When we first started planning our trip, I had visions of learning how to cook traditional foods wherever we’d go. In South America these visions consisted of images like me and a well-worn abuela, making empanadas. Me and an Argentinian butcher, grilling up all those cuts of beef I’d never heard of before. Me and a Chilean fishmonger, me and a Peruvian potato farmer, so on and so forth. Heads together, laughing, eating, poking fun at each other, exchanging knowledge (in a mostly one-way exchange, let’s be honest). But I’m not exactly sure where I thought I’d find these people; people with time and patience to spare and the interest in opening up their homes, their businesses, and/or their kitchens to teach a gringo how to make their traditional food. People who I’d be comfortable enough with to poke fun at. Now that I’ve been to some of these places, the thought is hilarious at best and embarrassing at worst. Also, I probably should have taken into consideration the consistently recurring fact that I don’t speak Spanish. Brett does a wonderful job translating for shopkeepers and hotel receptionists and flight attendants, but that only goes so far and gets pretty exasperating after even the shortest of exchanges.
And thus it was that, with only a tiny bit of logic and reasoning, my dreams of picture-perfect, authentic, intimate South American cooking lessons were bashed.
So in the absence left behind, I’ve sought out tourist cooking classes as we’ve planned each city – entirely touristy, yes, and almost certainly of the sort that merely guide you through a couple of recipes and send you on your way, but still a chance for me to ask questions about the food and get answers from people who at least somewhat know what they’re talking about.
But – it turns out these sorts of classes aren’t as common or as affordable as they are in other parts of the world (I’m looking at you, Southeast Asia …), and in each city I’d come up empty-handed. Until Arequípa, Peru, that is. In Arequípa, I found one that was even better than I could have hoped for, a three-part workshop designed by the owner of our hotel, who used to be a professional chef, and set in the hotel’s beautiful outdoor courtyard.