Food: It’s the reason we wake up every morning.
In lieu of exhausting my thesaurus in search of sixteen synonyms for “yummy,” I’ll take a more sociological approach to analyzing the Chilean foodscape. Fair warning: you’ll see terms like “culinary imperialism” more often than nonsense phrases like “tantalizing garnish” or “a filling salad.”
Let’s start with a Chilean anthropologist’s definition of food:
Los alimentos son algo más que nutrientes, son signos mediante los cuales las distintas comunidades comunican sus sistemas de prestigio y poder, sus creencias, así como el sustrato valórico que legitima las jerarquías y estatus de las personas y de las cosas. — Prof. Sonia Montecino Aguirre, “Conjunciones y disyunciones del gusto en el sur de Chile”
In short, Montecino says that food is more than nutrition. It’s an expression of a community’s beliefs as well as a system of prestige that legitimizes the status of people within that community’s hierarchy. So what does the food here say about Chilean society?
“Preparing an authentic Mapuche meal.” Photo: Daniel Bergerson, 2015.
Well, there is a difference between Chilean food and food in Chile. The first is the canonized cuisine of a colonial society blending indigenous (mostly Mapuche) and European (mostly Spanish) traditions, while the second is the modern-day menu that one can actually find on supermarket shelves and in the streets of Santiago.
Most travel writing describes Chilean food rather than food in Chile, so I’ll start with the former and leave the culinary imperialism for dessert.