"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.