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Chili isn’t chile in Chile and other food discoveries

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Typical Chilean breakfast at hospedaje in Futaleufú.

Back in Coyhaique, I learned my first new Chilean food word: avocado is palto, not aguacate, as it was in Mexico.  But I just recently figured out that in Chile, the word for chile (as in spicy pepper) is ají, not chile.  It probably took me this long to understand this because spicy is largely absent from the cuisine.  The typical Chilean breakfast, desayuno, is bread with jam and cheese, and tea or coffee.  And by coffee, I of course mean Nescafé, and both Nescafé and tea are served with lots of sugar.  Milk is only offered (in powdered form) in very gringo-oriented places.

Lunch, almuerzo, is the big deal meal.  At school we have an hour and a half break, from 1- 2:30, and most students go home.  This usually means meat, rice, potatoes, and/or bread, and possibly ensalada. I met someone who calls a salad with lettuce and vegetables mixed together ensalada gringa, given that the norm here is to serve chopped, raw vegetables separately: a bowl of lettuce, a bowl of cucumber, maybe a bowl of tomato or carrot, each tossed with vegetable oil and lemon juice (often from a bottle).  It is also very gringa to drink water at meals: here, people drink bebidas (soda, especially Coke, Sprite and Fanta), juguito (juice in bottle or from powder), and of course, alcohol (I’ll save that for another post).

The night time meal is the most distinct from the US: if you eat a real, cooked meal, it’s called cena, but more common is to tomar onces, which is a spread identical to desayuno: bread, tea, coffee.  In Mexico, the shape of the day was similar: I usually ate a sandwich for dinner and a bigger midday meal.  I remember my host mother calling upstairs to her husband,”Pedro, vas a meridar? [Pedro, are you going to snack/nibble?]”, and then they would eat a fruit or a few tortillas.  Here, since I am cooking for myself, I’ve been eating something smaller for dinner, but not just bread.

The other big issue with food here is access.  Right now I am living in a local, organic produce heaven of chard, beets, cucumber, carrots, lettuce, chive, basil, cilantro, habas (lima beans, I

Unflattering picture of me with plums behind house.

guess, but so much better), fresh peas.  And there are the apples, pears, and green-yellow plums on the trees behind the house, all of which follow the rule of the smaller the fruit, the bigger the taste. The various stores in town are fairly well stocked, but I haven’t had to use them much yet.  This is the first month I am going through my food stipend by myself, so we’ll see how that plays out.

Other food discoveries:

  • You can buy a roll of a dozen cookies for less than a dollar.
  • Many homes have an electric stove top or stove and oven to cook when it’s warm outside, as well as a plug-in teapot.
  • Mayonaise is a big deal, with meat, rice, salad, or almost with anything (in Mexico, mayonaise packets arrived with take out pizza).
  • There are many wines under $4/bottle that are quite good.
  • There is no peanut butter for sale anywhere in Palena or Futa.  I’m still working on finding soy sauce.
  • Events, meetings and gatherings can be at 6, 7, 8 or 9, but never between 1 and 3.

With food, like many things, I am finding a balance between adapting and sticking to my own

Salad of fresh, cooked lima beans with onion, carrot, and chive.

ways.  I’m becoming a fan of the big midday meal, especially when I start cooking the night before or in the morning.  Then again, my vegetarianism is a big difference, and that’s not going anywhere.  Though the more I think about food in terms of environment, harm, culture, and human impact, the more complex it gets.  Maybe that will be another post as well.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. sally johnson permalink
    Saturday, March 5, 2011 1:09 pm

    Margaret,
    good morning! Your descriptions are making me hungry! I remember Palto from our trip to Peru and so much sweet sugary juice, although we did find bottles of water in abundance, which was a relief! are there lots of dental problems there? I seem to recall there were in Peru. The large lunch “break” sounds so civilized…I can barely grab a yogurt at work to toss down in between patients! Love all the news. keep em coming! 🙂
    Peace and love,
    Sally

  2. sally johnson permalink
    Saturday, March 5, 2011 1:10 pm

    PS Geoff and I are joining your folks for dinner and an overnight…can’t wait to catch up and trade updates on our adventurous children! No driving home means more leisurely wine drinking! 🙂
    xxxooo
    Sally

    • Saturday, March 5, 2011 4:19 pm

      I love it– a sleep over for grown-ups! Interesting how you had some similar experiences in Peru. I’ve thought about teeth, too, but not sure what the situation is. Much more learning to come.

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