Cultural Crash Course + Steak + Malbec = The Argentine Experience
By Sharon Salt.
Of all the foods and drinks most strongly associated with Argentina, empanadas, steak, alfajores, wine, and mate have got to be the top five. Normally I wouldn’t suggest eating them all in one meal, but when attending a specialty foodie tour called The Argentine Experience, how could you not?
The Argentine Experience provides an authentic, culturally educational meal by serving the best food Argentina has to offer and teaching a bit about Argentine culture along the way. Now, just two years since their first event, the team is comprised of seven guides and three chefs from all over the world – Germany, Nicaragua, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Thailand, and Argentina – but it didn’t start out that way.
It actually began in a Recoleta apartment shared by three friends. “We wanted to offer an authentic meal for travelers,” said Carla, one of the original three. They bought ingredients at the grocery store during the day and hosted dinners around their table at night. During high season, they only had four days off a month. And although the three spent the entire time working, the unexpected and sudden success motivated them to keep doing what they were doing.
From there, a successful Latin American poker player offered to invest, building them the custom restaurant and bar in Palermo where the events are held today. From the placement of the bar to the high-seated chairs and accompanying tables, everything was planned specifically for The Argentine Experience. The tables and chairs, for example, were designed to allow guests to comfortably make empanadas standing up or sitting down.
“At first,” said Carla, “We said, ‘Oh my God, what have we done? We built a two-story building. What are we going to do with a two-story building?’” But The Argentine Experience has only grown more successful. Now, they’ve even begun renovations downstairs to fit another table so they can host two groups at once.
When the new building first opened, they began hosting tango nights and bar events, but they’ve since scaled it down, recommitting themselves to what they see as the two most important aspects of The Argentine Experience: quality food and good service.
As far as I’m concerned, they nailed it. The Argentine Experience was not only delicious but also well planned. Carla explained, “The empanada making is an icebreaker. As soon as everyone puts on the same hats and aprons, people come together.”
And it’s true – you become fast friends during this activity, though the free flowing malbec doesn’t hurt, either. When Ebony, the woman to my left, won the novelty empanada contest, we laughed and celebrated with her even though we had all only met ten minutes prior.
From there, we had an excellent steak and made alfajores for dessert. Interspersed throughout the dinner were a few cultural lessons, too, such as ordering meat in Spanish, the significance of Argentine hand gestures, and how to serve mate, each of which was funny enough to be a stand-up routine. (Again, the free flowing malbec didn’t hurt, either.)
“Although most of our guests are between 30 and 60 years old, families with their children, and grandparents with their grandchildren have all enjoyed their experiences at the dinners. Our dinners are designed to bring together people of all ages and nationalities.” said Carla.
They have. By the time we left, everyone had exchanged emails and restaurant recommendations, sightseeing tours and good daytrips. We were all a bit tipsy, very full, and laughing out the door.