Friday, August 30, 2013

My Daily Bread

I have had a lot of people ask me how the food is down here, so I decided to devote a blog post to it! If you are like most North Americans, you probably picture all Latin American food as containing some type of bean and being spicy. This conception is completely wrong, at least when it comes to Chilean food. Chile had a strong influx of German immigration in past centuries, which has affected the food here profoundly. Chile is 2nd in the world for quantify of bread consumed per person; Germany, of course, takes 1st place. We eat a LOT of bread here, and the majority is white bread. In fact, there is even a kind of white bread prepared with lard and lots of salt that is incredibly delicious, but incredibly unhealthy.

Just about none of the food here is spicy. I mentioned this casually to my host sister at lunch one day, and she said, But of course we have spicy food, like what we are eating now! We were eating a lentil and cheese casserole. I laughed and responded that I like my food so spicy that tears come to my eyes as I eat it. Everything is relative I guess. The only exception to the no-spice rule is pevere, which is kind of like pico de gallo, but pevere is generally only served in restaurants as far as I can tell.

Chileans are, however, big fans of mayonnaise. Even supermarkets with very limited shelf space have an astonishing variety:
I have had mayonnaise on salads, on hot dogs, and on top of ravioli instead of red sauce. Yummm.

Here are some of the local specialties I have tried (disclaimer- I found the pictures on other websites, I didn't take them)
1. Manjar- the same thing as dulce de leche, which is a caramel-like spread. My host family and I eat it with sliced up bananas, but it is also common in ice cream, cakes, and snack cakes. Confession: Usually my dessert here is some time of snack cake, like the kind that Hostess makes. They are the most readily available, and they're actually pretty good.
2. Completos- translated, it means "The Works." A hot dog with avocado, mayonnaise, and tomato.
3. Pastel de choclo- Kind of like chicken pot pie conceptually, but different. Picture a corn bread crust, filled with a stew of vegetables and meat, and with olives and a whole chicken wing tucked away in the middle.
4. Charquicán- This is a typical food of the Araucanos, or the indigenous peoples that have lived in a southern region of Chile for centuries. It is mashed potatoes mixed with veggies and meat, and topped by a fried egg. This was one of my favorite dishes that I have tried to date.
5. Chorrillana- French fries topped with stewed onions, scrambled eggs, and cooked strips of beef. It is every bit as greasy as it sounds haha.
6. Pisco- a type of hard liquor made from grapes. Piscolas, or pisco mixed with Coke, are pretty much the national drink of Chile. I prefer Pisco Sours, which taste kind of like a margarita.

So, after trying lots of the local cuisine, I have been really missing a lot of my favorite foods from home. Mexican food is at the top of the list of things I miss, although I was able to find a decent Mexican restaurant here which I will go to again soon. I also really miss cookies, since the closest thing they have to fresh cookies here are Oreos, which as everyone knows are not even close to the same thing. Therefore, today I embarked on an adventure: making homemade chocolate chip cookies for my host family!

I had to improvise quite a bit. First of all, they don't have chocolate chips in the supermarkets here. The fix for this was easy enough, simply buy a chocolate bar and chop it up. Next I found out that they don't have brown sugar. I compensated by grating chancaca, a hard block of cane sugar with a high molasses content, and mixing it with azucar rubia, which is basically Sugar in the Raw. Here is what chancaca looks like: 

Next, anyone who knows my type-A personality, as well as the fact that AP Chemistry was one of my favorite classes ever, can probably guess that I take a very precise approach to my baking. I was naturally not pleased to find out that measuring cups are not a thing here in Chile. I couldn't find anything other than a large Pyrex measuring glass in the SuperLíder (Walmart superstore) here, which was really expensive because it's imported. So I did as the Chileans do and totally guessed on the quantities of everything. Finally, the ovens don't have a way of selecting a temperature. You turn up or down the knob to use more or less gas and thereby approximate the temperature.

Basically the only thing in my favor was that I am at sea level, which as all bakers know is much easier than the 7000 ft that I deal with in Palmer Lake. After overcoming all the other obstacles, I finally came up with some chocolate chip cookies! Well, more or less. They taste different and have a different texture than those in the US, but they are passable. And my host family really liked them, so I suppose that is all that matters! Although they had mixed opinions about the raw cookie dough I had them try, and they were surprised to find out that we have chocolate cookie dough ice cream in the US. Overall, it was just another experience in being flexible and rolling with the punches for everyone involved!

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