Limón de pica pie (pica lime pie) – like a key lime pie – one of my favourite treats.
I dealt with a bit of “blogging writers’ block” last week which is why I didn’t quite get a post together as usual last Friday. I had a few frustrating things happen, including the inability to get my hands on a book I need for my master’s research and some unexpected dinner guests, that took me away from the blogging world. But, everything has been solved, thanks to an acquaintance of a friend who can bring me the book I need and dinner guests who came, enjoyed my American barbecue-style chicken sandwiches, and left.
Anyways, speaking of food, during my writers’ block I turned to Twitter and asked what you want me to blog about. As it turns out, I have not been blogging enough about food!
You might remember a year ago when I was incredibly frustrated by the lack of spices, familiar ingredients and apple varieties available on the supermarket shelves. (Hey, I am from an apple-growing region… I miss the 100 varieties of apples we have there every fall.) Even though groceries have not changed much in Chile in a year, I certainly have. I have grown very accustomed to the ingredients available here; indeed, I enjoy many of them. I love that we get delicious avocados year-round, and wonderful, fresh, ripe mangoes for months – the likes of which we would never see in North America, where mangoes that have travelled long distances simply taste like a pine tree, instead of the sweet, peach-like flavour they have when freshly delivered down here from nearby Brasil.
Mangoes! This was taken in June, when they were in season.
I also am able to get my hands on enough things to make the foods I like: black beans and creamy cheeses for Mexican-style quesadillas, homemade pizza dough with portabella mushrooms and chorizo, imported chickpeas from Canada (!) for homemade hummus, steak and potatoes for my husband. (Filet mignon is surprisingly affordable here – yes, still pricey enough to merit reserving for an occasional treat, but affordable nonetheless – and I made it once using a recipe from Food Network’s Giada de Laurentis, which I later Tweeted about how much I liked and she replied to me personally, which I loved.)
Anyways, the thing is – the bad thing is, for the purposes of this blog – I have been cooking similar foods (just using local ingredients) that I might at home, which has meant I have tried fewer Chilean foods than I might have if, say, I had a Chilean mother or chef living with and cooking for me. So, I am hardly an expert.
Still, between dining out, dining at friends’ houses and simply talking to other people, I have pieced together a little knowledge of what is commonly consumed in this region. Cooking is, of course, a regional thing, and near the ocean shrimp and mussels are used in a lot of dishes. In fact, you can order steak or chicken at many restaurants with cream sauces that have little baby shrimps and mussels mixed in. Meanwhile, further inland, like near San Pedro, the cooking has more Andean influences, such as the use of grains like quinoa.
And, to my knowledge, there are not really celebrity chefs here of the likes of Jamie Oliver, Paula Deen or my favourite Tweeting chef, Giada, so I can’t direct you to a Chilean cooking show. (If I have any Chilean readers, I’d love to know if there’s a good Chilean chef somewhere out there? I think most Chileans would say their mother or grandmother is the best!)
We got this in a restaurant once. I can’t even really describe it… I suppose it’s like a Chilean poutine? It had French fries topped with chorizo, chicken, beef, and runny eggs that had been fried on one side. Not a health food.
I can’t really generalize the cuisine of a whole country. Chile is long, remember! And it’s like trying to sum up the food of the U.S.: how would you possibly generalize what New Yorkers, Californians, Texans and Michiganders eat in a day? Nonetheless, as per your request, I will attempt to. Also, I recommend Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode on Chile from a few years ago, which I think was quite representative of a number of common foods in the country.
If I had to describe the food typically consumed in a day around here, I would say that northern Chileans start the day with a sandwich or some bread and jam, yogurt, fruit, tea and fruit juice. Then, they have their largest meal of the day between 1-3pm. This might consist of meat, rice, potatoes, a type of bread that is round and white and looks a bit like a hockey puck, and maybe a boiled vegetable like cauliflower. Here in Antofagasta, they might eat ceviche, which is slices of raw fish marinated in lime juice, or a seafood soup, which consists of a simple broth, some shrimp, mussels, squid, and cilantro. This can be commonly found downtown Antofagasta near the mercado or fish market, which are packed at lunchtime. Salad doesn’t seem as popular as it is in North America, and is definitely not what we know as salad: the only time I have been served salad by a Chilean, it was lettuce with a bit of lime juice and canola oil on top.
Next, there might be a snack around 5 or 6pm, although I don’t think this is too common. Sometimes, I observe couples or tables of friends enjoying a coffee or tea and a slice of pie or cake at this time, a habit that feels reminiscent of another era. Dinner is served at 10pm or so, and is usually light, consisting of something as simple as a sandwich – or, since we are in the era of fast food, a hamburger or hot dog or a choripan (chorizo in a hot dog bun).
Happy hour at bars usually runs from 9pm-midnight, as the nightclubs (or so I have been told, I’ve never actually been to one!) don’t get going until well after midnight!
Over the past year (and after numerous complaints), my friends and family back home still seem surprised that my favourite coffees and spicy foods are hard to find, despite the fact that some of the best coffee in the world is grown in neighbouring Peru. Several Chileans have told me they like the taste of their food without spices, confirming what I discovered on my own: case in point, one woman told me recently she can’t even stand the taste of a little cinnamon in something. Black pepper is rarely found on tables at restaurants.
And, again, coffee is simply…not that popular. Still. There is no culture around it – as hard as those of us in the northern hemisphere find it to believe. Although that might change in only a few years: I see tons of young Chileans lined up at Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts whenever I am in the Santiago airport, and there are coffee shops in grocery stores just like the Starbucks that seemed to creep into many grocery stores in the U.S. in recent years.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this culinary “journey.” Next week, I will describe three of my favourite Chilean dishes – including recipes!