Saturday, March 15, 2008

Comida de Chile

I've been here for two weeks and feel I'm now qualified to offer a discourse on the local cuisines in middle Chile. Since you all know I live to eat, this is a very important topic for me.

The very first thing we discovered is an amazing sandwich which they call either an italiano or a completo, depending on where you are. It consists of a type of meat - generally thinly sliced pork (lomo) or steak (churrasco) - plus what seems like an entire avocado, tomatoes, and mayonaisse (when it's called an italiano it's because those are colors of their flag). This is served on delicious roll-type bread that is always toasted. I always get it sin mayo and I'm telling you, I could eat one every day. In 14 days I've had at least 8 of them. A very popular variation - especially in Viña - is a hot dog covered in avocado (sometimes in guacamole format) and tons of mayo. I'll admit, a hot dog with avocado (palta) is more tasty than I ever thought possible. I guess the same goes for cream cheese hot dogs like we have in Seattle - you have to try it to believe it!

Speaking of mayo (which goes on almost everything) there is an abundance of wondrous potato salad here. They call it papas mayo. Now, those of you who know I have a dislike for mayo will be shocked to learn that I INHALE papas mayo. It usually consists of perfectly cooked potatoes, carrots, parsley, and of course mayo, and is often served on a bed of lettuce. (It should be said that carrots appear in most everything, as do parsley or cilantro, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and of course avocado.) This is a typical first course, usually with slices of tomato or cucumber and, sometimes, a slice of deli ham on top... don't ask. Of course, before they bring that they always put bread and salsa - spicy and also with parsley - on the table. So much better than butter as a spread, let me tell you.

If you can't do without your mantequilla, there is plenty of butter to be had at breakfast, which is a roll served with butter and/or jam, and either tea or Nescafe, which they drink everywhere. Luckily I am not a caffeine drinker and as such have not had to accustom myself to instant coffee. Either of these drinks, for a typical Chileno, would be accompanied by a mountain of sugar, which brings me to my next point: overload.

Chilenos, as far as I can tell, should all die early deaths from their salt and sugar intake. The saltiest dish you've ever tasted could be put in front of you, and the Chileno next to you is salting it while drinking a sugary bebida - they make fun of Americans for drinking water with meals. One girl said she had her water taken away from her and was told it was bad for her; she was given a coke instead. However, Chilenos seem to live long, healthy lives, and I have yet to see someone who is obese. This could be due to the freshness of everything. For example, before starting this blog I ate something called a dona, which is like a deep-fried donut cut in half, filled with cream, and covered in chocolate. Within 10 seconds the brown paper wrapping was soaked through by the oil, and yet I felt nearly healthy eating it compared to some of the sweets we're known to produce in the U.S. of A. I know there's nothing but known ingredients in my dona and that, if left unattended, it would start to decompose in a matter of days. (And, not to add insult to injury, but I ate it on and am now blogging from a sunny balcony with an awesome view.) (Speaking of housing... let's not. I'll update when there's an update to be had.)

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the empanadas. If you don't know what that is, it's like a savory pastry filled with... whatever. They are sold everywhere, including in mini markets and by streetside vendors. The weirdest kind is pino, which is ground or shredded beef plus a hard boiled egg and an olive (pit intact). The best kind is napolitana, which is tomatoes and cheese, but I'm an equal opportunity empanada eater and I've tried and enjoyed them all.

In addition to a mountain of sandwiches and empanadas, I've also been eating many delicous menus. This is a three- or four-course meal plus a drink that most places serve at lunch. Menus generally consist of salad (see above) and/or soup (usually Lipton, always salty), two or three entree choices, and a dessert which could be fruit, sorbet, milk pudding, or even Jello. The entrees are usually simply prepared cuts of beef or chicken with tasty gravy and either arroz (rice) or pure (mashed potatoes, pronounced 'pooray'). I love them both - the rice is garlicy and usually filled with carrots, and the potatoes usually taste like they're partially instant, which I secretly enjoy. As much chicken as I eat, my near-daily beef intake is sort of terrifying, and I'm trying not to think about it until I have a kitchen of my own.

Of course, it's not all meat. Chile has amazing seafood. Last night I went to my first fancy dinner with an Argentinian woman staying in the hostel. We found an awesome seafood place with three levels of balconies overlooking the ocean. We split a seafood soup, an incredible piece of salmon, and a "pricey" bottle of smooth Chilean wine. It has to be said, the seafood here (not to mention the wine) is to die for. I am a total salmon snob and I would argue that Chile's salmon is on par with and possibly even better than the Northwest's. It was probably a 3 star restaurant, and in the end I 'invited' her and paid a whopping $30,000 pesos, with tip: roughly $50. Bear in mind that Chile is South America's most expensive country - the same meal in Argentina could have been half as much. Only it would have been beef. Lots and lots of beef.

That was far and away the most I've spent on anything so far here. Usually my meals are between 1,000-3,000 pesos, or 2-6 dollars. Mom, you'll find it humorous to know that Chileans LOVE pizza and there are pizza places everywhere (the last meal I asked for in the U.S. was pizza, thinking I wouldn't have it again in a long time). Granted, it's not nearly the same, but as long as you think of it as Chilean pizza and not American, it's quite good.

Another popular ethnic cuisine here is Chinese food, which, I'll be honest, isn't very good. They do Italian better and serve pasta just about everywhere, but for the most part it's all Latino, all the time. So far I'm not sick of it, but I am definitely looking forward to having my own kitchen again. (Jacob, stand by to bring me spices I can't find here.)

That's all for now. Chaocito, as they say in Chile!


Anonymous said...

Oh god, I could seriously kill a completo and about seventeen empanadas right now. So delicious...I'm glad you're enjoying the food!

Casey said...

I read this at a time when I was feeling hungrier than I'd ever felt...bad idea. It all sounds sooo good!

mary_archer98155 said...

Seriously, why do I feel the need to jump on my treadmill after reading this?

All the food sounds great, except for the mayo which made me gag a little...