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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Eating Your Way Through Chile: Part 3

Mote con huesillo, a local Kunstmann beer and pastel de jaiba at a big fair of local food in Niebla, near Valdivia
Last part of my series on my dining adventures in Chile. See Part 1 on seasonal produce, eating in Santiago, and oddities. Part 2 covers seafood (more oddities!). This installment will cover some of the traditional food/drink, family specialties, dessert, and the most exciting food in Chile. Hint: it's not Chilean.

Chile has a number of traditional dishes, dishes that are seen throughout the country. Chilean food isn't all that exciting. In most restaurants, there was no salt shaker on the table, nor will you find a pepper shaker or grinder! So, the food is a bit blah. I'm not saying it's bad. It's just rather homogeneous and plain.

What will you see? If it's summer, you definitely see mote con huesillo sold everywhere. It's a drink. It's a snack. It's both things in one. It's a refreshingly cold glass of peach or apricot juice, with a scoop of cooked pearled barley and a re-hydrated dried peach. It's quite good. Other popular drinks are wine, of course, as Chile makes barrels of the stuff (it's well-made and inexpensive), and beer. In Valdivia, you can visit the Kunstmann brewery, one of the bigger local brewers, or just down the road, the Valtor microbrew restaurant. But, the best beer is made by my husband's cousin, Carlos. Very small production - he brews it in his garage - but if you are in Puerto Varas, a few restaurants carry it. It's called Cerveza Lauzirica. He makes a lager and a red ale, both delicious.
Also in the first photo, a pastel. That one contains jaiba, crab. More traditionally, it contains a stew of chicken and/or ground beef. It is often overly sweet for my taste but my husband's family made us some and it was delicious, as was the crab one which isn't made as sweet. The topping is ground fresh corn, called choclo. Choclo is a local version of corn with very large kernels. The kernels are ground up and made into pastel and humitas (Chilean tamales). It's not eaten on the cob as the corn is very tough.

Pastel de choclo, a la cousin Marie-Elena
Like many central and south American cuisines, the Chileans love empanadas. They are stuffed with ground meat, seafood, or cheese.  They are usually fried (though my mother-in-law makes baked ones stuffed with potato or spinach and cheese). They are a very popular snack.

Fish stew is as popular as you would expect in a country with about 2700 miles of coastline. The most popular fish used is congrio, Chilean conger eel. The stew above is not traditional. It was a delicious bowl of French-influenced conger eel stew from La Cuisine in Punta Arenas, in the deep south of Chile. One of the best restaurants we found.
New Year's Eve dinner. It would be many hours before we ate. But, there was plenty of delicious wine in the meantime!
Serving up the paella
As I said, some of the best food we had was produced by the family. For New Year's Eve, we had a whole roasted pig. For New Year's Day, we had a huge pan of paella, filled with mussels, octopus, chicken, and pork followed up by a beautiful torte. Talk about an epic holiday of eating! This isn't really typical Chilean food (well, the torte is). The family includes some recent ties to Spain, explaining the chimichurri on the pig and the paella.

Chilean tortillas with a homemade berry kuchen in the background
Chilean bread is nothing special. They like white bread and the most popular one is called a tortilla, which is nothing like a Mexican tortilla. It's a flattened biscuit. The family said that the best ones are homemade and contain more butter than flour. The mass-produced ones are slightly sweet biscuits.

Cousin Andrea's homemade whole-grain German sourdough
One of the cousins is a caterer and she makes a dense, whole-grain German sourdough. It was very unusual in Chile. Germans settled much of central Chile. The mountains, forests, and lakes reminded them of Bavaria. But, their traditional bread seems to have largely disappeared. We enjoyed Andrea's bread very much because we are not big fans of 100% white bread, all the time!

Clockwise from top left: cakes at Cafe Entrelagos in Valdivia, a snack of torte at Hotel des Torres in Torres del Paine National Park, a huge slice of torte at Los Immigrantes in Punta Arenas (we didn't finish it!), more Cafe Entrelagos delights, a birthday torte
Now, let's talk about cake, known as torte in Chile. Chileans have quite the sweet tooth, though to my taste, their cakes are not overly sweet. They are very serious cakes, made in a style unlike any cake I've had anywhere else. They combine the best of French, German, and Spanish elements. There are layers of chantilly cream (lightly sweetened real whipped cream), pastry crust, pastry cream, light cake, fruit such as raspberries and strawberries, and manjar. Manjar is the Chilean version of dulce de leche, that rich caramel-y incredibly sweet cooked milk. They adore their manjar. It is stuffed into cakes, cookies, and pastry. It works really well in the tortes because it's only a thin layer, and the rest of the cake isn't too sweet. When in Chile, make sure to enjoy the torte!
Beautiful Peruvian pulled pork with rice and a fried egg
Finally, I must mention Peruvian food. Why? Because we were told that the best food in Chile was Peruvian (at least according to all the relatives in Santiago). In Santiago, many of the well-to-do families have maids, who do all the cooking. The best maids are Peruvian because they are much better cooks than Chilean maids! We went out to a fancy Peruvian restaurant called Tanta in the Los Condes mall on the east side of Santiago. The food is more highly flavored than any Chilean food but uses many of the same excellent ingredients. Ceviche is very popular in Chile, probably the most universally eaten Peruvian import. Whatever you do, don't ask if Peruvian pisco is the same as Chilean pisco. You could start a border war with that one.