Buenos días from the southernmost country in South America: Chile! While we were hoping to dodge the massive weekend blizzard that threatened much of the East Coast, the good people of Santiago de Chile were expecting sunny skies with highs of around 80° F (27° C). As you may have guessed from the photo above, Easter Island is also a part of Chile, and we were lucky enough to view one of its famous megaliths last month during a visit to the American Musuem of Natural History in New York.
To avoid the winter weather as well as a planned MBTA red line detour, we started our globetrotting adventure early when I met Jess after work on Friday for a visit to Comedor, a Chilean fusion restaurant in Newton Center. The restaurant serves tapas (small plates), which are not typical in Chile but which did allow us to sample a wide variety of semi-traditional specialties. We sat at the chef’s bar, facing the open kitchen, which gave us a perfect introduction to Chilean cooking.
Our server got us started with a bowl of fresh onion challah (on the left) before the parade of tapas began. First up was the sopaipilla grilled cheese (upper right) topped with cheddar, pumpkin mustard, and tomato sauce. Next came my crab and mussel chupe (middle) which featured both of the meats simmering in a bowl of melted raclette cheese and herbs, accompanied with garlic toast. Chile has one of the longest coastlines in the world, and seafood is an important part of the cuisine. After that came a decadent pair of pumpkin cakes (bottom) topted with manchego cheese, honey, and sunflower and pepita seeds.
Our next courses were a dish of bruselitas picantes—spicy brussels sprouts—topped with breadcrumbs, garlic aioli, and the Chilean condiment pebre (on the left) and some papas fritas topped with scallion salsa, cotija cheese, and merkén (on the right). Merkén is a crumbly smoked chili pepper topping that comes from the Mapuche, who are the indigenous people of Chile.
Last but not least, we ordered some tempura fried brownies swimming in dulce de leche, the caramel-like milk sauce that is popular throughout Latin America. What an introduction to Chile!
On Saturday morning, Jess prepared a famous Chilean breakfast bread called dobladitas, which reminded me of folded pie crust.
This was buttery and flaky all by itself, but we also tried it with some jam. And our breakfast would not have been complete without hot mugs of tea.
Jess spent several hours preparing a complicated but delicious Chilean lunch as the snow began to fall. The recipe was a vegetarian version of the traditional pastel de choclo, a (beef) casserole topped with a layer of creamed corn. Jess’s version used chopped vegetables and potatoes for the filling, mixed with the traditional olives, raisins, hard-boiled eggs, and queso fresco. On top was her homemade creamed corn mixed with cream cheese.
We had the pastel with some toasted sourdough (Chileans love their bread!) and it tasted every bit as good as the delicacies we’d enjoyed the night before.
After finishing her lunch, Jess got to work preparing a sweet Chilean recipe called macho Ruso (Russian pudding) which she had found in the World Cookbook. Her energy is an inspiration! While the pudding chilled in the refrigerator, we watched a videa from Expoza Travel that highlighted many of the country’s most popular tourist destinations:
In Chile, a late lunch is usually the largest meal of the day, followed by a very light meal in the evening known as once (“elevenses”) which, like the British version, typically includes an assortment of breads, pastries, and fruit served with coffee or tea—much like breakfast. We enjoyed watching this short documentary called “Another Tea?” about a group of elderly Chilean women who for decades have been meeting once a month for once:
Our evening once was probably a bit more hearty than most, since we had ordered large chacarero sandwiches from La Mamma Pizza in Allston. Mine was beef and Jess’s was vegetarian.
We also ordered some empanadas, one cheese and one mushroom, which you can see behind my mug of tea. The sandwiches were so large that each came in its own little pizza box! (Boston is also home to a very popular Chilean sandwich shop called Chacarero, but it’s only open during the week. We enjoyed reading this interview with the owner.)
That evening, we screened a poignant documentary called Nostalgia for the Light (2010), written and directed by the Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán.
Filmed primarily in the Atacama desert, the driest place on earth, the documentary introduced us to three groups of people all searching for clues about the past: astronomers who take advantage of the dry, cold air to operate some of the world’s largest telescopes, archeologists who sift through the desert for the mummified remains of prehistoric humans, and Chilean women who hope to recover the bodies of loved ones who were “disappeared” by agents of the brutal Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
The next morning, we enjoyed another rich breakfast of dobladitas, jam, and tea, before learning a little more about the Atacama. The desert contains vast salt flats (salares), and every year, thousands of tons of pink Chilean salt are shipped up to Boston to help keep our roads free of snow. Photographer Allison Cekala mounted an exhibition about the salt last winter called Road Salt: A 4,500-mile Journey at Boston’s Museum of Science. Who’d have thought that Chile would be literally underfoot!?
For lunch, I spent about an hour preparing a Chilean dish called poroto con rienda, a savory stew made from pumpkin (in this case, butternut), white beans, and spaghetti. We ate it with some challah rolls that I had picked up from Trader Joe’s, in the spirit of the bread we’d enjoyed at Comedor two days before:
After that, we enjoyed our first helpings of the macho Ruso that we’d been too full to sample the day before. We topped our puddings with fresh berries and honey, as the recipe recommended:
We watched another tourism video in the afternoon to get a better sense of the things to see and do in Santiago, the country’s capital.
We also watched the Chile episode of Geography Now!, a funny web series that we’ve come to rely on for basic information about the countries we visit.
Our weekend in Chile came to a close with more pastel de choclo and challah—Chilenos are said to consume more bread than any other nation except Germany—as well as some more hot tea. The lavish cuisine and economic prosperity of our southernmost neighbor marked a noticeable (and welcome) change from some of the other countries that we’d visited over the past few months. Hasta luego!