Eating Social In Chile

The joy of traveling includes meeting people along the way. Since my daughter and her husband live in Chile, visiting them has opened doors to meeting people in their homes that simply would not be possible as a tourist. Chilean hospitality is unsurpassed. My wife and I have delighted in savoring meals native to Chile and good natured conversation - such as it is since neither of us speak Spanish well. Of course, big smiles, hearty laughs, and exaggerated gestures while attempting to utter a few phrases in Spanish have gone a long way towards making new friends.

We visited a family in remote Cochamo, Chile. Visualize the fiords of Norway - that's what this amazing area is like. Julio brought out curanto - a huge pot of steaming, simmering meats - pork, chicken, sausages, and mussles along with whole potatoes. On top of the meat they place this huge leaf of a rubarb-like plant and on top of that was a mix of flour that as the pot simmered "baked" a dumpling-like bread. The broth from the curanto is poured into a coffee mug and drank like coffee. The taste of the broth reminded me of a mild gumbo. A mild pico de gallo is served on the side.

Chileans have a love affair with blenders and thus puree just about anything vegetable into soups. At one home, the first course was a dark green soup made predominantly of chard. To my Americano-prejudiced taste buds I have to admit I was apprehensive about the dish. However, one sip revealed a warm, pleasant taste that was good to the last drop.

After finishing off the soup, the main course was served. This dish is a shepherd's pie sort of meal, but instead of layering the meat, mashed potatoes, and vegetables, these are all mixed together. But wait, there's a secret ingredient! Pumpkin! Here in Chile, pumpkin is used far more creatively than in the USA. Up until my visit to Chile the only way I had eaten pumpkin was in pumpkin pie. The mashed potatoe, pumpkin, meat combo was very tasty and satisfying. A salad of lettuce and peas with a lemon and oil dressing was served on the side providing a fresh contrast to the hearty potatoes and meat combo.

Americans are use to eating three meals a day - breakfast, lunch, and supper (or dinner). Shirley and I had to get used to a different schedule of eating rather quickly. Breakfast tends to be light - usually bread and a locally made white cheese. Lunch is the big meal of the day - usually served around 1:30 or 2:00 PM. Then late in the evening, it's time for onces. Yeah, I asked the same thing, too. At onces, family and friends gather around for good conversation and eat a light meal and snacks along with a cerveza (beer) and vino (wine) - local, of course.

I'm not much of a beer drinker and pretty much despise the taste of most big label American beers. However, when I travel I do enjoy sampling the more hearty ales and lagers. Chile does not disappont! I took a liking a Chilean brew called Austral. The real joy here when it comes to drink is wine. Chile is a big producer of the merlot-like Carménère. While in Placilla, we visited Viña Ravanal and left with a few bottles for friends.

We rarely ate out while in Chile. However, my daughter Carissa and her husband, Eric, took Shirley and I to a small, elegant restaurant in San Fernando. The restaurant, En Familio Centro, is staffed by an amazing staff. The service was simply amazing. We all enjoyed a delicious fried hake served with potatoes. While my family drank Austral cerveza, I enjoyed a Chilean chardonnay (the name of the wine I've long since forgotten). The meal was very inexpensive - roughly four dollars per person (not counting the drinks). The whole tab was less than $35.

While in San Fernando, we visited the market that is open early each Wednesday and Saturday morning. We bought a huge head of cabbage, several pounds of locally grown, fresh cherries, huge lemons, artichokes, and more. Generally, eating in Chile is relatively safe. While in Chile, my wife and I ate with the locals, and we ate salads and fresh vegetables, and drank the local water without any illness.

Food is abundant in Chile. However, the best part of Chile is the people. The Chileans have much to teach us about genuine hospitality - their greatest currency. To the new friends in Chile we made: "gracias por su hospitalidad."

Travel, FoodCarl OlsonChile