While gauchos are the South American lone wolf cowboys, Madama Gaucha empanaderia is an exclusively women-run affair, led by owner Tania Lescano, a mother of one who left Córdoba, Argentina for Frankfurt to study art over 20 years ago and ended up running a bookshop in Berlin. Here she was soon feeding her customers with more earthy sustenance, and decided to switch from children’s literature to Argentinean pastry. Empanada means literally ‘to coat in bread’, and stuffed pastries is what this storefront turned bistro is all about. They’re baked throughout the day; arrive before 3pm for a limited assortment at €2 each, or in the evening for a larger selection (including a sweet option) at €2.50. Though the dough is not homemade, all fillings are made in-house: currently there are four meat varieties (two beef, one chicken, one ham and cheese), one fish (tuna) and three veggie, including one vegan choice, each with its own distinctive shape as drawn in chalk on the menu.
Resembling a giant tortellini, the Zapallito – zucchini and organic beef, with a nice buttery taste from Parmesan cheese – is meant to be finger food, but might have you resort to cutlery. Asian-inspired Pollo has almond shavings on top, chicken and chives inside and a lingering curry flavour. We preferred the traditional Criolla, with its half-moon, pelmeni-like shape: beef, eggs, olives and an amazing tangy twist of cumin and raisins.
On the veggie side, the open-faced Humita’s filling of corn, pumpkin and red pepper is sweet and mild, but the texture remains a little dull. Fiorentina on the other hand is delicious, with spinach, nutmeg, gorgonzola, parmesan and mozzarella in a creamy synthesis. More Italian than Argentinean? “It’s an immigrant country,” explains Lescano.
You will be offered chimichurri along with the pastries, a tomato-based sauce with chives, parsley and a lot of garlic. Use with parsimony – it risks overshadowing the empanadas’ mild flavours.
Although the drink menu offers a handful of decent Malbecs (the best being Pietro Marini (€6.90/glass) and Finca Reiquehue, (€6.50) and some enjoyable beers from local Kiezbrauerei Flessa Bräu (€3.50), their mate – hay-flavoured and seriously bitter, slurped from a calabash gourd through a metal straw (€3.50) – is the real must. The cold version, tereré from north Argentina, served with lime and sugar, is really quite addictive. Round off with the traditional Argentinean alfajor, rich dulce de leche sandwiched between two crumbly corn-flour cookies.
Since its opening in May, Madama Gaucha has attracted dedicated locals including many Spanish speakers (the bilingual Spanish school is around the corner). The solemn woman in their logo is Spanish tango icon Celia Gámez, and yes – they host Argentinian dance nights.