Saturday, May 1, 2010


Comida Chilena=Chilean Food. And let me just start by saying: YUM.
Here's a little preface:I should tell you all that I am a vegetarian, and I know I'm missing out on that and all, but all the food I've eaten thusfar has been delicious. All my life I've been a pretty picky eater, and only in the last couple years have I started to be open minded about food (anyone in my family can attest to that). But I promised myself before I left that I would try everything that was served to me, with the obviuos exception of meat. And I did decide to be a pescatarian instead of a vegetarian when I left (that means I will eat fish). So far, I've stayed true to that promise, and I have been for the most part, pleasantly surprised by things that didn't appear too delicious at first glance.

The food in general is much less expensive than in the U.S. And Chileans eat a lot. During my first couple weeks, I always felt full, but I swear my family thought I ate practically nothing. Also, I should say that I totally lucked out, my host mom is a fantastic cook, in my opinion. And the plates are always presented beautifully, even when it's just me, Gaby, and my mom for lunch.
The meal times are definitely different here. On the week days I have breakfast at 7:30, since school starts at 8:00. Then, during recreo, our 20 minute break after two hours and before three more hours of morning classes, almost everyone has a snack. There's a little shack that sells everything from mints to ice cream, to juice and cookies, to fruit to grilled ham and cheese. So most students either bring something from home or buy something there to hold them over until lunch. Lunch is at 2:00 and we have 45 minutes. I live on the same block as the school, so my host sister, Gaby, and I eat at home with our mom. And then in the afternoon, I try not to snack. We usually eat once around 7:00. This is also just my family's schedule. It differs depending on the family. I have some friends who are also exchange students here who say that they eat three times in the afternoon, one being more of a snack with the family, one being more of a light dinner, and the third being dessert with tea or coffee.

For the most part however, breakfast is relatively small, with a large lunch being the biggest meal of the day. And then unless you are having a formal dinner with family friends or it's a special occasion, which is cena, dinner is more of the small, informal once.
For breakfast on the weekdays, me and Gaby both have cereal (I have oatmeal/raisin/almonds/honey mixture, she has choco-krispies) with yogurt. On the weekends however, we usually eat much later and with the whole family. Then on the table there's bread, cheeses, jelly, ham, tomatoes and then usually also whatever leftover dessert we have, like lemon merengue pie, for example. We also usuall have tea or coffee on the weekend while we eat. Then during schooldays, I eat an apple every day during recreo, trying to keep the doctor away and whatnot. Everyday for lunch, my mom has prepared something delicious for lunch. It varies, obviously. Sometimes its a very typical traditional Chilean food, sometimes it's homemade pizza. And she always prepares a small dessert for afterwards. Then, for dinner, which is the informal once, it is more of a grab whatever. My mom sets out bread and other small things like tomatoes or cheese or sometimes something sweet.
Typical Chilean dishes:
Like I said before, there's a lot of meat dishes which are eaten here, but I don't try. However, there's a lot which I do eat! Umitas are one of my favorite foods here. They're really simple, but delicious. Humitas are basically like tamales, I'm not sure exactly how they're different, but they taste different! Humitas are prepared in the corn husks, in boiling water. They're served in the husks and typically eaten with either a little bit of sugar or tomatoes and onions (I prefer the latter, but thst's just me). Also, Chilean empanadas are different than any empanadas I've ever eaten in the US, and I definitely prefer these ones. The usual kinds are cheese, ham and pino, which is diced meat, onions, olives, raisins and egg. The masa, or dough used for them is extremely good. And they're flaky and perfectly gooey and cheesey (I obviously haven't tried any other than cheese empanadas). Another extremely typical Chilean food is completos. They are basically really big hot dogs, but with avacado, tomato, mayonaise, plus chili peppers or ketchup or whatever you like. People eat completos a lot, whether it's at a party or just walking down the street. Palta reina is a typical apetizer. Palta is avacado and reina means "stuffed". It's avacado stuffed with a mixture made of tuna, mayonaise and lemon and served on lettuce leaves with lemon juice. Also, something I eat a lot is what they call tortilla vegetariana. It's basically chard(which is very typical here) or another vegetable, cheese and eggs, fried into a cirlce shape. Also, another dish that I eat a lot (yet I have no idea what it's called) is this mixture of egg, cheese, carrots, and usually some other vegetables. Also, there is a soup that I really like, made from lentils with some veggies.
Produce and prices:
Since Chile is such a long country, there are a lot of climate regions throughout the country. And therefor, produce is always fresh and cheap, even during the winter! For example, you can buy a kilo of apples at the supermarket for less than one US dollar. The other day when I went to the produce market with my dad, I acted like such a tourist and took pictures of everything because I was totally amazed by how beautiful and cheap everything is. And I pointed out that you could buy a pineapple here for about US$1.50, and so my dad just bought it for me. So for the most part, food is much cheaper here than in the US, with some exceptions, like gum, which is about 4 times more expensive (and yet the flavor doesn't last as long) and peanut butter, which you can find in the super market, but costs about US$8 for one normal sized jar. Also, as most of you probably know, Chile has a large wine industry in the South. So obviously, grapes are cultivated here. But since I am underaged, I obviously haven't had the oppurtunity to try the wine. Also, there are some new fruits and vegetables I've discovered here, for example tunas, which are a fruit that I still don't know how to call them in English. They have a hard skin that you peel and on the inside, they look and taste a little like a kiwi and have a ton of really hard seeds. Also while I've been here, I've realized I like things that I didn't in the US, including peaches and banana and mango, since they're all soooo fresh! However, I still don't like pears or cherries.
Some generalizations and things I've noticed:
I know I'm not supposed to generalize a new culture, by I'm really just summing up what I have personally noticed. Zuchini and carrots are used a lot here in the cooking, as well as tomatoes. Also, lots of salt. And that's not just my mom, it's Chilean cooking in general. For example, typically, when someone makes a salad, the dressing is lemon juice, oil and salt salt salt. Also, Chileans love mayonaise. They eat it like no other. With french fries, they use it like ketchup. And they use a mixture of mayo and lemon juice for things like corn or potatoes. I personally detest mayonaise, so it's hard to get used to for me. Also, it seems to me that usually Chileans drink whole milk. However, many Chileans don't eat the "insides" of their bread, like from buns or rolls, they pick it out. And when I asked a friend why, he responded jokingly, in english : "this part makes you fat!". Something interesting about eating, if not food, is that Chileans don't put their napkins on their laps, but keep them on the table, next to their plate, folded in half. My first couple weeks here I kept putting mine in my lap before I realized this (and sometimes I forget and still do), trying to be polite, and someone would just give me another paper napkin. So I would go through 2 or 3 napkins per meal. Also, the junk food is different here. For some things, for example Cheetos, they have the same brands, but the food tastes totally different. For others they have basically the same product, but its a different brand and tastes a little different (M&Ms=Rockets; Oreos=Dindons). Here, you can find cocoa, but it's not commonly used to bake, and it's generally not found in supermarkets but I was able to find it in a specialty baking needs store. But I have unfortunately yet to find brown sugar or molasses.
Desserts and other sweets:
One word: MANJAR. It's delicious. Manjar is this creamy dulce de leche substance, about the consistency of peanut butter and tastes a little bit like caramel. I think it's pretty common in most of South America and It is used in soooooo many Chilean desserts. There's solid manjar candy and even manjar ice cream. But people also just use it like jelly on bread. One common dessert is alfajores, which are two cookies with manjar in the center. The packaged kinds usually have graham cracker-esque cookies and are covered in chocolate while the homemade kinds are more like sugar cookies and have more manjar and are sprinkled in confectioner's sugar. Flan is pretty common here, but I'm not the biggest fan. Sopaipilla is a common dessert here too, but I haven't tried it yet...I've decided to buy one the next time I'm in the city. Mote con huesillo is also really common, you can find it being sold by street vendors like roasted peanuts in NYC. It's a cup filled with a sweet liquid made from peaches and with kernals of some kind of wheat. It's really yummy, but kind of hard to describe. Leche Nevada is antoher dessert here that I absolutely love. It's basically merengue covered in a vanilla milk. Yum. A favorite dessert here is lemon merengue pie, not traditioally Chilean, but it's common enough to include here! Also, people eat ice cream all the time. When I go into the city, I always feel like getting some because no matter where I am, in the streets, down by the beach, in the mall, people are always walking by with cones of frozen sweets. And if I'm out with my family, after lunch or just out walking, my parents always get everyone an ice cream to eat while we walk.

One last thing that I love about the Chilean food culture: it's not just about the food. It's about the company and the conversation. After dinner, we sit and talk for awhile, we don't rush off to the next thing.

When I get home, I hope to prepare some Chilean recipes for you all! I highly recomend coming to this country, if only for dinner.

Love always,
PS. The pictures are of the produce I saw at the market when I went with my dad.