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Gastronomy: predicting fate through the alignment of food

One of the things that fascinates people is foreign food, the allure of something so ostentatiously not normal during a time and practice that most feel is obviously normal. In a grotesque sense, this is the American scoping out the foreign McDonald’s for abnormalities in the menu. I’m not really interested in taking photos of food and declaring to people “look at the funny/yummy/adjective things I’m eating!”, nor does my disposition favor that typical blogging direction, but, nonetheless, I’ve decided to list some of the more interesting cuisine I’ve quaffed in Chile. In a country as large as Chile it would be foolish to claim dishes are static. The north sees an increased use of quinoa and mango, both of which are produced in a region whose food is sometimes closer to Peruvian cuisine. The south, on the other hand, tends to have a greater influence of mapuche culinary practices as well as certain crops only endemic to that area —for instance, Chiloe is said to produce the best potatoes in the world and is a staple of southern Chile’s diet. That said, the middle region enjoys the splendors of all other areas (plus a wealth of tomatoes) and, even then, many dishes are consistent only with region product substitutions. With some of the anthropology out of the way it’s time to move on to the food:

Principle dishes

Humita

Fresh corn, basil, onion and sometimes pepper are combined to form a masa harina that is placed inside a horn husk that is folded and tied together with it’s own loose ends so that it looks like a small parcel. On occasion sugar is added to the inside to make the mixture sweet. The whole this is boiled and then served wrapped, usually with fresh tomato slices or a spicy sauce, sometimes sauteed vegetables. 

Pastel de choclo

A paste of sweet corn is lain on top of a filling that Chileans call pino —or protein (beef or, in my case, soy protein) mixed with onion and paprika— which is on top of a layer of cooked eggs (some also add olives and/or raisins to this layer). The whole thing is baked together until the top layer is a crispy golden brown.

Papas rellenas

Baked potato surrounding cheese and mushrooms, packed together in a small, oval shape, cooked until golden brown on the outside —at which point the potato mixture has a consistency that resembles friend dough— and then topped with powdered sugar. Sometimes meat is used as a filler as well. 

Charquicán/carbonatta

If a group of people are talking, their conversations so passionate and involved that an outsider coming into the circle would result in them hearing a chaotic mess of garbled tales and no clear connections then what has manifested is charquicán. In culinary terms this came to signify any large mass of vegetables and spices cooked together in a similar way that a stir-fry might signify a general umbrella term under which a cook’s creativity can flourish. Now there are some staples of the dish, which include: potato, pumpkin, corn, and onion. Other favorites to add are peas, spinach, and peppers —though again, anything goes. Sometimes the whole mess is served with a fried egg on top and it is nearly always eaten with a side of onions in ceviche. Personally, I think it works best when a ton of merkén is added.

Carbonatta is simply a variant of the charquicán dish, adding more rice and more water with the goal of having a more stew-esque mixture. Some eve say Cazuela —a stew with one full half of corn, one large half of a potato, large slice of pumpkin, and large piece of meat in a broth— is a third variant of this family of dishes, all of which bear names that have the same origin.

Fruit:

Caqui

With a quick glance the red skin, smooth texture, and green stem of fruit look like a tomato. The caqui comes from a tree found throughout Chile, one whose fruits do not really begin to mature until the leaves have fallen off ––most farmers take advantage of this, picking the fruits while still green so as to get them to market before they ripen, but if one were to encounter the tree naturally they would find a beautiful silver-grey tree surrounded by dried leaves and holding a wealth of red-orange fruits. Most Chileans buy the fruit and let it mature for days in their houses; once it is a bright red-orange, soft, and the body is practically melting off the stem the two are pulled apart, the skin peeled down like when one opens a banana, and the insides are eaten with a spoon. The marmalade-esque texture is complemented by a flavor that combines the Chinese persimmon with a hint of a mango. It is subtly sweet, smooth, and easily confusable with a prepared desert.

Feijoa

On the outside it looks like a slightly longer, smother lime. Inside it has the texture of a slightly tougher, and less mushy, banana. The taste is mildly acidic, sweet and yet slightly sour at the same time, conjuring flavors of guava, strawberry, and pineapple with a pleasant (and noticeable) aftertaste of wintergreen. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable things about eating a feijoa is that as soon as it is cut the aroma fills the room, this particular fruit does not have a smell that one would expect as in genuinely smells like a fine perfume (with your eyes closed you could not tell the difference).

Pepino dulce

When mature the pale yellow skin is highlighted with purple strips that look like the result of a quick attempt to paint the fruit in a more attractive manner. The flavor recalls a mix of honeydew melon and cucumber, perhaps some papaya.

Cherimoya

Oblong-ish, oval, and somewhat smooth it feels similar to an avocado when ripe (though is the size of a grapefruit). Inside it has a white, creamy flesh filled with black seeds. Remove them and one is free to eat the flesh which tastes of banana, pineapple, papaya, peach, and strawberry and has the marvelous texture of good sherbet.

Murta

Small, reddish (or purplish) berries that were called “Uni” by the Mapuche who first harvested them (they are only found in southern Chile). It has the texture of a creamier Asian pear with an equally sweet flavor ––kinda like a mix between strawberries and vanilla cream with a strong presence of guava. Some Chileans say it tastes like cotton candy.

Desert:

Alfajor

There’s no one way to make these pastries that originated on the Iberian peninsula, but one thing is for sure they no longer adhere to the traditional Spanish recipe (this is due to the lack of availability of ingredients in early South America). They almost always have manjar/dulce del leche and can have fruit marmalade included. The desert is two round biscuits joined together by manjar or fruit, the whole thing is then covered in powdered sugar or, more often, some type of chocolate. Sweet, soft, and addicting.

Murta con mebrillo/ descarcasada

In the first the fruit and the grain (usually something like quinoa) are cooked together with sugar; the water comes out of the fruit and joins with the sugar to make a sweet syrup for the murta and quinoa to be consumed in. The other one has peaches de-pitted and cooked with sugar to make a syrup that they are left in. When ready to consume they are poured into a bowl with a grain like quinoa and eaten. The mixture of soft fruit, sweet juice, and slightly tougher grains makes the dish an interesting one to consume.

Bourbon cookies from Tip top

Although these can only be found in Viña del mar they are certainly worth mentioning, The name says it all, tip top makes a thin, crispy cookie out of little more than bourbon, butter, and sugar. Everyone says it is best to eat them fast before they loose their crispiness ––if nothing else, it’s a good excuse to quaff them down.

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