For me, food is culture and I travel to eat. I also love to cook and learn as much about the local cuisine as possible, so taking a cooking class wherever I go seems like a no-brainer. There were a few to choose from in Antigua, but the reviews for La Tortilla Cooking School were excellent, and they also had the option of adding on a market tour. Markets in foreign countries can be large, bustling, intimidating places with plenty of fruit and vegetables that may not be familiar, so having a guide is always a great idea.
The person who usually gave the market tour was out sick, so we had to depend on Sully, who had handled the English e-mail correspondence. As seems to be customary (but never necessary), she apologized for her English, which was just fine. We walked over to the market and she explained to us that Sunday was an off-day for the market, so it wasn’t too busy. It wasn’t too packed, either, which was a relief, and she showed us around. Unfortunately, being a non-market day, the produce wasn’t very good so she couldn’t find any samples she’d feel comfortable giving us. Instead, we went to her favorite coffee shop, Guate Java, and had a coffee before our cooking class began. The place was top notch.
After the tour, we went back to the school and waited for the remainder of our class—seven people in all—to arrive. La Tortilla offers a variety of classes, from a short two-dish class to the full six-dish class, which is the one we chose (and which includes unlimited wine). Our instructor, Sonia, didn’t know any English, but her assistant did, and language was not an issue. We all donned our aprons and lined up around the countertop. We would be making a main dish (the local stew pepián), three side dishes (a beet salad, a rice dish, and tortillas), a dessert (rellenitos—mashed plantain filled with a chocolate and bean mixture and fried), and atol, a thick drink made of corn flour and seasoned to be either sweet or savory (I made mine plenty savory and spicy).
We were all given some prep to take care of, whether it was chopping onions and herbs, peeling and cutting potatoes, boiling and mashing plantains (be sure to drink the water the plantains were boiled in; it’s delicious)—we all had a part in helping to prepare the meal. We would all also get a turn actually cooking things; some would be blackening vegetables on the comal (a flat metal griddle used in Latin-American cooking), some would make the chocolate and bean mixture for the rellenitos, and some would be mixing the corn flour and water for atol. There were also things we would all do—everyone would stuff their own mashed plantains for rellenitos, and everyone would get a turn making tortillas.
Having taken cooking classes in different countries on multiple occasions, and actually enjoying being in the kitchen, I felt right at home during the class. Whether it was chopping onions or preparing the tortilla dough, I was having fun. I’m sure the unlimited wine didn’t hurt, either. It also helped me get over my intense hatred of doing things in front of people, so it wasn’t so bad when I had to stand in front of the class to cook the rice dish, or stuff plantains, or form tortillas—the last of which I turned out to be the best at; so much so that when there was enough dough for one more to be made, the class elected that I make it. Thanks, mom and grandma—making pierogi every year at Christmas surely contributed to my success.
After we’d prepared everything, the class sat down for a group dinner of all the food we’d just made. Our instructors didn’t sit with us, but I’m assuming they ate whatever we had left, because we didn’t even make it through half of all the food we’d cooked. The class, in addition to being fun and informative, made a very filling meal—don’t plan on eating afterwards, and eat a light lunch beforehand. For one of my favorite things to do while on vacation, La Tortilla didn’t disappoint. We were able to simultaneously learn about the local cuisine and cooking methods, as well as eat many of the local foods we’d heard about (which also freed us up to try other things when we went out to eat). As an activity, if you enjoy cooking (and drinking wine), this is a must-do when in Antigua.