Monday, January 16, 2012

Trip to Chile Part 2: Best Things I Ate

A.  Preparation

During my recent trip to Chile with Sausalito’s Mayor, Herb Weiner, which I described in my post a couple of weeks agoI had the opportunity to try a number of traditional Chilean dishes.  In preparation for our trip I did quite a bit of research about Chilean cuisine and found the following English sites to be of the most assistance (I welcome suggestions about others that I may have overlooked):

~ Wikipedia’s Chilean cuisine site

~ The food section of the Chilean government’s This is Chile site

~ Tasting Chile, the site of an American named Margaret Snook who has lived in Chile several years.

~ Eating Chilean, the site of an American named Jim Stuart, a former college professor who moved to Chile when he retired.  Jim’s entries have in many cases a historical perspective that I found very helpful

~ FoodyChile, the site of a young American named Colin Bennett whose market tour Herb and I took while in Santiago

Unfortunately my Spanish is not good enough to allow me to make efficient use of Spanish language sites, although I did in particular enjoy visits to the site of the Círculo de Cronistas Gastronómicos de Chile, a Chilean culinary society.

B.  Traditions and Ingredients

Chilean cuisine was primarily based on the traditions of the indigenous Chilean people, in particular the Mapuche, together with the Spanish who were the first to arrive from Europe.  Subsequent immigrants, most notably the large group of Germans who came to southern Chile in the 1800’s, added their own elements to the mix.  However, the most notable element of Chilean cuisine is the wealth of excellent local ingredients, both fish and shellfish provided by the sea along Chile’s long coastline, and, as we can see in our own supermarkets at this time of the year, the wide range of fruits and vegetables grown in the country’s fertile soil in the diverse environments found as one moves north to south.   Finally, needless to say, Chilean wines are among the best in the world.

C.  The Lineup

While Chile – in particular the capital Santiago, a city of over 6 million people – offers high quality international cuisine, my focus on my first trip to Chile was on traditional Chilean dishes which tend to be relatively basic and rustic.  The following, which appear in the order consumed along the way, were the best (or at least most iconic) dishes I had:

1.  Mote con Huesillos (peach and wheat drink) – Cerro San Cristóbal, Santiago

Carla, one of my Chilean friends living in the Bay Area, told me that on my first day in Santiago I should go to the top of the San Cristóbal hill – part of the
Metropolitan Park of Santiago (a sister park to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco!) - and enjoy the view of the city with a glass of Mote con Huesillos.  In fact that is what we ended up doing as part of a city tour that Herb and I took on the day of our arrival.  

I found the drink very refreshing, but what an unexpected combination.  First you add some boiled wheat (the mote) to a class, then add a couple of dried peaches (the huesillos) and fill it up with peach nectar.   I wonder who it was that figured out that combination?

2.  Completo Italiano (hotdog with tomato, avocado and mayo) – Donde el Guatón and Dominó, Santiago

I had seen the episode of No Reservations when Anthony Bourdain goes to Chile, and the completo was the dish from that program that struck me the most.  Basically an oversized hot dog smothered with (at least in the red, green and white version referred to at the Italiano after the tricolored Italian flag) tomato, avocado and mayo.  The version that Bourdain had was at Sibaritico in Viña del Mar, but Herb and I decided not to wait and in fact had our first completo on our first day in Chile at a small place named Donde el Guatón.  Frankly, I was underwhelmed, in large part because the hot dog was very bland.  Later that day I decided to give the dish a second try at Dominó, a Chilean fast food chain.  While the second was a bit better, it was not a dish I would recommend.

One element of the completo which does deserve mentioning is the generous use of avocado (or palta as it is called in Chile).  I learned that Chile is a major grower and exporter of avocados and mashed palta is used generously on many dishes as we encountered frequently on our trip.

3.  Lomito Antiguo (pork sándwich with avocado and mayo) – Dominó, Santiago

Notwithstanding my disappointment at their completo, I ended up going back to Dominó (a shop was just around the corner from my hotel) a couple of days later for one of their Lomito Antiguo’s.   Bourdain had gone to a Santiago institution named Fuente Alemana for a Lomito and the same place had been recommended to me by another Chilean friend in San Francisco, but I just did not have enough time to get there.  Here's a guide to ordering there for my next visit.

The Lomito at Dominó was very good, and the antiguo was only one of several variations offered.

Sandwiches are a very popular component of Chilean cuisine as indicated by this article The sandwiches are often oversized, as shown in this shot taken in a restaurant display case (unlike in Japan where food in display cases is all realistic plastic, in Chile it is real).

That may contribute both to the fact that the consumption of bread on a per capita basis in Chile is reported to be #2 in the world (after Germany), and that there is a growing concern about obesity as reflected by the new Elige Vivir Sano program sponsored by Chile’s first lady, Cecilia Morel, encouraging Chileans to follow healthier life styles.

4.  Porotos Granados (cranberry bean, corn and pumpkin soup) – Don Victor, La Vega, Santiago

On the morning of the Saturday we spent in Santiago, Herb and I took a market walking tour led by Colin Bennett of FoodyChile.  We met Colin near the Plaza de Armas and then toured Santiago’s two primary food markets, La Vega and the Mercado Central, located on opposite sides of the Mapocho River that runs through the city.  It was a very interesting and worthwhile tour of markets, and Colin made sure we had the chance to sample a few things along the way.

The best thing we had to eat that day came on a stop we made at Don Victor, one of the many small restaurants scattered around the La Vega market.  Porotos Granados is a classic Chilean soup made from pumpkin, corn and cranberry beans, and is a dish I plan to try to make here, although as always some of our local ingredients, in particular our pumpkins, may only approximate the Chilean varieties (including the zapallo camote pumpkin).   Here is a recipe which appears to be close to what we had.

Chilean food in general tends not to be very heavily spiced, although it is not upcommon to find both pebre (a salsa condiment made of some combination of coriander, chopped onion, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and ground peppers) and merkén (a ground smoked red pepper) at restaurants and on dinner tables.

5.  Terremoto (wine and pineapple ice cream drink) – La Piojera, Santiago

Toward of the end of our market tour Colin took us to bar named La Piojera near the Mercado Central.  The establishment got its name (which means the place that fleas live) in 1922 when Chile's then President Arturo Alessandri was invited to visit the bar by the owner. When he walked into the bar and found it a rustic place full of working-class customers, the President (apparently part of Chile’s 1%) exclaimed, “What is this place, a flea house?” The name stuck.

Colin suggested we try La Piojera’s signature drink, the Terremoto (earthquake in Spanish), a Chilean specialty combining white wine and pineapple ice cream.  Again one wonders who thought up the combination.  While it was refreshing, in my view the two ingredients should be consumed separately.

6.  Once (traditional late afternoon meal) – Home of Pedro and Patti San Martin, Viña dell Mar

On Sunday afternoon after Herb and I arrived in Viña dell Mar we met up with our friend Norma Morales who took us to visit Pedro and Patti San Martin, some friends of hers who live in Viña.  The San Martin’s invited us to join them for “once,” a traditional Chilean late afternoon/early evening snack which I understand in many cases serves as dinner – or at least will tide one over until dinner which, in the European tradition, is generally eaten much later in Chile than in the United States.  The only thing I still do not understand is the origin of the term once, which means eleven in Spanish. 

We spent a very pleasant few hours with Pedro and Patti enjoying our first once ever.  The only thing missing from the picture was the big bowl of avocado that Pedro whipped up for us.

7.  Machas Parmesanas (broiled razor clams with cheese) – Ristorante San Marco, Viña dell Mar

It has been drummed into me during visits to Italian restaurants that one NEVER adds cheese to shellfish.  Accordingly, it was interesting to discover that one of the most popular Chilean seafood dishes are razor clams sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and then broiled.

Late one evening in Viña I was a bit hungry so stopped by a highly-recommended  Italian restaurant named Ristorante San Marco nearby my hotel for something light.  The waiter suggested I try their Machas Parmesanas, which turned out to be fantastic.  In fact, as described here, it turns out that the dish was invented by Edoardo Melotti Ferrari, an Italian immigrant to Chile, who owns Ristorante San Marco.

8. Pastel de Choclo (corn and meat pie) - El Criollíto - Mercado Municipal de Temuco (Mercado Modelo)

After our stay in Viña del Mar I headed further south in Chile, initially flying from Santiago to Temuco in the Araucanía region.  There I was met by a guide named Philippe who lives in Pucón, who would be showing me around for the next few days.  

Since I would be staying in Pucón that evening, we drove first to the center of Temuco where we got out and walked through Temuco’s two markets, the Feria Pinto and the Mercado Modelo.  We had lunch at El Criollito, one of the restaurants, in the Mercado Modelo, where I had another iconic Chilean dish, Pastel de Choclo.   It is a sort of baked pie with ground beef at the bottom (very similar to the filling empanadas de pino) and corn at the top.  Mine also included a piece of chicken.  A very tasty and filling dish and another that I would like to try to make.

9.  Chaigue (meat-stuffed wheat ball) – Trawü Peyun, Curarrehue

On one of the days I was in Pucón Philippe took me to a series of places in the area that gave me an exposure to the culture of the Mapuche indigenous people who were the original inhabitants of much of southern Chile and are today the largest indigenous group.  We first drove southeast from Pucón to the beautiful town of Curarrehue where I toured the Trawüpeyum Mapuche cultural center.  At the end of the tour we came across a Mapuche woman named Ida who shared with us a dish she was making called Chaigue, a ball of boiled wheat (again the mote) stuffed with pork.

10.  Piñon-filled Pastry and  Maqui Preserve – Pasteleria La Cocina de Elisa, Curarrehue

After we left the cultural center, we walked through Curarrehue (which is not very big) and visited a bakery, the Pasteleria La Cocina de Elisa, run by a Mapuche woman named Elisa Cea Epuin.  Chile’s national tree is the Araucaría tree (called the monkey puzzle tree in English) which yields nuts – piñon – which can be ground to make flour.  Elisa makes some excellent pastries incorporating piñons, as well as preserves made from the maqui berry.  Those alone were worth the drive out to Curarrehue.

11.  Cazuela (chicken soup) – Antu Rayen (Rosario Colpi), Pucón

On our way back to Pucón we stopped to visit another Mapuche family which runs a small cultural center named Antu Rayen.  Our hostess, Rosario Colpi, prepared a Chicken Cazuela for us which we enjoyed with other dishes in a ruca (a traditional Mapuche dwelling).  The chicken had most likely been running around the ruca that morning and the soup was extremely flavorful.
12.  Kuntsmann Brewery – Valdivia

From Pucón I headed further south, initially stopping in Validivia on our way to Puerto Varas were I was to spend three nights.  Valdivia is within the area of Chile to which a large number of Germans immigrated in the 1800’s and they brought their customs with them, including a fondness for beer.  The Kuntsmann brewery is just outside of Valdivia and we stopped there for lunch and a tasting of Kuntsmann’s beers, my favorite being Torobayo named after the Valdivia suburb within which the brewery is located.

13.  Caldillo de Congrio (fish soup) - Don Raul (Palafitos de Angelmó), Puerto Montt

Puerto Montt is a port city just south of Puerto Varas.   It has an active fish market called Angelmó surrounded by serveral buildings built on stilts (palafitos) housing a number of restaurants.

The congrio, an eel-like fish,  is a staple of Chilean cuisine that we saw in almost every fish market.

Although the congrio is prepared in several ways in Chile, perhaps the most well-known dish is Caldillo de Congrio, a soup which I had at the Don Raul restaurant in one of the palafitos following my tour of Angelmó.  The dish has special significant to Chileans since it is the subject of a poem by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda entitled
Oda al Caldillo de Congrio.  I wonder how many other dishes exist that are the subject of a poem by a Nobel laureate?

14.  Curanto en Olla (clam bake) – Ayaltue, Puerto Montt

Just outside of Puerto Montt is cultural center named Ayaltue which presents the culture of Northern Patagonia and the large island of Chiloé, just south of Puerto Montt.  After touring their exhibits, I was served a local specialty called Curanto, a meal of shell fish, meat and potatoes (a Chiloé specialty) which are traditionally steamed in an underground pit (a hoyo) lined with hot rocks and covered with earth and the huge leaves of the nalca plant, similar to the technique used in the Hawaiian imu. 

The folks at Ayaltue used a more modern approach – a large pot (olla) into which  the ingredients were layered – first the shellfish (mussels and clams) with a splash of white wine, then the meat (chicken, pork and sausages) and potatoes, and finally a layer of milcaos or chapaleles, a potato dumpling. 

15.  Blueberry Küchen – Café Appetit, Frutillar

Frutillar is on Lake Osorno just north of Puerto Varas.  Another reflection of the German traditions in the area is found in the town’s excellent pastries.

16.  Salmon – Casa Molino, Puerto Varas

On my last evening in Chile I had dinner at
Casa Molino, the guest house at which I stayed a couple of miles north of Puerto Varas.  Casa Molino is a beautiful facility with a spectacular view of the Volcán Osorno across Lake Llanquihue, the second largest lake in Chile.  The area around Chiloé is the center of Chile’s salmon farming industry and I enjoyed one of the best preparations of salmon that I have ever had, seated in their spectacular dining room.  Definitely a place to linger.

D.  Some Things I Missed

1.  Empanadas

Perhaps the most iconic Chilean food – or at least the one that stirs the greatest passions about which is “the best” (perhaps a counterpart to Americans’ feelings about hamburgers) is the empanada.  In fact the Círculo de Cronistas Gastronómicos de Chile organization conducts an annual contest to seek to identify the best empanada in Santiago - see the 2011 results.  I simply did not have time to try any empanadas while I was in Chile – perhaps on my next trip this can be a focal point.  On the other hand, I am not too bothered by this since, thanks to Paula Tejeda, we can get excellent Chilean empanadas at Chile Lindo in San Francisco

2.  Wine

Wine production and wine tourism are obviously very significant in Chile as can be seen from the Wines of Chile website.  Although Herb and I did stop briefly in the Casablanca Valley on our way from Santiago to Viña del Mar, I did not while I was in Chile have the time to explore either Chilean wines or the country’s wine growing regions.  Many of those regions are within an easy drive from Santiago and it would be well worth the time to visit.  


Anonymous said...

What an interesting article! I am a foreigner living in Chile and what Chileans told me about the "once" signification is that people were used to drink "aguardiente" (which is an alcool)around 5pm and, because of the alcool restriction, they said they were having "once" (which means eleven, which is the number of letters of the word "aguardiente").

gastronomichael said...

Thanks for your comment. That sounds like an interesting theory.

Simona said...

Very interesting report, Mike. The borlotti, corn and pumpkin soup looks very appealing. I looked at the recipe you reference: do you know if they were using fresh or dried beans?

gastronomichael said...

Hi Simona. That soup - the porotos granados - was one of the best things we had there. However, I am afraid I do not know whether the beans were fresh or dried - I presume the latter. If you try it let me know how it turns out. Ciao!

Connie said...

Where/how on earth did you find and line up all these amazing people, places and activities?!

marcando said...

Hi i'm marco , italian chef, living in chile
the porotos are dried
normally, all the beans are used dried in chile
best regards

Anonymous said...

Hi, the porotos granados are fresh beans. You find them in summer time or frozen in winter. Porotos burros are ones we use dry, to make porotos con rienda.

Kalki70 said...

As "anonymous" said before me, "porotos granados" are always made from fresh beans. Fresh in summer or bought frozen the rest of the year. Never from dried beans.

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Anonymous said...

Soy chilena y sólo quería ayudar explicando que , se dice , la palabra " ONCE " - con la que nosotros nos referimos a la hora del té - viene de cuando hace muchos años los hombres hacían un descanso para beber " AGUARDIENTE ",palabra de " ONCE " letras con la cual se disimulaba ésta actividad socialmente poco decorosa.DE AHÍ EN MÁS, LAS REUNIONES DE MEDIATARDE PARA UN REFRIGERIO SE LLAMAN " ONCE "

Anonymous said...

En Chile existen muchas variedades de porotos e innumerables preparaciones . Se usan tanto secos como frescos , pero para los porotos con mazamorra y los porotos con pirco ,sólo se usa el poroto granado fresco o a lo más congelado , ya que junto con el choclo o maíz son verduras de temporada

altatours said...

How are you doing,hope everything is well with the sister city Program

Best regards,

Eugenio Ovalle

Jen said...

Hello everyone
Fantastic blog...looking forward to visit chile again
And enjoy a good dish of caldillo de congrio...catch my attention about las Onces where this come from..amazing
Didn't even knew about it....I'm like a tourist without knowing my own country...

Jen said...

Hello everyone
Fantastic blog...looking forward to visit chile again
And enjoy a good dish of caldillo de congrio...catch my attention about las Onces where this come from..amazing
Didn't even knew about it....I'm like a tourist without knowing my own country...