Before I moved to Chile, I read the classified ads for apartments because I wanted to know what I was getting myself into, financially, and spacewise and any other way I could before transplanting myself. One bedroom, two bedroom, bathroom, mudroom/laundry it all seemed to make sense. But the one thing I couldn’t get my brain around was the “American kitchen.” Dishwasher? No way. Extra large fridge? Not that, either. What could it be? I asked around, and couldn’t get an answer. Finally, when I got here, I found out. An “American kitchen” is one that is open on one side, towards the living room or dining room. It has its benefits, for entertaining, for example, but most Chileans are dead set against foodsmells anywhere in the house other than the kitchen, so most would prefer a door to their kitchen. I definitely distinguish between the open kitchen and the closed one, but it would never occur to me to refer to the former as “American.” But I guess in a way it’s a compliment. So observed are we as United Statesians, that they even notice our kitchens!
I suppose the French have gone through it with their fries, the Belgians with their waffles, the Dutch with going dutch, and dozens of other nationalities have listened to tales of what they eat and what they do, and heard their names attached to it. Maybe they feel proudish, even as the description doesn’t fit what they do. But everyone knows about Belgium! Everyone knows about France!
One thing about Chile is that we believe we live completely under the radar. No one is thinking about this fringe country stuck hastily on the west side of the Andes, population not even 1/3 of Myanmar, and no totalitarian regime nor terrible national disaster (volcanic eruptions and earthquakes notwithstanding) to make us famous. No one thinks about what we do or what we eat. Well-heeled Chileans who’ve had the chance to travel report resorting to drawing maps, and frustratedly saying, you know Argentina? Yeah, we’re near there.
So imagine my surprise in the town of Nicoya, Costa Rica, the one with the fabulously old gleaming white church (constructed in 1633, repainted yesterday, it looks like), when I went to the bakery to grab some nibbles for the road. There, in the bread and pastry shop, amid the thisses and thats and who knows what else, I found the item pictured above, this “Torta Chilena,” (lit: Chilean Cake). I peered around it, looked at it from the sides, the top and even the bottom. It was some kind of layered thing with cream caramel, and a giant heaping stripe of meringue on top. I’ve lived in Chile for four years, and never seen anything like it. My Chilean friend Sharon tells me, “it looks disgusting.”
I can’t speak to how delicious or not the famous cake was, preferring a baguette and some cream cheese. But I will say that after my moment of what IS that? I felt a tinge of national pride. Someone knows who we are! Their observation of what we do and eat is a little skewed, but hey! At least we made the bakery racks!