"When the Spaniard came to Chile, he had the Bible in his hands and we had our lands. He told us to close our eyes and taught us to pray. When we opened them, he had our lands and we had his Bible."
The word Patagonia has that not so common feature of occupying the ear and dilating the eyes. It sounds remote, it sounds inhospitable, like an expedition. Hernando de Magallanes got to the Patagonian beaches in 1520, but they weren't virgin. The indigenous who lived in this austral regions were far from being underdeveloped, since they were really tall and had big feet. That's why the footprints found by Magallanes and else enlightened ones were attributed to "gigantic creatures", with pata gau (portuguese for big feet), proceeding to name as Patagones to their inhabitants and Patagonia to the region. Not many times the feet's size is behind the name under the flag! A different version affirms that the name comes from the knight novel Primaleón, where it appears a giant called Pathoagón , who could also have inspired Magallanes. Anyway it is obvious that the size of the indigenous caused a great impact in a crew of short men.
Nowadays, Patagonia constitutes one of the few territories which frontiers are parallels: from 39 to 54. Although having a flag it's no nation, but this absence is not lived with a separatist anxiety, but like an adjective: Patagonia can be Chilean or Argentinian.Anyway the cuisine is the same in either sides. The abundance of natural resources is overwhelming, some sort of cold paradise full of salmon, lamb, ice and petrol. Some (I underline some) of the most representative dishes, ingredients or elements are:
Lamb on a stick
This dish, the magallanic gastronomy emblem, is indeed lamb on a stick. This stick is made of iron and it is introduced along the animal's spine. The animal has been previously opened through the belly so it's butterfly shaped. They hold the four ends with wires to another two transverse sticks. This structure bows over the fire for about four hours, until the meat melts under the shiny fat and crunchy skin. It's more like a dream on a stick, which cries our for some wine to die together in the mouth.
In Patagonia, winter is like the Stark's: always coming. In fact the concept of summer is associated to a discreet sun which plays a game of hide and seek in which it always wins. That's the reason why food preservation is, or was, vital, in those hostile times with no cans or tinned food. One of the techniques still in use is the smoking. The most common wood used for it are olivillo, tepú or arrayán. They smoke practically everything smokeable, from meat, fish or seafood, which are left hanging till they dry out completely. This process allows to keep food almost indefinitely, until they are summoned by the stew or the soup.
“During their confrontations with the Spanish Conquistadors, the indigenous people used merkén to sooth injuries and raise the spirits of the downtrodden. This smoked chili powder, whose analgesic and healing properties are well documented, resembles the native people’s fiery fighting spirit for the land that belongs to them."
Sea Gastronomy, Chilean Patagonia, edited by Publicaciones del fin del mundo
This kind of seasoning comes from the Mapuche people, indigenous from the North Chilean Patagonia. Traditionally it is made from ají cacho de cabra or goat horn pepper that is strung together and left to dry on rooftops. Afterwards it's smoked over a wood fire and ground up in a mortar, sometimes with toasted coriander seeds and salt. Nowadays the grounding is made with electrical grinders, since it has become popular, especially in the gourmet world.
Merken dyes the touch and teaches to appreciate the spicy without burning the taste. It provides a subtle hint but very distinctive one, which doesn't cover the rest of the flavors but accompanies them.
The salmon's situation in Chile is the one of an established immigrant. Its not until 1921 that it is introduced to the chilean coasts, thanks to the Fishing Development Institute (IFOP), who decided to take some of this fish on tourism to the South American Pacific ocean. However, it's not until the 70s or 80s that the salmon farming increased massively. Nowadays Chile is one of the main sea product exporters, holding the second place on worldwide fish flour exportation and first on high quality and contamination-free salmon exportation (30% of the world's market), overtaking Norway in 2006.
Salmon has then become Chilean by adoption. In Chiloé island, for example, every dish is about the salmon and the potato. People go to Chiloé to buy cheap frozen salmon to supply their homes or even their restaurants. At the Chilean website of the salmon it is perfectly well explained how the fish is farmed in this aquatic farms.
"Who tries calafate will always come back to Patagonia for more."
Selknam and tehuelche saying
One would think they are blueberries, but calafate fruits are almost magical: it's antibacterial as it has "berberina", it even shows anti-tumor activity in cancer cases. Of course you can also eat them, usually as marmalade, ice-cream or liquor. It is believed that the latter, called Huachacay, in full moon nights can solve any question, although I haven't been able to find out if you ask the liquid directly, or if you have to address the bottle, or if it means that the one who drinks it says only the truth so you can ask him or her anything. The legend is confusing.
Mote wheat, along with the huesillo (little bone) which is dried peach, arrived with the colony. The huesillo has that name because it's dried out with its bone whole inside. There also were the orejones (big ears), which were dried peach strips, and the dobladillo, peach opened in four parts to get the bone out. The paring of the mote with the huesillos seems to come from the group selling of both. They were simply sold one next to the other and someone thought of mixing them in a happy revealing accident, not knowing that the national summer drink had just been created. The person who sells it is called motero (motorbike driver in Spanish), profession far from leather and Harley Davidson, as one would like to think. Nowadays there are mote con huesillo stalls at every hot corner. In my opinion, it's like drinking canned peaches from the can, with the addition of the mote, which doesn't allow the whole to be a drink yet, settling in a kind of liquid dessert, but not any less tasty. In the following video, La Tercera paper explains how is it prepared the traditional way:
RECIPE -Mote con Huesillo Interpretation-
- Whole milk
- Orejones (dried peach)
- Mote wheat
- Rum (or pisco)
1. Soak the mote wheat in water overnight.
2. Cook the mote in the milk with the cinnamon, sugar (to taste) and a couple of orejones for about 40 minutes or until the mote is tender.
3. Peel and cut the peach in slices.
4. Fry the peach slices in hot butter for a few seconds, and flambé them with the rum (pour a splash of rum and set it on fire).
5. Serve immediately over the mote, and sprinkle with the almonds (previously toasted) and the remaining orejones slices.
For pino empanadas, like in most of the simple things, there are a million theories about the most intimate details which distinguish the elegance of the ones to the rude of the others. The first one, well known, is if the meat is picada or molida. In Chile molida means minced by machine, and picada minced by hand with a knife, that is like a kind of tiny ragout. On the other hand, it is of vital importance the amount of onions. If an empanada has more onion than meat, then you've been swindled by the seller, who has filled with onion the space of a short meat, and in a meat empanada, you must get meat most of all! Finally there are the different preferences about the number of raisins, not liked by everyone, and the kind of olives. As for me, with one raisin per empanada it's fine, and I'm not fuzzy about the kind of olive, as long as it's boneless. There's nothing worse than a trusting bite against something hard. Anyway, it's best to try to make them yourself:
Pino or filling
- ½ kg beef
- 2 cups of chopped onions
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 spoonfuls of oil
- ¼ cup of raisins
- ½ cup of beef stock
- 1 teaspoon of chopped ají
- ¼ teaspoon of cumin
- ½ teaspoon of oregano
- ¾ teaspoon of salt
- Pepper to taste
- Boneless olives
- 3 boiled eggs
- 1 beaten egg
- 3 cups of flour
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/3 cup of fat, melted
- ¾ cup warm milk
- ¼ cup warm water
For the dough, make a volcano with the dry ingredients, and in the center put the melted fat, milk and water. Knead until it's elastic and not sticky. Let it rest for ½ hour.
For the pino, first of all mince the beef into very small cubes. Soak the raisins in warm water for one hour. Sauté the beef with the onions and garlic until the onions are transparent. Add the stock, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper and ají and let it cook until it thickens. Afterwards let it cool, because if it solidifies a little bit it will be easier to work with Then we spread the dough with a rolling pin and make a 3cm thick layer. Cut circles of about 20cm wide. Cut the boiled eggs in 4 slices each and we are ready to assemble the empanadas: you put one spoonful of filling in the center of every dough circle, along with one boiled egg slice, one olive and one raisin. To seal the empanadas, wet half of the border of the dough, bend it and close it. Paint them with the beaten egg so they will be golden after baking, poke 2 or 3 times so they don't open. Finally, bake at 200°C for 20 minutes, or until the dough is cooked.
Curanto, like Spanish paella, is one of those national dishes which are no longer prepared at home and have become a tourist attraction. Such is the case that in my travels in Chile it was impossible for me to find it, not even at the curanto's meca, Chiloé island. This cooking process consists on digging a hole on the ground and filling it with red-hot stones. Over them you put the ingredients displayed in different layers separated by leafs from plants such as the pangue or tepes, following a hierarchy according to which you cook from the most natural to the most cultural: in the first layers, closer to the heat, you put the meat and the seafood, and in more superficial layers you put the pulses and milcao (raw and cooked grated potato dough) and chapalele (wheat flour and potato dough). The holes usually have one meter of diameter, therefore cooking lasts for some never ending hours (about 2 or 3 actually).
The name of this soil pot comes from the mapudungún (mapuche language) cura=stone and antü=heat. In Chiloé's tradition, stones are used in magical rituals to improve the fields fertility. For example the copuca stones, taken from Chepu mountain in Chiloé, are rubbed over the seeds before sowing to ensure the harvest success. Therefore it doesn't seem strange that this stones are also used to gestate the abundance in the womb-pot that curanto is.
Despite the lack of curanto, pulmay is always available, which is curanto in a pot. With no stones to protect it, pulmay is the orphan version of curanto, and, in my opinion, without the rite or tradition, it just becomes an avalanche of ingredients in a pot, like a boiled exquisite corpse. However they do try to perfection it, like in the New Chilean Cuisine prize:
La Once (The Eleven) is not at eleven nor it includes eleven things or eleven ingredients. The etymology of this numerical snack is due to the language in code spoken by the nitrate fields workers, who, by the end of the XIX century, due to the restrictions on alcoholic drinks, used to get together to have a sip of aguardiente (liquor). A-g-u-a-r-d-i-e-n-t-e has eleven letters, therefore it became la once (the eleven).
Nowadays it has nothing to do with alcohol, but with tea or coffee, since la once has become a sort of afternoon tea. It takes place between 5 to 8pm, and many times it substitutes dinner. Besides tea, it always comes with bread, usually marraqueta or hallulla, butter, cold meats, avocado, tomato, cheese, dulce de leche and scrambled eggs. Other more copious versions also include kuchen (cakes) and alfajores, ice-cream and pancakes, or anything that wouldn't look too strange under the label of afternoon tea.
The truth is that, after the asado, it's the most common excuse to get together, and a little more benevolent with vegetarians.
Chileans ain't famous for their asados (roasts or barbecues). Considering that they have as neighbors a country celebrated for their grills, it's complicated to overcome this monopoly. However, the best asados I have tried in my carnivore trajectory have been in Chile. I make this statement running the risk of unleashing the Argentinian fury or provoking riots with torches, but from the bottom of my stomach.
In Chile, asado means meeting, encounter. Any excuse is used to turn to it, and it attends no matter what. It's the closest to a fireplace reunion and the maximum expression of Chileanhood at the September the 18th festival. As the cebador in mate, the parrillero (person who cooks on the grill) is the only one allowed to operate on the parrilla (grill), and he guards it like a jealous husband. The most valued cuts are very similar to the Argentinian ones, so I'll just include a couple of more graphic examples:
Pork Ribs on Skewer
This way of roasting depends exclusively on the quality of the meat, the angle in which it inclines over the fire and the amount of time it stays over it. The one from the image was over the fire for about 4 hours and at 40°, and the result would turn the firmest vegetarian.
Choripan does not need presentation for the explanatory of its name: chorizo and pan (bread). The bread is always marraqueta and the chorizo is fresh (meaning it hasn't been dried) and it's made with approximately 70% beef meat and 30% pork meat, all seasoned with nutmeg, fennel, sweet pepper, clove and cinnamon.
In Punta Arenas we were lucky enough to eat at the Best Picada (pub) of Chile, real title given by the Chilean National Culture Council.
The picada's name is Kiosko Roca, and their specialty is choripan and banana milk. The choripans are unusually round, and instead of having the chorizo shaped as a sausage, it's like a pate (what the Spanish call sobrasada). The banana milk is made by beating one banana per liter of milk and a lot, a lot of sugar.
The water of the Chilean beaches is famous for being freezing cold and for leaving your skin blue when one ventures into it. Coming from the Mediterranean, known as the great European soup down here, one can't help to be impressed by the Pacific and the concept of ocean. When the two words are combined together, the Pacific ocean doesn't sound placid at all, more like a challenge for sailors. However, it's not that cold everywhere in this ocean, but only in the Chilean and Peruvian coast because of the Humboldt current, which is originated by the deep water ascent. In its way, this enigmatic water drags nitrates and phosphates from the seabed, which feed the phytoplankton. This favors the zooplankton development, which at the same time feeds the fish and seafood in an exquisite cycle, making this maritime feast one of the purest of the world.
Like Brazilian fruit, Chilean seafood is unique to the country and almost unknown outside. Strangers like locos, machas or picorocos fill the coastal menus. Locos come from the rocks, as well as mussels (here choros), and they are snails actually although they look like oysters or scallops on the outside. Their blood is blue and they have a consistency like the meat one, mind you, royal! Machas look like white mussels or wide razor clams, although the edible part is the closest to a little pink tongue. For a first flirting the best is to ask for mariscal or paila marina, in which almost every kind of mollusk is gathered, raw in the first one, cooked in the latter.
RECIPE -Parmesan Machas-
by Paulina Silva
The Italians would cover their face with their hands if they saw how they melt here the cheese over seafood (they don't really like it). This recipe even dares to be called Parmesan Machas ! However, there's not a happier combination than Chilean seafood with cheese.
Parmesan Machas is one of those extreme dishes in which if it comes out alright is a delight, but if not, it's a chewy hell. The best I've tried in my anxious search have been Paulina Silva's ones, splendid cook famous for her Parmesan Machas in the most exclusive circles, and that I'm lucky enough to have as an aunt.
- Lemon juice
- White wine
- Parmesan cheese
- Cheese to melt (cheddar or mozzarella)
- Stem ginger
- Baby capers
- Salt, pepper
1. Open and clean the machas. You need to squeeze them and take the little sand bag away.
2. Beat or hit them with a wooden spoon so they are not chewy. Keep in the fridge.
3. Clean the shells and keep.
4. Beat together the cream, a splash of white wine, another one of lemon juice, some capers, a bit of stem ginger and a bit of the cheese to melt. The quantities depend entirely on personal taste.
5. Preheat the oven to 220°C.
6. Display the shells on the baking tray and put one caper in each one, then one macha, a splash of white wine, a spoonful of the cream we made before, a cheese piece and finally sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
7. Cook in the oven until the machas look pinkish and the cheese has melted.
8. Time to eat!
"It's impossible to compare pebre with chancho en piedra (...). The flavour of chancho en piedra comes from the stone and the grinding. It has nothing to do with pebre."
Interview with Carmen G Larraín, in The Pleasing Pot, by Sonia Montecino, ed Catalonia, 2005.
For any Chilean, the foreign intention of joining the pebre and chancho en piedra (literal translation: pork on stone) under the same definition must be as annoying as being confused with your twin brother all the time. It's undeniable that there are similarities, but when one starts to go into detail about it, one discovers the moles and expressions that distinguish one brother from the other one. In the chancho en piedra the ingredients are ground with the mortar, which, obviously, has to be a stone one. Rock salt is ground first, along with garlic, onion and tomato. It's seasoned with lemon, oil and a bit of coriander, but never with ají (chili). On the other hand pebre is finely chopped onion, garlic, coriander and yes, ají. Just sometimes it has tomatoes (chopped, not ground), some other it has merkén (Southern Pebre), parsley (Green Pebre) or ají cacho de cabra, which transforms it into fury made sauce and makes brave whoever adopts it at his table.
So close in appearance, so far in etymology. It is believed that the word pebre comes from Catalan, where it means pepper. The chancho en piedra case is more complicated. Some versions maintain that "chancho" (pork) comes from the porky or filthy way of the spatula used to grind the ingredients, and "piedra" (stone) because of the stone used to mash this paste. A different version says that "chancho en piedra" is an alteration from "chanca en piedra". In Chile, Peru and Argentina, "chanca" is synonym of crushed. "Chancar" comes from the Quechua "chamgay" and it means to mash or to crush. What is clear is that "chancho en piedra" is a confusing assignment, because it fills our expectations with pork. However, one of the closest flavors to meat is tomato, one of the the fifth flavor's representative, an umami agent.
In spite of their different compositions they both come along for identical occasions: meat, choripan (chorizo with bread), empanadas (pasties), or even bread on its own. Sauces in general tend to be optional, but pebre and chancho en piedra are, with no doubt, essential. They mutate the flavor completely making it Chilean, and it's such a clear taste, so distinctive, that it allows you to visit Chile from any plate containing it, no matter how far from.