A country’s food is intricately linked to its culture and for many travelers, food is one of the favorite ways to get a better "taste" and feel of a place. Traditional dishes are created using the ingredients that are available in a region and recipes are handed down from generation to generation over hundreds of years. Taking a cooking class while traveling can give you an inside look at a culture’s cuisine and provide you with a tasty meal.
The best part: You can recreate the dish in your own kitchen any time you want and be instantly transported back to the country of its creation. Here are some of the best traditional dishes to learn to cook on the road and then make on your own at home. Even if you can’t travel to each of these places, you can still take your taste buds on a journey by following the recipes below.
Empanadas in Argentina
Empanadas may have originated in Spain (the Spanish verb "empanar" means to wrap or coat in bread) but it was in South America that their popularity grew, particularly in Argentina. Essentially a small, semi-circular pastry stuffed with various fillings, empanadas are deceptively easy to make.
Fillings vary from province to province based on the meats and produce that were historically available and include chorizo and cheese; beef with paprika, onion, eggs, and olives; and sweet corn. In Buenos Aires, you can find many more varieties at restaurants, which designate each pastry’s filling with a different pattern baked into the dough.
(Related: 8 Reasons to go to Argentina now)
To make the traditional beef filling, melt 1 tablespoon of butter with 2 tablespoons of corn oil and sauté 1 large onion until transparent. Add 1 pound of ground beef, 2 tablespoons of raisins, 1 tablespoon ground hot and sweet paprika, 1 tablespoon ground red dry spicy peppers, 1 tablespoon cumin, and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Sauté until the meat is cooked and then put the mix in the refrigerator overnight, or for at least 1 hour. Just before cooking, add 2 cups of chopped hard-boiled eggs and ½ cup of chopped green olives.
Make the crust by mixing 4 ounces of butter or lard and 1 2/3 cups of flour in a bowl. Add a brine solution (1 cup of water with salt) until the dough can be easily formed into a ball. Let the dough rest about for 30 minutes and then roll sections into balls the size of half an egg. Roll the dough out into circular shapes about an 1/8-inch thick.
Spoon the filling onto ½ of the rolled out dough and use a drop of water to fold the ends of the dough together, making a crescent shape. Press the edges with the tip of a fork or twirl the dough by hand to seal it. Place on a nonstick baking pan and bake at 350 degrees, until the crust turns light brown. You can also fry the empanadas in sunflower oil and then sprinkle with sugar.
Pasta in Italy
Pasta has been one of the main staples of the Italian diet for centuries. With more than 3,000 noodle varieties to choose from, the options are endless. At its most basic, fresh pasta is easy to make and requires just flour and eggs.
Once the dough is made you can choose which kind of noodles to make based on your preferences for fillings, toppings, or sauce. One traditional Tuscan variety is ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese, served with a browned butter and sage sauce.
(Related: Great Cooking Schools in Italy)
On a flat, nonporous surface, make a mountain out of one cup of flour. Make a well in the mix and drop 1 egg into it. Using a fork, slowly mix the flour into the egg until it is thick enough to work with your hands. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, adding water if necessary to achieve the correct consistency, which should be smooth and supple. Let the dough rest for half an hour while you prepare the filling.
To make the filling, mix one cup of cooked spinach and ½ cup of ricotta cheese with a few pinches of ground nutmeg. Roll out the dough and cut into very thin squares. Put a teaspoon of filling on each square and run a fingertip of water over the edges. Top each square with another and press the edges with a fork to close. Cook the raviolis in boiling water for 2-3 minutes — fresh pasta cooks much quicker than dried. Melt ¼ cup of butter and sauté with 4 sage leaves. Add the cooked ravioli and top with a few slivers of grated Parmesan.