Happy Labo(u)r day to everyone up there in North America!
It is strange that as everyone back home is celebrating the unofficial end to summer, we are just starting to head into summer. The days here are growing longer, the afternoons significantly hotter and brighter, and I’m starting to hear crickets at night.
On Friday night, Alex wanted to try out a Chilean restaurant. The restaurant we visited had decor and a name from the highlands area that is inland a few hundred miles near the border with Bolivia.
Alex, who has been to San Pedro, said that the restaurant’s decor was reminiscent of the places he’d visited in the town, with its wood-burning fireplaces, wood beam ceilings and traditional weaving decorating the walls and tables. The overhead lighting was even interesting, with capiz-style shades but instead of shells, what looked like small pebbles.
Alex wanted to order an appetizer. He asked the waiter what he recommended, and the waiter suggested ceviche. Now, I had seen this dish on the Travel Channel (thank you Anthony Bourdain = sometimes I wish I had your stomach,) but was very wary about trying it. It is basically raw fish, “cooked” via a chemical process which involves marinating it in an acidic lemon/lime juice. Before I could explain to Alex what it was, he’d told the waiter to bring us that.
The waiter brought out a large bowl, the size of a salad bowl. In it was basically what looked like a seafood stew and smelled lightly citrusy. The waiter then brought us a small cup of what looked like freshly squeezed lemon juice. Paranoid that he brought us the juice because the dish had not marinated in enough citrus juice already, I dumped it in, but not until after Alex had scooped up a whole bunch of the ceviche onto his plate. I put the citrus juice in the rest of the bowl. I took a small spoonful, and gave it a whirl.
It’s really hard to describe what it was like. The flavor was incredibly mild. It didn’t taste fishy at all, which I figured was a good sign: must have been very fresh. It was lightly citrusy. The general effect wasn’t all that different than eating some cooked, chilled shrimp or crab legs. It wasn’t terrible, but it was really the texture that threw me. Everything tasted quite rubbery. There were tons of little pieces of fish and shrimp in there, and very little else; just a light broth and a little chopped parsley and a few bitter greens.
Chileans and Peruvians are very proud of their ceviche, so I suppose someone who visits these areas and is very interested in tasting traditional cuisine would have to try the dish. But to be honest, I wish I had not. It has a rubbery texture, very little flavor, and overall offered very little, I thought. And the lingering fear of food poisoning kept me too distracted from giving it more of a chance; I’m far too accustomed to enjoying my meat cooked.
Alex, who usually likes any type of food, was more or less in agreement with me. He called the ceviche a “biology lesson.”
In all fairness, we were later told by some American women who have lived in this area for a while that ceviche is traditionally a Peruvian dish and it should be tried “on a beach” in Peru. I’ve read that Chileans do make good ceviche, but I’m not sure we found the best that the city had to offer on Friday. This assessment was therefore perhaps not entirely a fair one.
On a much happier note, we also ordered pisco sours to have with our appetizers. I had the mango variation, and Alex had what they called a Peruvian sour, another variation. I mentioned pisco sours on a previous post, but figure it’s time to go into a bit more detail.
The Pisco Sour is an incredibly popular drink here in Chile. The story goes that both Peru and Chile claim to have created the drink, and both regard it as a sort of national drink. Regardless of who came up with it, it has a long history in this part of the world. According to Wikipedia:
The roots of Pisco itself reach back to the 16th century and stem from Colonial rule. The Spaniards brought the grape to the Peruvian region from Europe, but the King of Spain banned wine in the 17th Century, forcing locals to concoct a different kind of alcohol from the grape.
Pisco is therefore a type of liqueur made from the grape.
Then, there are two stories as to where the Pisco Sour drink came from. Again, from Wikipedia:
According to the Morris account, in the early 20th century the Morris Bar of Lima, Peru, created and popularized the drink Pisco Sour. The bar’s owner, Victor Vaughn Morris, was a bartender born in the United States… Morris created the drink as a variety of the whisky sour.
(hmmm – maybe there’s an American claim to it, too?!) Here’s the other – the Chilean – side of the story:
According to the Stubb account, the origin of the pisco sour story told of an English steward of a sailing ship named “Sunshine”. In 1872, Elliot Stubb obtained leave to disembark in the port of Iquique, which was a Peruvian city at the time prior to it becoming a Chilean city in 1884 , with the aim of settling in the city and opening a bar. In his bar, he experimented with many aperitifs and drinks, of which one would become the Pisco Sour.
The pisco sour contains:
The juice of a type of lime that commonly grows here
Sometimes other fruit, bitters, herbs, leaves, etc. are also added
The overall effect is a light, fruity, refreshing drink. It’s neither too sweet nor too bitter. It’s usually served in a champagne glass or small wine glass.
I have had the regular version (which has a lime taste similar to a margarita minus the overwhelming taste of tequila), mango (which includes mango nectar) and a version with chirimoya fruit (which has a light, almost pear-like flavour). All have been good and are a nice treat for sipping mid-afternoon or as an aperatif.