My “bestest” friend Kerrie asks about Chilean girls and piercings, Chilean food, and my whale riding –as she rightly should, considering I moved from Canada to Chile two years ago. I frequently get these sorts of questions from curious friends, so I thought I’d address them here.
As for girls with piercings here. I don’t see them very often, so I don’t think they’re popular (piercings not girls). About wearing sandals, do slippers count? I wear them every morning after getting up. I do have my whale driving license. Have you ever seen the last version of the movie Dune? Well, now you know what whale riding is like … fantastic and exhilarating!!
That’s a joke if anyone is left wondering, about the license and well … my whale riding.
About the food, some of it is interesting like charquican, tomatican, postre de choclo, and empanadas (meat pies common in all of Latin America, Spain, and Portugal), but most of it is just pretty well the same as North American food … steak and potatoes, pork, chicken, rice, and stew. The fruits and vegetables are the same, pretty much. My brother Daniel calls Chilean food (Canadian) camp food. The meat cuts are different, though. The preparation is different, too. For instance, I have never heard of anyone around here soaking a slab of meat overnight in seasoning. They will take a hammer to it, though.
A local fruit is the maqui berry. It’s indigenous and it’s well known but not exploited commercially –probably because it’s tiny and not all that flavourful.
There are plums locally called albaricoque. There are called ciruelas (Spanish for plums) in other parts of Chile but they aren’t flavourful when ripe as plums in your friendly local supermarket. According to wikipedia albaricoque is an apricot sometimes called a Damasco in Chile and Argentina, but I know both fruits and albaricoque are always small (yellowish green when unripe, and orangish yellow when ripe) while apricots are twice as large and sweet. To clear up the confusion, I personally think albaricoque is more of a plum than an apricot, just based on their taste when ripe. But apricots and plums are related, anyway (both in the subgenus Prunus).
Some people like to eat albaricoque unripe with salt. If you like crab apples and you’re brave, you can eat them unripe with salt. They are extremely sour this way and can easily turn your stomach. This is only for the strong of stomach!
There are also persimmons called caqui here. These are very tart and leave your tongue feeling numb and tasting chalky. Lastly, the other fruit that is well known here is the membrillo. Jams are made from it. You can get membrillo in little Italy (Edmonton) as quince. You can eat raw quince with salt, just like you do with crab apples. They’ll leave your mouth dry.
You can also buy something called a pera-manzana (pear-apple). I’m told this is “mutant fruit”, a hybrid between the apple and a pear. I don’t know if this is true, but tastes like it.
Oh, before I forget … among the weirdest meat dishes are blood sausages –big here. Another dish, stomach or tripe (probably beef tripe) is made into a chunky soup and used to be popular, as were chicken feet (15 years ago). Tongue and heart is probably eaten more often in Canada than here, but you do see it in local butcher shops, too. I’ve also had prairie oysters.
Something called jabali (pronounced habalee with a stress on the “ee”) has become popular. Apparently this is just wild boar. I’ve heard the odd person talk about it but I have never eaten it. I should, just to see what it’s like. I think it isn’t sold in stores, but poached.
While I’m on the subject of pork, pork sausages –known as longaniza– with a side order of mashed potatoes are incredibly popular. Unfortunately, good longaniza is few and far between now because of unscrupulous meat manufacturing practices such as that as using filler material. Longaniza hardly tastes and smells like pork anymore, and they should … after all they’re supposed to be exclusively made from it. I remember my grandma used to experiment on how much meat she could throw in before the sausage got chewy (an undesirable quality). In other words, you only throw in enough fat so as to a hard consistency. The fat/meat ratio provided an optimal combination of texture and flavour. It’s reported that the use of filler material in longaniza is now rampant. The filler used is rumoured to be just more fat dyed to look like meat, and cheap bovine throw-away parts.
The sausage texture is very different from the German and Dutch sausages I’ve come to know in Canada. God, I remember an odd Dutch kid chucking “hard as rock” slices of his dad’s ethnic sausages around like weapons at other students and playing floor hockey with them (easily a health issue). If there ever was a weird kid, Will Vandervelde would have to be 100 times him. I’m told (by Catholic Dutch and Frisians) this behaviour is typical of the protestant Dutch, but this is another topic, and one I’d like to write about in the future –my experiences being forced to attend a private high school with an unknowingly off-beat group of Dutch protestants living and dressing like head-bangers of the early 80s. They were at least decade out of sync with the rest of world, to say the least.
Getting back on topic, if you’re ever in Chile and you want to try longaniza, only buy the most expensive as you’re more likely to get something near the real stuff. And don’t buy anything in Santiago. Chillán has the best rep for longaniza, but buyer beware still applies there.
Oh and before I forget, I’ve had seafood called loco. It’s a sea creature that –I’m told– only lives along the Chilean coastline. It’s very tasty, and not appreciated by locals. I would say that by en large and despite that Chile is a coastline, seafood isn’t popular with the exceptions of clams and oysters, some of which –in popular versions– is prepared raw in a cold broth with lemon juice and onions. This uncooked version is highly discouraged because you can get sick from eating it uncooked, but it’s so good!
Ok, last thing. There’s a sort of brandy that goes by two names Pisco and a generic term “aguardiente”. It’s just distilled liquor made from the pulp left over from wine making. It’s said to have different characteristics than brandy, and it’s gotten better over the years.
The reason for the name Pisco (as opposed to calling it aguardiente), is that a certain valley called the Elqui Valley has gotten official Chilean government support. What the this means is that, aguardiente made outside of this valley is illegal (and called aguardiente), while auguardiente made within the valley is called Pisco and perfectly legal. Hmm, sounds fair, doesn’t it?
There are differences in consistency of flavour between the two, aguardiente having better taste –in my experience– but being so strong so that it has triggered instant headaches. Despite aguardiente’s clandestine status, it often receives a lot of consideration that Pisco never does. For instance, aguardiente sometimes has a bouquet (perhaps used loosely) that hints of mint and other herbs, a quality that Pisco never possesses (in my experience). This bouquet is done with real herbs.
Fifteen or twenty years ago, Chilean Pisco was undrinkable, in my estimation. There are now costlier versions that are more than passable. It’s usually mixed with lemon or lime juices (it was undrinkable any other way), while I’ve seen aguardiente thrown into thick fruit juices called nectars. The other way you can drink pisco is with Coke. It’s called a piscola. If you have an ulcer or an irritable colon, this is a murder on your insides and I recommend against it. You can have so many of these before guaranteeing you’re waking up the next morning sick to your stomach, but locals think it’s great stuff! (Note: You should know that Pisco is also made in Peru, as the picture above shows. I would have used a picture of Chilean pisco if a nice picture was freely available.)
Ok … last thing for real this time, there is also a home-made alcoholic drink that locals used to make from choke/sour cherries (morello cherries). It’s called guindado. I inadvertently made it once when 12, when choke cherry juice was left aside for a few weeks. I do make great guindado, if I do say so myself!
About Chilean food (or food common in Chile [not the same thing]), I’m starting to realize that there is a lot to write about. You can read a lot about it on wikipedia at <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuisine_of_Chile> or just better yet, go to the bottom of <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longaniza>. There are a few inaccuracies therein, though. For instance, there is talk about one dish or another being served in earthenware. I’ve never been served any Chilean food in this way, unless I went to a special restaurant and payed for that sort of traditional authenticity. Nor have I ever been in a home where food was served that way. And I’ve never had charquican with horse meat (sounds like an idiosyncrasy pertaining to some local region or another). Nor have I had cocoa leaves with my charquican.
I also think wikipedia lays too much weight on the importance of seafood. The most any of my mother’s family ate of this was fish and a seawead (with potatoes?) which is called cochayuyo, period. And the seaweed was sort of a joke meal. Meals can really vary from one region to another too, and change according to local culture and even ethnicity (as with curanto being only from Chiloé, which has a people and culture to itself).
Another thing, the foods listed there aren’t cooked all that much, anymore. Some of it is just too much work. It’s just easier to cook a piece of steak with a side of potatoes, accompanied by a tomato or lettuce salad. Chileans do love to make their traditional stew frequently, though, something I never liked as a visiting youngster. This is often an entry to the meat based dish, or if you wish, you can finish with the stew. Most people only cook traditional food on holidays, mainly on national holidays (around September 18).
Wikipeda also lists things that probably shouldn’t be listed such as kuchen, a sort of German cake. This was introduced by German immigrants. But then again, Chilean food can be referred to as comida criolla, meaning it’s a melting pot of different influences. I’ve also read soemwhere that there are Italian and, especially, French influences, but I can’t confirm this.
Maté is listed as a Chilean drink, but I honestly don’t think it’s grown in Chile. Certainly it’s drunk here, but almost exclusively by “old ladies”. Even so, maté has a strong sense of bonding –as I assume it does in Argentina. I don’t know much about the Japanese tea ceremony, but I gather it’s done among people who are close (in one way or another) and acts to further consolidate their ties. Drinking maté is certainly not ceremonial, but it weighs heavily as a social bonding act, as the gourd is passed from one person to another and each drinks from the same straw. I assume it’s the act of sharing, and sharing what one enjoys (and something personal as a straw that enters each mouth) between 2-5 people that qualifies it as a bonding act. After all, you’re not going to literally “share a drink” with just anyone, but with people you feel close to or want to affirm closeness, these being males or females.
Wow, I think I’m back in my sociology classes. How’s this for a paper, “The maté ceremony: ritualistic bonding via drinking and its unbridled orgiastic overtones”, or “The maté ceremony: an unbridled ritualistic orgy”. I’m serious here! My film studies prof talked about how homosexual themes permeate Hollywood, with story lines reaffirming the male bond, and “getting the girl” having relevance only as a side-act to the central story between two male figures. I guess all of Hollywood could be labelled a tame version of the film Brokenback Mountain. So, my take on the “maté ceremony” is not unprecedented, but I’m getting off topic.
Kerrie: I’ll try to take some pics of myself wearing sandals, next time I wear a pair. I can’t promise a photograph of myself on a whale; That’d be harder –on account that I rarely ride whales anymore! About pictures of girls with and without piercings, I’ll get some to you asap! Your questions come in a timely fashion considering that we’re nearing national holidays, when much of this traditional food is prepared, wine is drunk, BBQs –called asados– are held. The time for ramadas (a sort of public party held outdoors) is coming close. I did write something about ramadas and fondas (they’re similar). Maybe I’ll post it on my blog here.
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