Chilean Cuisine

We were thrilled to get off of the cruise ship so we could once again shop for our own ingredients and make our own meals. Based on the fruits and veggies that make their way to the US from Chile each winter, we expected big things. We made our way to Santiago’s markets our first afternoon in town and were not disappointed.

About a ten minute walk from our apartment was the Mercado Central, the most touristy of the three markets we frequented. It was full of seafood – both vendors and restaurants selling the fresh catch of the day. We splurged ordered ceviche and chupe de mariscos from a crowded sit-down place in the center of the building. It was delicious, of course, but much pricier than doing it ourselves. So for future meals we found a vendor we liked, Pescaderia Puerto Palmeras, and kept going back to them. We tried salmon (not as tasty as in the Pacific Northwest), congrio dorado (an eel that tends toward oily while cooking but is really tasty), tollo (white meat from a small shark), and reineta  (seabream with firm meat that is good by itself or in tacos or in ceviche or in just about anything). 

So much fresh fish!
Homemade reineta ceviche, chupe with mollusks, more reineta being fried up

Right across the river from Mercado Central is the Mercado de Abastos Tirso, with produce and groceries on the main floor and eateries upstairs. And just a couple blocks further is the massive La Vega market where is seems possible to buy anything.  There are hundreds of fruit vendors, bread stands, butchers, spice sellers, and hawkers shouting prices for dried grains, pickles, fish, dog food. It is a maze of delicious smells and crowded hallways. During our stay the tomatoes, blueberries, and strawberries were in season and incredibly cheap. Fresh produce arrives on trucks seemingly hourly. It’s possible to arrive and get vegetables and fruits that were picked the same morning and taken off the truck before your eyes. Outside are street empanadas and other hand-held cuisines from all around South America.

Even away from the markets, it’s easy to grab a snack of fruit or ice cream from vendors on the street. The local ice cream brand is Danky – weird word but yummy, heat-fighting products. Also readily available is Santiago’s traditional summer drink, mote con huesillo – dried peaches soaked overnight and combined with cooked wheat. In the 90 degree plus heat, it’s a refreshing way to cool down.

Restaurants in Santiago focus on fish and Peruvian cuisine. In fact, when we asked around, many locals claimed their favorite ‘Chilean’ food was Peruvian. Overall, Chilean cuisine falls somewhere between what we found in Peru and Argentina. There tends to be more spices, more limes, and less beef than in Buenos Aires but less fish and fewer stand out umami flavors than in Lima.

So many berries! Danky ice cream, favorite new spice mix, warm poutine in Punta Arenas

In Punta Arenas, different foods were needed to combat the chill and rainy weather.  (The 1,300 miles that separate PA from Santiago completely change the climate and many of the local tastes.) Take away restaurants sell warmed sandwiches with gooey cheeses and empanadas with garlicky beef. Our favorite choripan was from Kiosco Roca (it seemed to be everyone else’s favorite as well). On the advice of a Santiago Uber driver we tried it with the leche con plantano (milk with bananas) – it went together better than I anticipated. Rather than fish, more focus was on red meats, though ceviche still rules at the downtown market.

Chorizo with leche con plátano, mote con huesillo, and restaurant ceviche


Since we didn’t eat at any of the tourist-oriented restaurants in Punta Arenas, we didn’t have any of the lamb (though it looks amazing) or the king crab that is famous in the area. Instead, we cooked at home and made lots of rice and lentil dishes with gravy sauces and red meat. Punta Arenas is the kind of place that made me crave curl-up-on-the-couch-under-blanlets meals. Mulling wine also helped fight the chill and was another reason to try local drinks.

All manner of crunchy snacks

Like many places around Latin America I was left disappointed by the snacks. Chips boasting big and varied flavors (pizza! choripan!) never delivered. Queso-flavored Doritos were the best bet – they at least tasted like cheese and were good for dipping. One odd exception to the salty/savory snack set is the chirimoya alegre flavor that some corn puffs have. The fruit flavoring made it closer to a fruity breakfast cereal than an afternoon snack. It was a shame to be let down overall, but Punta Arenas is fortunate to have a duty-free import zone that receives shipments of goodies like ajvar, chocolates, and ratatouille mix from around the world. They seemed to have more variety than Santiago.

All burgers came this way. I have no explanation.

And finally, I have no explanation for the scores of individually pre-packaged hamburger patties that we found in every grocery store in Chile. Each packet had a different combination of meat cuts and spices and varied in size. We tried a couple, and they were mediocre and a little freezerburned. Maybe choice is very important for weekend grilling?

In any case, Santiago’s teeming produce and fish markets left a delicious lasting impression. La Vega set a high standard that other mercados will have a hard time following in the future. We came for wine and seafood and ended up happily eating just about everything we could get our hands on.

Santiago – Part 2

Santiago is a massive city – about 40% of Chileans live inside its metro area. It would be easy to get lost in any of dozens of neighborhoods, but we mostly focused on the places we could walk to from our apartment. There were more than enough museums, markets, and palaces to keep us occupied just in the central areas of town.

As usual, the churches we stumbled across were mostly Catholic and always beautiful. The Virgin Mary is often the central focus, with shrines to other Virgins around the interior of the church. Unlike in Europe, where most saints are statues or paintings, here, the Marys are usually draped in sumptuous fabrics and laces.

Churches around Santiago, La Vega Market

We made the little bit of extra effort to book a (free!) tour of the Palacio de la Moneda, Chile’s Presidential Palace. Upon arrival, we discovered we were the only ones signed up for English during that time slot, so our guide Carla gave us a private tour. The Palace originally served as a mint under the Spanish crown. In the mid-1800’s it started housing the Presidential residence and offices. It was here in 1973 that the democratically-elected Salvador Allende was overthrown (with help from the CIA) and the Pinochet regime installed. Military jets bombed the palace and destroyed much of the building. It has been rebuilt, but its gorgeous interiors were not restored to their previous glory. Currently it serves only as offices for the President and some of her ministers; Chilean Presidents are not given a government residence.

Parque Uruguay and Costanera Center, inside Palacio de la Moneda

We saw the courtyards, which are planted with orange trees and native plants, and which also house two cannons that used to guard the coast from pirates. The cannons’ names are Furious and Lightning – because naturally cannons work better when they know they are loved. Inside, we had the chance to walk through the rooms used to greet dignitaries and sign bills/make speeches in front of the cameras. Chile used to officially be Catholic, so there is a chapel inside the palace. That has changed over the years, and now many religions worship there. And of course, at the entrances, the guards are snappily dressed and happy to take a moment to pose for pictures.

Palacio de la Moneda, Presidential Guard, moonrise over the Andes

One of the most important museums in Santiago is the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos. It commemorates the victims who were disappeared, tortured, murdered, and imprisoned during the Pinochet government as well as the dictatorship’s eventual downfall. Abuses began the day Pinochet came to power, and thousands suffered terrible fates during the following 17 years. Many remains are still being found and identified today. Ongoing resistance by the public and by church leaders eventually helped to bring about the regime’s dissolution. In 1988 a plebiscite vote about letting Pinochet begin another 8-year term. The resulting ‘no’ led the way for open elections in 1989. The TV ads but together by both sides are wonderfully ’80s. My new proposal: all parties in an election should have hilarious ads and musical numbers at their disposal. And of course, there is an added level of absurdity about voting to keep (or not) a dictatorial regime in place. It is one of the few awful eras in world history ended by a peaceful vote and happy campaign buttons.

Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, at the Natural History Museum

In a park next to the Museo de la Memoria is the Natural History Museum. We arrived about half an hour before closing. That gave us just enough time to walk through the exhibits, which are mostly about the different ecological zones of Chile. I finally got some help to explain the differences between all the alpaca-y animals – there are four species! Not all look as surprised to be a part of the museum as the one in the picture.

Our Airbnb rental had two decks, one facing east and the other west. No matter the time of day, we always had a place to sit out in the shade and admire the mountains or cityscape.  We didn’t have air conditioning, which was annoying for a few hours each day when the sun poured through our windows, but Santiago is often windy. One of our favorite things to do was to grab a glass of wine (or beer) and relax in the breeze to cool off. The hot days were more enjoyable knowing that soon we’ll be enjoying the Seattle winter-like temps in Punta Arenas

Chilean Wine (and other local drinks producing happy feelings)

From the title, you might guess that this was my favorite post to write about Chile. You’d be right; but, just to be sure, I put in a lot of research. Chile was high on our list of places to visit in part because of its reputation for wine, especially carménère. Back in Washington state, Kevin fell in love with the grape after discovering it at Northwest Cellars, the nearest winery to our first apartment, which also happens to produce soe of the best wine we’ve ever had.

But in Santiago, we were initially disappointed at what was available. Unlike Buenos Aires, where there is a wine shop (or at least a shop carrying wine) on seemingly every block, Santiago’s offerings were fewer and farther between. Grocery stores had wine, of course, but only bottles from the largest producers and the same brands that are exported around the world. It took heading to malls in Bellavista to find shops selling bottles from smaller-scale wineries. Of course, those were priced higher as well and still had fairly limited selections. Here, you are expected to head out to the winery (and often pay an expensive tasting fee) to sample or purchase small producers’ selections.

Like Argentina, almost no wine is imported from elsewhere in the world, so at least it is easy to be sure you are drinking local. Only the largest grocery stores carry anything other than Chilean wine. But, fortunately, most Chilean wine is pretty tasty.

🙂 Research

We went to a wine tasting night we found through Meetup, and had the opportunity to sample many whites (the theme was summer drinking). I was surprised at the quality of the sauvignon blancs and semillons, because I never associated Chile with white wine. It helped that some were late harvests, meaning the sugar content made them taste like dessert. Other dessert wines I purchased at the stores were good too, even the $5 bottles. The most interesting I had during the month was a deep red late harvest syrah that made me want chocolate brownies with intense fervor.

Grapes and vines at Viña Miraflores Organico; rocky, alluvial soil at Hoops Winery

To kick off our last week in town we took a tour from Bodega Wine Tours and visited small vineyards and wineries in the Maipo Valley. Very small: Vino Orgánico Miraflores produces just a few wines and Hoops Winery’s one or two barrels a year comes from vines grown in the front yard of the winemaker’s home. At Hoops, the carménère, petit verdot, syrah, and malbec all get picked and destemmed by hand and fermented in the same vat. The result is a different wine each year, based on what grew well. We sampled a 2010 (the first year they produced wine) and 2014. Both were wonderfully complex.

Favorite wines from Bodega’s tour; these two bins are nearly half of the Hoops Winery (two more on the other side and two barrels in the cellar)

Outside Santiago, there are wineries and other cropland in almost every direction. Chile is a unique place because it is one of the only spots in the world – and certainly the largest wine region – that is unaffected by phylloxera. The vines here don’t need to be grafted and are often grown with minimal pesticides and chemicals because other pests are also few and far between.

My absolute favorite wine of the entire month was a 2015 Gil Ferrer syrah from Vina Miraflores del Maipo. It reminded me a lot of Washington wine, and tasted like dark fruit. But almost every other wine is delicious as well, we’ve only had a one that wasn’t up to part with the rest. So far Chile’s record is incredible.

More wines from the tour – in the glass is a dark, delicious syrah; each barrel is one year’s worth of production at Hoops

And there is beer too! For the most part, large brands like Escudo and Cristal produce the equivalent of a Bud in the US – pale, plain lagers meant for hot afternoons. There was an influx of German immigration in the mid-1800s that kicked off beer making in Chile, but most heavier styles were scrapped in favor of more generic light beers. Fortunately, more craft breweries are starting to take off, though their products tend to be relatively expensive. Kunstmann, Austral, and Kross are the main medium sized producers and you can find their beers in most grocery stores. Smaller breweries like Chester might only sell their beer at a handful of places, and if you aren’t within fifty miles of the brewery, there is no chance of locating it. The smaller the batch, the better the beer tends to be here. Of random note: many places do import beer from the US and Europe, but any seasonal varieties are out of place. If you are brewing winter beer now, people in the southern hemisphere are drinking it when it is 90 degrees outside, which is not quite ideal.

More and less common beers and a pisco for good mix (try the K5 at Krossbar for a unique blend)

Pisco is the other local alcoholic beverage of choice. Both Chile and Peru claim to have invented this drink and the resulting pisco sour. Apparently the debate gets pretty heated; neither country will allow imports from the other to be labeled ‘pisco,’ instead more generic terms like aguardiente or grape alcohol. Pisco sours in Peru contain an egg white, in Chile they jealously exclude that ingredient. I’m not usually a fan of hard alcohol, but I did like pisco in both countries (see how hard I’m trying to not play favorites). In Chile, we had bottles Mistral and La Serena. La Serena was cheaper and better drinking. I may or may not have added an egg white to the mixture…

Local and local-ish beers, homemade pisco sour

In the end, I mostly stuck with wine. That will be a little more difficult in Punta Arenas, since the wine regions are all centered around Santiago, but hopefully enough makes it down to the bottom of the continent to keep us satisfied. If not, I can probably learn to love Austral for a month…

Santiago, Chile – Part 1

Our cruise dropped us off at the port in Valparaiso, Chile, just a couple blocks from the bus station. Tickets to Santiago were mercifully cheap, even last minute, ($5/US) and the ride was under two hours. Like many other places in South America, drivers love speeding as soon as they are on a road with any sort of space. The highway goes by many wineries, which we took as a good sign.

The forecast for our arrival was “smoke,” which turned out to be sadly accurate. Chile was in the middle of the worst wildfire season in its history and scores of separate blazes were burning in the regions around the capital. The air was so thick that breathing was scratchy and our eyes watered overtime. We booked our apartment in part because of the mountain views, but hills just a mile away were barely visible. More than a million acres have already burned, along with vineyards, whole farms, towns, homes. Several lives were lost in the fast-moving fires. Thankfully most of the fires are now under control due to the efforts of thousands of locals and tanker aircraft crews (with some help from slightly cooler weather). We have seen several small fires on hills around the city, or at least little thin clouds of black smoke rising in the mornings, but so far those have been quickly brought under control.

Same hill at midafternoon on a smokey day and a few weeks later

Santiago is another massive, sprawling city, and when we finally did get a clear day, we walked over to Parque Metropolitano to take the funicular up the hill. There were large sprinkler systems that seem to run around the clock, no surprise given the country’s recent experiences. Several hundred feet up, we had a great view of just how far the city stretches – we couldn’t see an end to the buildings except in places where the land became too steep to build on in the mountains’ foothills.

One of many stray dogs, Parque Metropolitano funicular, on the gondola

At the top were the usual stray dogs, ice cream stands, and mote con huesillo carts. The highest point on the hill is home to a statue of the Virgin Mary and a sanctuary garden and chapel celebrating. the Immaculate Conception. A concrete are was full of candle holders and rosaries left in thanks.

Gondolas run from near the summit toward the Costanera Center, the tallest building in South America, and the Bellavista neighborhood. We started at the stop and turned it into a shopping trip to the Costanera mall, saving ourselves an extra mile of walking each way. Heading back later in the afternoon, the wind picked up and came whistling through the gondola windows and swaying the cab. Not quite as fun. The start and end of the trip is extra exciting because the cab speeds up or slows down rapidly and barrels toward the one in front of it. More rollercoastery than I expected.

Cafe Literario; view from Parque Metropolitano

A muddy and polluted river runs through the middle of the city, confined to a home in concrete flood control barries. But the city has turned much of the riverfront into a park that forms a greenbelt with bike and walking paths connecting large portions of the city center.

Other parks contain one of my favorite spaces, Cafe Literario, a mix of cafe, library, and public work space. You can come in and read any of the thousands of books on the shelves, have a coffee, use the free wifi. There might be a patio outside as well. Their central locations in parks means they act as gathering places as well. Definitely a relaxing space in the middle of such a vast city.

Once again, fantastic pottery and at the Precolumbian Art Museum

We visited the Chilean Museum of Precolumbian Art on one of its free first Sundays. It showcased a much wider range of cultures than we expected – focusing not just on civilizations from inside Chile’s borders, but from all around Latin America. I’m always struck by how modern (and even futuristic) some of the pieces look and the wide range of beliefs and traditions. Didn’t know until we visited that some places here mummified their dead centuries before the Egyptians got around to it, and then cared for their ancestors for centuries after they passed away.  Or that in other valleys, it was traditional to be buried with a statue of yourself (if you were lucky and wealthy) with a puffed out cheek full of stimulant leaves to chew on to show off your status.

Precolumbian Art Museum – statues, quipus, mummies, masks

Naturally the art museums were also on our list, though Contemporary Art Museum, which is run by a university, was closed for summer break. The free-to-enter Bellas Artes Museum remained open and had a fun collection of Chilean art. Some more modern pieces being showcased looked as though the artist smashed soap operas, my 8-year-old-self’s Lisa Frank sticker collection, and bad ’80s album covers together. Brilliant, in other words.

Some arts around the city

We are already down to our last days in Santiago, and have a few more places we want to visit. Sadly, Kevin has had some serious computer issues this month and now we need to spend time computer shopping rather than playing at tourists.