While I liked Buenos Aires, I loved the Argentina I found beyond the capital city. It took me by surprise, frankly: I’ve always been more of a city girl, yet there was just something about Mendoza (a city yes, but not a huge one) and the surrounding countryside that immediately grabbed me. And that something just might have been amazing food and excellent hospitality.
On a day that would become one of my favorites of the trip, we began – as all good days should, really – with wine. At Trivento, we were led on a short tour by an employee named Gustavo. He walked us out into the vineyards for a bit, and then showed us the roomfuls of gigantic barrels where the wine is aged. He also told us that there are 970 wineries in Mendoza – think of all the Malbec!
After our tour, we sat down in Trivento’s bright, airy tasting room for a tasting of three wines. Everyone’s favorite – and my favorite, too – was the Golden Reserve, a Malbec aged for 15 months in 100% French oak barrels. If this had been available to ship back home, you can bet I would have purchased a case.
After finishing our wine (which, because we drank it so early, we affectionately referred to as our “second coffee”), we headed to Apapacho, a local restaurant where we would spend the next several hours taking a cooking class and having the most memorable of feasts.
We began by assembling our own picada, which is basically the Argentinian version of a meat and cheese plate. Our only strategy was to pile up as much as we could, and boy, was it all good. While picada is always eaten before a meal, I would happily eat this as a meal. Really, if you have cheese, what more do you need?
While snacking on our picada (and drinking liberal amounts of Trivento wine, of course), we watched as chef Diego explained how he was preparing the main course, rabbit. He cooked the meal outdoors, over an open flame, and as the rabbit, broth, and veggies stewed, the smell was amazing.
Our final task was empanada making. The restaurant had pre-prepared the fillings, but we got to fill and seal the empanadas (including properly shaping the wavy borders, something I could never get to look quite as picture perfect as when the pros did it). Diego then popped them into a gigantic outdoor oven, cooked them quickly, and handed us each one, piping hot.
Though we’d already consumed plenty of food by that point, we moved indoors for our meal, which was one of the more incredible meals I have ever eaten. When the rabbit came out, we were all euphoric – it was so, so flavorful. For dessert, we were given flan with a very liberal amount of dulce de leche atop it. While I’m not normally a huge fan of flan, it’s amazing what a heaping scoop of caramel can do to improve a dish!
After our meal, we staggered back to our hotel, super impressed with the warm hospitality we had received and beyond stuffed from the incredible food. One thing I learned for certain that afternoon: the Argentinians are damn good at eating well.