The title describes what I have learned about Chilean food culture thus far.
(Also what I’ve learned about the language. Chileans are big fans of the diminutive.)
Chile is the second biggest consumer of bread in the entire world. They don’t mess around with carbs down here, folks. Bread is served with every meal of the day (more on mealtimes later). Bread is served even if the main course includes a large quantity of potatoes or rice. And in my experience, every main course includes one of those, if not both. My host family took me on a trip up to the beach today, and we actually brought bread with us. And then we bought more bread to eat in the car when we were less than an hour away from home, where we would certainly be eating supper, which would inevitably include bread and other carbs. The most popular breads are probably hallulla and marraqueta.
At first, I tried to resist. I thought, no! Carbs are bad! This bread is not whole grain. I’m not running. There’s no way my body will use all these carbs. And then I ate the bread. And I really liked the bread. And I heard that we see a lot less of the good bread when we get to Santiago. So I figured, all right. Two weeks of a high-carb diet where I let myself enjoy the food and worry about it later. As of now, my jeans still fit. I’ve got the rest of the semester to undo any damage. Right?
Tea is also essential to the Chilean diet, and like bread, is included with every meal. Coffee is usually offered too, but it’s instant coffee, not coffee out of the pot. This tea is black tea. Do not call herbal tea “tea” down here. That’s agua de hierbas: herbal water. Depending on the hierba, agua de hierbas is supposed to be very helpful for various ailments. Tea (té, or more often, tecito) is the dark stuff, drunk without milk, but with sugar or Daily Gotas, a liquid artificial sweetener that I’ve seen in every house I’ve visited. We also brought hot water and tea with us on our little trip today. I hope that tells you how central bread and tea are in Chilean gastronomy.
Mealtimes are pretty different from in the US. There are typically three important meals every day: desayuno (breakfast), almuerzo (lunch), and either onces or cena. In my experience thus far, desayuno consists of bread with a number of toppings, including butter or margarine, jam, cheese, ham, honey, palta (guacamole), and crema de pollo (a chicken and mayonnaise spread). I’ve also enjoyed huevos revuelto and frito: scrambled or fried eggs. In other houses, they might serve queque, which would be like unfrosted cake, typically topped with butter, margarine, or jam. Beverages include juice and tea.
Almuerzo is the biggest meal of the day, generally served after 1 PM. It’s winter here, so we’ve had a lot of hearty soups. Thus far I’ve enjoyed cazuela and carbonada. Cazuela is a very typical Chilean dish, consisting of a broth-based soup with large pieces of potatoes or other vegetables and a big piece of meat. Carbonada is similar, but with browned ground beef instead of the big meat. On the side of the main plate, you’ll find bread and some kind of salad. Salad here is different. They shred up the various components (often lettuce and cabbage, sometimes carrots and celery too), toss them in oil, lemon, and salt, and put them in separate bowls for you to serve yourself as you please. Beverages include juice, soda, and tea.
The next meal of the day depends on your family. Most of the people I know take onces, which is like a light suppertime, around 7 PM or later. Onces might consist of leftovers from almuerzo, as well as a repeat of desayuno foods. Tea, as always, is included. I’ve also had several cenas (dinner) while I’ve been here. Cena is a bigger meal, closer to almuerzo in size and timespan, but with similar plates.
Here’s a round-up of what I’ve eaten so far:
Parrilla/asado: a variety of grilled meats, including pork, chicken, beef, longaniza, hot dogs, and intestines.
Lentejas: lentil soup, with rice and longaniza.
Encebollada: onions sautéed with egg. This will be one of the first things I try to make for myself back home.
Papas mayo and arroz mayo: okay, haven’t actually eaten these because I don’t like mayonnaise, but I’ve been served them. It’s cooked potatoes or rice tossed in mayonnaise.
Pollo con jugo y arroz: chicken, stewed with onions and peppers, and served with rice tossed in the cooking juice. One of my favorite meals so far.
Empanadas: Chilean empanadas are different from Mexican empanadas. The traditional empanada, la empanada de pino, includes a filling of beef, onions, raisins, chopped egg, and a whole olive. You can tell how many empanadas a person has eaten by the number of pits they have on their plate afterward. We were lucky enough to get homemade empanadas during la peña familiar we had last week. They were delicious. I ate two.
Sopaipillas: fried bread dough pillows. So delicious. I’ve eaten them with pebre, palta, and chicharrones (fried pork bits). (Eat a dinner of sopaipillas and chicharrones before a party and you won’t get drunk.)
Tallarines con salmon: spaghetti with a tomato and canned salmon sauce. Note: canned salmon tastes like tuna fish.
Pisco: the Chilean national alcohol. It’s grape-based and has a color similar to white wine. I have yet to drink a pisco sour, but I have had pisco with a soda mixer, first lemon-lime, then ginger ale. The ginger ale-pisco combo tastes a lot more like a grown-up drink. Note: Chileans make their drinks stronger than we normally do in the United States.
Choripan: longaniza served on marraqueta with pebre and palta.
Navegado: hot wine, flavored with orange and sugar. It smells like Christmas.
There you have it! Nearly 1000 words about food. I am not kidding when I tell you that at least 50% of my conversations with my fellow gringos each day surround food. Mostly the quantity of pan (bread) we’ve eaten that day. Our host families are extremely preoccupied with making sure we’re not hungry. It’s important to keep in mind that Chileans are a very caring and affectionate people, and one of the biggest ways they show this affection is through food.
And what good food it is. They must really love us!
With love, bread, and tea,