave it a bit more of kick but still bland. Then came the beef, this was day four in Argentina and I was to eat their stunning beef for the third time. It never disappointed once, this was a different cut, beef skirt or bavette a cheaper cut but prepared correctly it is tender with an amazing flavour. Accompanied by salad and chips and wine glasses ever filled. The restaurant never emptied and there was a constant queue.
Dessert was chunks of quince jelly, which I love, and sweet potato jelly. I have tried sweet potato on a few occasions but I can’t handle the texture, this I liked and in case we were in doubt more chunks of cheese which faired better being paired with the jellies. We were full and Amelia suggested another wander through the market, many things caught my eye and I planned to return. We went inside to what they called tenements but reminded me more of Southern Spanish buildings with courtyards. Originally, homes to the poor where they shared kitchen and washroom facilities, many had become trendy market places; antiques, art galleries, arts and crafts.
We entered one and I fell in love with a large oil painting. It was a single bud honeysuckle, the pale cream finger petals and green leaves set on a background of washed shades of nectarine. I asked the price, in pesos and dollars not cheap but affordable. On every petal there is a tiny couple dancing the tango, every petal a different step. It would be an unusual but perfect souvenir of Buenos Aires. However, caution prevailed and I said I’d think about it. I still remember and regret the beautiful street scene I didn’t buy when I was in Marrakesh the year before. Our final stop was at one of the city’s oldest and most well known coffee shops.
We discussed the picture, I made my decision I had travelled with dollars and pesos, if I had enough left by the end of the week I’d reconsider the painting if it hadn’t been sold. Coffee was how I like it, black, strong, and creamy. Amelia and Jorge kindly offered to drop us all of at our hotels as we were a small group and it was on our route home. In my room, I counted my dollars and put the value of the picture in a separate envelope.