Feria report, with tomatoes with real tomato taste

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There are times when you go to the feria obligado, you go because you have to, because when you open the fridge there is more space than stuff, and when dinnertime comes, you think, “I could eat rice and yogurt and lemon pickle.” (Just me?) Then there are times that you go because you think, yay, Saturday, I get to go to the feria! That’s what happened to me today.

Notable moments included discussions by the woman who sold me grapes (who, as we were talking, was buying change rolled up in graph paper taped with Scotch tape from a man who is going to Chiloé on vacation, but just with his wife, leaving he kids behind) talking to the across the way fish lady about the right kind of aloe vera (apparently not the Chilean kind) that has the right kind of medicinal properties, according to her doctor to help with some back pain she’s having. I though about telling her about my new lower body stretching routine that is helping my back, but then I just bought the grapes and continued on. Another repeated theme today was cars missing parts. I saw one car that was shedding panels as it went, driving through the feria, a large, copper-colored station wagon that had more clang than umph, and on the bike ride home, one car missing the back bumper, and one missing the front one. Cars look naked and toothless in this condition, and you have to wonder how prudent the drivers are, so maybe it works to keep them out of future accidents, I’m not sure.

But you came here for the vegetables! First, here’s a little sign on a basket. People in Chile wax nostalgic about a mythical tomato from antaño (yesteryear) that tasted like tomatoes. The ones now, especially the ones from the supermarket are said to either “have the flavor of nothing” (not taste like anything), or to taste like plastic. I have eaten better and worse tomatoes in my life, including the ones we used to eat fresh from the backyard garden, while actually still standing in the garden, saltshaker in hand, which smelled and tasted and felt like summer, so I can totally relate to what this sign says, which is “Fresh juicy tomatoes with real tomato taste,” though this is not actually where I bought my tomatoes today.

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But you came here for the vegetables!

In the haul above, we have the following. 1 USD=713 CLP at the moment

cauliflower, one large 1000 CLP=$1.40
iceberg lettuce 600 CLP=$.84
radishes 500 CLP=$.70
1 kilo lemons 600 CLP=$.84
800 grams white grapes 800 CLP=$1.12
500 grams strawberries 400 CLP=$.56
1.2 kilos tomatoes 800 CLP=$1.12
1 bunch assorted herbs n greens 500 CLP=$
1 bunch fresh thyme 500 CLP=$.70
4 small onions 300 CLP=$.42
8 carrots 400 CLP=$.56
1 dozen farm-fresh eggs 1500 CLP=$2.10
1 bunch scallions 400 CLP=$.56
“american” corn 2 ears 500 CLP=$.70
1 kilo cranberry beans 800 CLP=$1.12

Total 9600 CLP=$13.46, and a couple of good stories. Enjoy! Also, if anyone knows what you’re supposed to do with fresh thyme, I’m all ears. It was just so pretty I couldn’t not buy it.

Rethinking Valparaíso

The allegedly soon to be repaired Cerro Mariposas funicular.

The allegedly soon to be repaired Cerro Mariposas funicular.

If there’s one city in Chile that I have a complicated relationship with, it’s Valparaíso. On the one hand, it’s an easy place to get to from Santiago, often sunny and cheerful, colorful and bright. On the other hand, it’s impenetrably confusing, like a map had a baby with a bowl of spaghetti, and then someone threw it down a flight of stairs, and then up again. And I have no sense of direction at the best of times, and I’m always two hills over from where I’m trying to be, and there’s a giant ravine between me and where I’m trying to go, and it’s often full of trash.

But then there are glorious parts of Valparaíso. A freeze frame of years ago, the bakery on Condell and somewhere with little cookies like the ones we used to get in the red and white string tied bakery box from my childhood in Brooklyn. And shops that sell nothing but springs and bolts, and then the boastful nature of colorful houses, each one brighter than the next on the few hopping hills that everyone spends time on, Cerro Bellavista, Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción. I think I’ve figured out what bothers me about Valparaíso is the ways in which it reminds me of the have and have nots in Chile. There are places where it seems like muggings are more likely (or I in fact, know of people who have been mugged there) and there are spots where it always smells like sewage. But this is life. The difference is that in Valparaíso it’s all a bit jumbled up together, and I can’t precisely choose to go only places that I feel comfortable. And that being said, I have a pretty wide range of areas I feel comfortable in, there’s just something about being semi-lost and a little concerned for my safety that triggers my get-me-out-of-here gene like nobody’s business.

But in Valparaíso, especially up in the hills, people say hi to you. “Buenos días,” they respond, if you call it out, or even just “buenas,” especially if it’s early in the morning, and you’re alone. And it’s a small gesture, but it feels welcoming, and it’s not something typical of the city I live in, though due to the great key misplacement of 2015, which I will one day tell the story of, my neighbors all know me and say hi.

Anyway, I was in Valparaíso today on a fact finding/work research mission, and I have to admit, I probably haven’t been since February of 2013, when I last shot the crazy downhill bike race. I brought a medium-sized, less-showy camera than I might have to some other places, and wore sturdier shoes, because I wasn’t really sure what the day would bring, other than (in part), a construction site. And I ran up and down a trillion stairs and the two people I’d gone to meet were incredibly helpful, and I ate really, good food (if you click here, you will get to the instagram that I share with a friend wherein we run around and eat really good food, and the fish is on me, and the meat on her, because that’s how we roll).

A tiny preview of said food (details in the insta).

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And I also thought about the fact that one of the people I was talking to today reminded me that if you don’t hire someone to paint a mural on your outside walls in Valparaíso, people will tag it. So people pay artists to paint murals, and there are many different kinds of motifs, but one of the ones you see a bunch includes scenes of Valparaíso. That’s right, this is a city that is decorated with pictures of itself. All three murals show the funiculars, few of which are still working, but plans are afoot to get some of them up and running again, including the Cerro Mariposas one there’s a photo of above. For what it’s worth, the all-day overcast weather was not typical for this time of year, I even got drizzled on.

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And as I ponder the reductive nature of, do those murals of Valparaíso have murals of Valparaíso on the walls within (not that I can see), I have to admit that maybe what made me love Valparaíso more than usual today (aside from the food) was the fact that I was talking to porteños. And they love their city so much that they hire people to paint pictures of it. With so much New York/London/etc. paraphernalia everywhere in Santiago, it’s kind of nice to see a city that believes it’s the center of the universe, even if much of it appears to be perched precariously on hillsides that are secretly laughing at me because once again, I have no idea where I am.

Chile food hack, s’mores version

My ire for those who search high and low for exact replicas of the homeland food products is irrationally great. Particularly when they are from the same place as me, and insist time after time after time that they must have: graham crackers! regular cheerios! or whatever! This time of year everyone is a-twitter with cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes, and come camping season, surely will come the s’mores request.

Wherefore I provide to you the following, the Chile s’mores hack.

You will need:

1 bar Karina milk chocolate, bought in the gringo foods section in Santa Isabel, Lider and other supermarkets, not with the rest of the chocolate, I don’t know why. Buy Hershey’s if you must, but the Hershey’s we get is formulated to withstand the heat of Brazil, where it is made, and it tastes even more like wax than usual.

1 bag marshmallows. I have never noticed a difference in marshmallow taste from one brand to the next. There, I have said it, I am not a marshmallow expert. Please unfollow if necessary.

1 packet “Vino” crackers. They are not graham crackers. They do not taste the same. But they are the right shape, and they are crunchy, and unless you want to import them yourself or make crackers, half of which will end up on the ground, because yo, s’mores break easily, just use the vino crackers. You can also use galletas Maria, which are a closer taste match but a) round b) harder to find and c) often have grasa bovina in them. I’ll stick to the mashed up cowsey and horsey bones in my marshmallows, that’s enough for me, thank you.

Here is what your assembled snackarrific “ingredient” pile will look like at 10:30 PM when you get home from the supermarket, and whereupon you realize you have no idea what language your brain functions in anymore, when you mishear “at 10 PM, the supermarket stops selling bebidas alcohólicas” as something about meatballs (albóndigas). This was through headphones, hearing’s not that bad yet, thank goodness.

Chile s'mores hack

From there you know what to do. Toast, smoosh, eat.

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Also, if you notice vastly different lighting conditions, you are very observant. I have officially spoiled all my meals of the day and had a s’more for second breakfast. No regrets. Also, finally a food that doesn’t look jaundiced against my “screw my security deposit-colored” walls.

When in doubt, make it yourself. The detergent report.

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Amid recent reports of price fixing among of all things, toilet paper manufacturers, I return time and again to the things that are difficult, impossible or expensive to buy in Santiago. I had always noticed that toilet paper seemed disproportionately expensive, at somewhere around 80 cents US a roll, but what am I going to do about it? It’s not like I’m going to keep a cloth in the bathroom and… do I really need to finish this sentence?

So when the reports came out that there was collusion in pricing, as there had been among pharmacies a few years earlier, I was not surprised. I was also not surprised that proposed penalties don’t even come close to covering the ill-gotten-gains of the perpetrators, never mind punitive damages, or the chilling effect it might have had on other independent makers or sellers of same. hmmm, I thought. I won’t make my own meds. Or my own toilet paper. Guess I’m just locked into this system.

But then a while ago I took a course on natural cleaning products, which I figured would look like this: use vinegar. Also, baking soda. And while it did, the instructor has a PhD in molecular biology and she also gave me some other ideas, including, why exactly am I not making my own laundry detergent? It seems so easy, smells like nothing (unless you want it to). Also, with my new surprise allergies (surprise! I have allergies, every year!), it seemed like using low-allergen detergent to clean the actual allergens out of my linens and clothes was a no-brainer. I had taken the course at Huerto Hada Verde, and they teach lots of courses, and you should go check them out, and say hi when you get there. We’re old friends.

So yesterday I rode my bike over to the chemist, where I mean the actual chemist, where they sell chemicals, which in my case was Distribudora Cientifica (Aldunate 1475), and bought a kilo each of borax and sodium carbonate, which if you live in the US, is called washing soda, and they sell it in the detergent aisle. I duly brought these home and then followed a recipe similar to this one, for natural laundry detergent, and had great fun with the grating and mixing and stirring and such. I used Ivory soap, because I bought some last time I was in the states, for just this occasion (and because I use it to wash clothes when I am traveling at times). The total cost for the chemicals was 3090 CLP, or about $4.41. The soap cost maybe 50 cents, as I bought a large pack. I have about 800 grams remaining of both of the chemicals, which I can use to clean various things in my house, or, in FIFTY SIX washes from now (for about a dollar?!) I can make more laundry detergent.

This is probably part of a larger rant about questioning what we buy and are sold. You can and should buy whatever you want. But you have to ask yourself who’s getting soaked (ha), when a 5 kg box of my formerly favorite laundry detergent costs $21, and even washing more than twice a week, I won’t have to buy more detergent for 6 months, at a cost of a single dollar.

I can’t wait for the next price fixing story to come out. I hope it’s not for the tin foil I’ll need for my hat. Though who am I kidding, I buy my foil in the states. Also, the washing soda is a controlled substance here, for reasons I don’t quite understand and am not planning on looking up, but when the very nice woman who was helping me at the chemical supply shop asked me for my ID, she explained, and I asked her if I should tell her what I was doing with what I was buying, she told me to basically, “save it for the (local version of the) FBI.” I only hope I’m doing laundry when they pop by.

I give you: the beansnake, or the midweek Vega report

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Beansnake?

I was on my way home from the doctor today, for the long-fought asthmapalooza extravaganza, and decided to pop into the Vega. Bought a bunch of stuff, as I am wont to do, and rejoiced at the price of overripe tomatoes, because I am constitutionally incapable of staying away from this homemade tomato soup that I love. I also bought a bunch of the usual, because it’s the usual, seen above, with prices below.

But what I really want to talk to you is about the beansnake. There are certain ways certain things come packaged. In Chile, for example, many foreigners have trouble finding tomato paste because the can is like can-of-peaches shaped, not Redbull-shaped. (it’s also called concentrado de tomates, not pasta de tomates, but I digress). We are used to seeing certain foods in certain formats. And there is a very specific way that habas, or fava beans are sold in Chile. In a bag, a little taller than it is wide, tied at the top. Peas are sold the very same way.

How they are not sold is in a long snake. As they were today. In fact, I didn’t even really want habas (except actually I do, because they are so delicious and proteiny), but could not resist their allure in this ridiculously snakey, draft-catching format. I posed with them as a stole, or necklace for a bit, before putting them in my bag, imagining that someone had bought the wrong shaped bags, and then thought to himself “qué tanto?” (what’s the big deal). And I wonder what else they could have made me buy if only they’d packaged it strangely. Alas, everything else was standard, except for the fact that I was at the Vega on a Tuesday. And the seldom-seen shitakes (see below) were sold loose.

Prices, where 1 dollar=700 CLP (OH MY GOODNESS, I haven’t seen that since 2004, I think).

1/2 kilo arugula=1000 CLP/$1.43
1 bag watercress=500 CLP/$.71
1 bunch cilantro=300 CLP/$.43
1 bunch parsley=300 CLP/$.43
3 giant scallions=400 CLP/$.57
broccoli=700 CLP/$1.00
shitake mushrooms=300 CLP/$.43
1 snake worth of fava beans=1000 CLP/$1.43
1.5 kilos semi-overripe tomatoes=600 CLP/$.86

5100 CLP/$7.28

Not pictured, tip given to the boys laying down airflares and freezes like it was 1982 at at Roll-a-Palace. Breakdancing reference. Also a Brooklyn reference.

The world tastes like so many things, Bogotá market report

You would be forgiven for thinking that all the things you have tasted fill the entire book of your palate’s possible trigger points. That every taste could be described in terms of other tastes. That’s what wine lovers will have you believe, with their hundred and something recognized tastes and smells of wines, and I recently found out that coffee people have one, too, which I smelled and failed and smelled and failed at again on a recent trip to Colombia.

What I did not fail at was eating fruit in Bogotá. I went on a tour (organized by the hotel, organized by the magazine, bla bla bla, not that interesting, and anyway, people in Colombia are nice enough, if you go, and you pay for the fruit, you can do this by yourself, too). I started the day by scarfing down some avocado because I had been so throughly fed the day before that I am still full, and therefore did not eat any breakfast, but yet was hungry. I know, the sense it makes is not great.

And then we set upon the market with knives.

No, actually we set upon it with pocket change, and the fruit sellers were the ones with the knives. The well-manicured hands are not mine. I don’t favor red polish, and also, impossible to hold fruit with two hands and take photos at the same time, turns out.

First there was a pitaya, which was so much juicier and fruitier and more interesting than the sad, underripe one I once had in New Zealand. Sorry NZ, I love you, but you are far from the tropical fruit zone. Plus the guy cut it into a flower.

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And then there was the anon, which is similar to the cherimoya or guanabana, but a little grainier.

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Then we took a break and had some baked goods, pandebono with guava inside, and a melty cheese thing no one could remember the name of.

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Followed by a juice stop for curuba, borojó, and what was essentially fruit salad. Borojó was meatier than I expected. it’s the red one. And tangier. I didn’t exactly like it, but I wasn’t sure why.

 

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My first ever mangosteen. How could it be?
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This showed up later in a little ice lens on my fancy mocktail in celebration of the elections, because ley seca. The name could refer to many of a series of fruits. It’s very cute, but not as tasty as Chilean maqui, and a bit acidic.
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My word, SAPOTE, where have you been all my life?
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And these are one of many palm fruits I’ve eaten or drunk or tasted in ice cream in recent weeks. They are called chontaduro, and there’s a part of me that wants to compare them to dry, bready, buttery, artichoke hearts. Or you know, perfection. So tasty.
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There were also chickens, egg depositories, and flowers-a-bajillion. I wish I could have spent more time there, but I’m a broken record with the markets already, and I know it. Got a market? Can I go with you? take pictures? eat stuff? I’m sold.

Plus they had good signs at this market, like the one, that said, “the avocados are ripe, if you need to squeeze something, try the coconut.” Saucy.

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The actual articles when they come out will be much more well-heeled, and they will have me staying in fancy places and eating things not cut with a pocket knife with someone else’s hands in the pictures. But it takes all kinds, and I have no desire to have to choose between the two experiences, I’m happy and lucky to fit them both in. Now where was that market?

How to make your casero smile (aka: feria report, pasamos agosto version)

Midweek feria visit! The weekends have been busy or I’ve had stuff to do early, and haven’t got a chance to head down to the Vega of late, so my fridge was really hurting. However, spring has sprung, and so everyone and their brother is planning meals out of the house a-plenty, so I didn’t really end up buying that much. But I still wanted you to see what I picked up? Below is everything, not just the fresh fruits and veggies, as today I also bought cheese, edamame and za’atar, none of which are terribly Chilean, but hey, neither am I.

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The dollar is at 688. Very strong. Come visit!

kilo roma tomatoes (called pomarola here) 850 CLP= $1.24
bunch parsley 300 CLP= $.44
bunch cilantro 300 CLP= $.44
kilo mandarines 600 CLP= $.88
less than a quarter of mixed greens (1000 for 250 grams) 850 CLP= $1.24
two eggplants 670 CLP= $.97
one cucumber 330 CLP= $.48
three artichokes 1000 CLP= $1.45
grana padano cheese 3800 CLP= $5.53
cream cheese 1200 CLP= $1.74
za’atar 3500 CLP= $5.09
edamame (about a kilo unpeeled, alleges to be 585 gr edible portion) 3500 CLP= $5.09

Total 17,100 CLP= $24.86

It is extremely exciting to me that I can get the mixed greens, za’atar and all the rest in Chile. It is a constant point of discussion in Santiago of late the rising number of immigrants. I can’t wait to see what other food products sail our way due to the recent changes. The za’atar store (Rincón Arabesco, on Antonia Lopez de Bello in Patronato) has been there as long as I have, but I don’t recall seeing edamame at Assi Market (same street, closer to the Vega) before about a year ago. The grana padano that they have at Quesos Arturitos (do a search on blog for locations, there are many, all in/near the vega as far as I know) I have had at other people’s houses, but I usually get a local sheep cheese, just trying something different.

I almost forgot, how to make your casero (fruit and veggie seller) smile. When refusing the bag that they are trying to give you, hold up the vegetables (this works best with artichokes, broccoli, romaine lettuce, cilantro and parsley), tell them that you don’t need a bag, that you’re going to just walk down the street with X thing like this. Where like this means, like it’s a bouquet of flowers. I tried it four times in the past two days. People seem to like it, though somewhat hard to capture in a selfie, due to lack of orangutan arms. Also trivia point: cilantro=curvy, parsley=pointy. I can finally see the difference. Can you?

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Where to buy Asian food products in Santiago, Chile

The elusive buckwheat flour, found at E-Mart.

The elusive buckwheat flour, found at E-Mart.

In addition to the where do I buy hazelnuts/brown sugar/dried ginger questions of yore, many of which I have answered here, in this post about tostadurias, is the ongoing question of where to buy Asian food products.

Maybe you’re looking for rice noodles, because you are celiac, or a gallon of hoisin sauce, because you are catering a wedding (do not try to make 200 spring rolls on your own, really, you will regret it, I promise), or other Chinese/Taiwanese/Korean/Asian ingredients, just because they’re your comfort food, or you’re trying out a new recipe.

There are other stores that sell some of these products, like the series of “health food stores” I’ll talk about someday but seldom shop at. Some items are often found as well at gringofied supermarkets, like anything above Tobalaba, particularly Jumbo. But below are my five tried-and-true east Asian markets for whatever soothes you, and a bonus for a few Indian products. Which is also Asia, but if you’re from the United States, we usually hold it out into another category.

Chinese Mark

Seems to be one of the first importers to break out of Patronato. There are locations on Merced (in Bellas Artes) as well as up in Providencia. I go to the one on Merced, and find it a good source of tofu (but go early, they run out), coconut milk (though you can also get some brands at Quesos Arturito in and around the Vega), and usually, tapioca flour, which I used to make Brazilian tapioca (like a crepe), as well as shoyu. They had powdered coconut milk there not long ago, which is great for camping, and also matcha powder which I love.

Chinese Mark Website
Locations: Merced 555 (Bellas Artes), Providencia 2337 (closer to Los Leones, but near Tobalaba Metro as well), Apoquindo 6043 (Apumanque, at Manquehue metro)

Asi Market

This is the smaller of two stores I often go to in Patronato, in Recoleta, on Antonia Lopez de Bello. It’s a little more cramped, but they seem to have different suppliers of items like the aforementioned tapioca flour, and sometimes have better prices than the next one I’m going to recommend, but it’s right across the street. They also have kimchi and seaweed salads, and frozen edamame (angels sing!).

Asi Market Website
Location: Antonia Lopez de Bello 326 (Patronato Metro, also accessible from Bellas Artes, but more of a walk)

China House Market

This is the biggest of the Asian markets, but most of what they sell is packaged, and they have a huge canned coffee and other drinks from Asia section (with gummies, etc). This is usually my first stop in Patronato. On warm days they have bubble tea, with all the flavors, like taro, sesame, etc. They also usually have dried lemon grass and galangal. The sushi is not so different from convenience store sushi, but will fill you up in a pinch, though there should not be a pinch, because you could go to Chicken Story or Había una Vez, two handy snacky places nearby, both Korean. The first sells fried chicken and the second mostly baked goods. I have not tried the chicken place, but I hear it’s crunchy.

China House Market Website (launches music, turn off in upper right corner)
Location: Antonia Lopez de Bello 297 and 310 (297 is the bigger one, Patronato Metro, also accessible from Bellas Artes, but more of a walk)

E-Mart

This Korean-owned store is a tiny bit off the beaten path, on Eusebio Lillo (Patronato, Recoleta), inside an open-air shopping arcade that mostly sells clothes. They have lots of fresh and pickled items, and tofu in a refrigerated section, and sell some harder-to-find items like flavored nori snack packs, soba noodles in big packs, buckwheat flour, Korean sodas, and some Korean housewares/containers. It’s brightly lit and has wide aisles, especially in comparison to some of the other shops in this neighborhood. It was also the first place you could find Starbucks double shot canned sweetened milky espresso, that packable elixir, though now you can find it other places (like China House Market), and also, there is bottled cold brew to be had now in Santiago, more on that later.

Location: Eusebio Lillo 440, inside an open-air arcade. The sign is bright yellow. (Patronato Metro, also accessible from Bellas Artes, but more of a walk)

Orient Market

This Taiwanese-owned market has fresh “Chinese vegetables,” (sorry, I cannot identify these other than bok choi and what I grew up calling “chinese broccoli” with long stems and florets and only a little bit bitter), three times a week, but come early, as they are easily sold out. I think it was M-W-F. They also have Szechuan peppercorns, lots of canned and jarred items, and some frozen as well, and fresh tofu. I bought my nut milk bags here for making almond milk. This shop is probably a bit farther afield for most English-speakers living in Santiago, and is in Estación Central, so many people may not find themselves close by, but it’s worth a visit. Not that much Spanish spoken.

Location: Grajales 2950 (closest metro Estación Central, but possibly less intimidating to get off at Unión Latinoamericana (ULA) and walk from there. It’s a crowded area of the city, so the usual warnings apply.)

Don Harry Minimarket

For all things Indian. This is the only place thus far in Santiago to buy the following things: Pickles (as in lime pickle, lemon pickle, etc), dosa and idli mix, and those salty crunchy spicy snack mixes, ghee and packaged curries and chutneys. They also sell dessert mixes, some hard to find spices, and have good prices on Basmati rice. They speak Spanish and English. It’s a small shop, and it is not infrequent that they are waiting for a shipment of something, so best to pick up essentials there before planning the rest of your meal, in case they are out.

Don Harry Website
Location; Manuel Montt 092 and 094. This is a good time to point out that when an address starts with a 0 in Chile, it means it is on the “other side” of something. In this case, it means it’s to the north side of Providencia, between that and the river. If you look for it on the side where the addresses are not preceded by 0s, you will never find it, though you will pass a bubble tea shop I do not care for (Metro Manuel Montt).

There are many other smaller east Asian markets in various places, mostly only selling noodles, tea and snack food, as far as I can tell, as well as near Unión Latinoamericana metro on the Alameda. The latter are quite large, and deserve exploring. Many sell crockery and dishes from China, so if that’s your style, or you need chopstick rests, etc, that’s where I’d head. I do not recommend buying packaged moon pies from these, as I had one very unpleasant experience doing such, but maybe that was a one-off. If you’d like to recommend a specific place that you’ve personally shopped, I’d love to hear it. These posts are some of the most searched for and linked to and otherwise fan-fared pieces on the blog, particularly for expats. Let me know if you’re dying for different genres of shop roundups, too. I’m all ears. And mouth.

 

 

Three ways to eat an empanada, and from the middle ain’t one (Los 33)

I went to see Los 33 over the weekend, the movie about the Chilean miners who were pulled out of the mine, alive, in one of the world’s most spectacular (and quite honestly, unexpected) mine rescues. There were 33 of them, and they lived in the area of the mine called the refuge for months, after nearly starving to death on meager rations, and eventually a bore hole was used for communication and to send them some food and ipods and such.

I watched the rescue live with a friend, sitting in my old apartment on Riquelme, both of us terrified that something would go wrong, and that we would witness it. Then, one by one, they were pulled up in the Fenix capsule, and we celebrated. Oh, we were so relieved. Incredulous even. But that means I didn’t watch the movie to see how the miners were saved, so much as how they characterized their time underground, which was based in part on a book by Héctor Tobar, called Deep Down Dark.  I heard him interviewed on Fresh Air, in October, 2014, and felt really good about him having written the book. He seemed to really want to get to know the miners, and thank goodness, also speaks fluent (native, I think) Spanish.

The book was very well reviewed, though I haven’t yet read it. I don’t actually want to say much about the movie, because I’m not Chilean, and I have never worked in a mine. It was interesting, entertaining, worth seeing. It painted some political figures in an incredibly good light. But what I most took from the movie was the cultural keystone of food, and people dreaming about it. This is my wont. I want to know about how people feel about their food. I want it greedily and without shame, and will sit down with anyone and ask them about their favorite foods when they were kids, or food combinations they love or hate. This thing about food, mostly, I want to know, but I also want to understand correctly. Which brings me to how badly the movie botched a particular part about food.

In a scene likened to the “Last Supper,” people are dreaming about their favorite foods. Their charquicán, their giant chacarero sandwich, Chilean specialties, all of it larger than life. And one character says he’d give anything for an empanada.

An empanada is a hot turnover, with one of several fillings inside. In Chile, the default empanada is the one made of pino, which is either ground or chopped beef, cooked with onions and seasoning. The pino empanada also has an olive (with the pit), and half a hard boiled egg and raisins mixed in the filling. This is folded into a slightly oily dough, and folded into a particular shape, which you can see below, which I peeped at the empanada shop near my house just this afternoon.

 

empanadas

There was nothing wrong with the foods they chose for the movie. They seemed like the kinds of things people would dream about in the mine, if those people were used to a typical Chilean diet. The thing that the movie got so utterly wrong, was about the empanada. Or specifically, how the actor bit into it, which was holding it by the ends, and biting it in the middle.

Think about that. Have you ever eaten an empanada? How would you bite into it? It turns out, that after to eleven years (?!) of observation, as well as a poll in Spanish of Facebook friends, there are three, and only three “normal” ways to eat an empanada (spoiler, none of them are biting from the middle).

And here they are, from easiest to most complicated, with explanations, as necessary. First, take this empanada. You will notice that it is folded differently from the pino one above. That is because it is mushroom and cheese, as I don’t eat pino. This is a trick from the empanada makers, so you know what each one is when you get it. Sweet, right? My empanada is triangular, like a hamantaschen. I only wish it had a song. But I digress.

the whole empanada

the whole empanada

So here, after research and observation are the three, and only three ways people eat empanadas.

1. hold the empanada vertically, with the cachito (little horn, as we call the corner of the pastry) pointing towards your mouth. Take a bite. Here some of my pollsters provided that from here, they would scoop in or dip sauce, which in most cases in Chile is this kind of toxic thick hot sauce that I have grown tremendously fond of. It is called Ají Chileno.

Illustration, empanada eating technique 1.

Illustration, empanada eating technique 1.

Or maybe you don’t want to bite into it, due to fear of heat, or a love of the cachito, or for some other reason. Fear not. You have a solution, and that solution is the following.

2. tear off the cachito (see above), turn the torn side (most common) towards your mouth and pop it in. You can see how hot the empanada filling is, and maybe blow on the filling before eating it.

Empanada eating technique 2.

Empanada eating technique 2.

But maybe you are in a restaurant, or have brought the empanada home. You will not eat it, as many people do, standing on the street, out of a paper bag or one-ply napkin. What to do?

3. in the case of a restaurant empanada, or one you bring home, or that you fear may be too hot to eat, cut the empanada in half, and pick up each half with your hands, to start eating from the cut side. Proponents of this method also cited the ferreting out of the olive, undesirable to at least two teenage kids, and many other anti-olive advocates. One pollster likes to pull out the boiled egg yolk, which she doesn’t like. This method is also good for letting the filling cool down a bit, or sharing the empanada with a friend, or saving the cachitos for last.

Empanada eating technique 3.

Empanada eating technique 3.

Under no circumstances should a fork and knife be used, and most notably, though I left it open for discussion in no instance did anyone suggest biting in from the middle, which would cause you to lose filling, burn your face, and maybe also look like a cultural outsider. People would probably talk about your cultural failings. As I am talking about the cultural failings of Los 33. As one contact (on Twitter) pointed out, “I guess they didn’t hire a cultural advisor,” or another, less optimistic contact suggested that they had a “lousy cultural advisor.”

So I don’t know entirely how I feel about the film, and I know even less about how Chileans felt about it. It may seem like a small thing, this wrongful empanada consumption, but it’s one of the iconic foods of Chile, and even makes its way into one of those quirky “magazines” that are sold on the bus by street vendors, like this one, and here I show a page from one such magazine called “Fiestas Patrias” (National holidays), which claims to depict “patriotic symbols.”

See? Also on the same focal plane, a chinchinero, which are not my favorite, but yes, are a cultural classic. Also do not bite these in the middle, Or at all.

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Empanada in Fiestas Patrias magazine

Even as a non Chilean, it was important to me to see the empanada presented correctly in the movie. Seeing such a simple thing so badly played, annoyed me, frustrated me, and reminded me of why I’d originally wished it hadn’t been produced in Hollywood, and to some extent why, though I spend all this time asking people about their food, I haven’t figured out what project it is for yet. I guess I came up with that, in part, where possible, people should tell their own stories, because they’re the ones that will get them right. Or at the very least, they should hire a cultural advisor. And not a lousy one.

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Bonus: there is a fourth way to eat an empanada, which is to peel back the top from the bottom on a plate. This is considered an aberration, but a couple of people mentioned it, much to the horror of everyone else who was reading along in the informal research. I have personally never witnessed it.

Be the dog in the red coat. Eyes open in Santiago’s Bio Bio flea market

This freezing Sunday, I felt inspired to go to Bio Bio, the largest flea market in Santiago. Perhaps because that’s where my cellphone, which was stolen, and I recovered on Wednesday night (good story, worth a click), would have ended up had I not retrieved it from my wayward pick pocketer. Maybe because it was bleak and awful out today, and I have spent many a bleak and awful day in Bio Bio, for reasons I cannot identify. It is not a terrifically friendly place at the moment, with street construction and piles of trash (ok, those are kind of always), but it’s a good place to take the pulse of another part of Santiago, the kind of place where you can get your phone unblocked, get a creative buzz cut under inadequate lighting, buy some furniture or some used books and otherwise get your wander on without anyone really asking or expecting anything of you.

I went with a friend, who had some hardware needs, but the first order of business was a greasy, noodly lunch at Franklin 610, at Lai Thai. It was what we needed for a day like today, and as a bonus, I got to be the cross-over point for passing the pizza between our aisle to the next one to a vendor who was waiting on her piping hot lunch. The food is adequate. You could make better at home if you were so inclined, but then you would not get to pass the pizza, and you would probably put less oil in it. Plus you cannot go hardware shopping at home.

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Then we went shopping for bits and bobs, and my friend hit the jackpot at this hardware place, where, by the way, they have a box of something I was looking for when I first came to Chile, called an “espantacuco.” I had to circumlocute it, to the great entertainment of everyone at our main hardware and furnishings store. “It’s a thing, that you plug in in an outlet and leave it there at night, so you might illuminate the space without turning on the overhead light.” (in Spanish). Spoiler: nightlight. They’re the round item in the middle-most drawer piled on top of the other drawers. I no longer need one, so did not buy one.

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For what its worth, I will never get used to the fact that you can buy surgical supplies at the flea market. I mean, the dental scrapers are weird enough, but things to do surgery? It just seems wrong. Also, an emesis basin in Spanish? “riñon” (kidney-shaped).

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It was pretty late in the day by this point, and crowds were winding down, both because it was late, and because it was cold, and also, it’s school vacation and the city is a bit empty at this point. The “school books” booth (libros de colegio) was shuttered.

 

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We were lucky enough to, just as we were both saying “we should get a cup of coffee,” find this place, a cute little café with a decent double espresso, a more than passable cinnamon roll, and very lovely staff who were tickled when I was really happy for them that business was going so well.

I was not expecting to find the café, because I didn’t know it was there. Nobody tells foreigners to come to Bio Bio because it’s mostly full of pretty eclectic finds, ponchy-ponchy music, a possibility of getting pick pocketed (they say), and because there’s “nothing interesting there.”

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Which is why I choose these two dogs we saw on the long walk home, to finish this post. When you travel, you can look, or you can believe you’ve seen it all, already, or that just because the guidebook doesn’t send you, there’s nothing to see there. Here’s a gentle reminder to be red-coat dog sometimes, looking around to see what’s there (could be me!). And to go to Bio Bio on the weekends or a holiday if you want that cuppa joe. (The Weekend Cafe, Calle Victor Manuel 2292). Peruvian owned, brewing cafe Borbone, from Italy).

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