What a fitting name for this Korean restaurant. Every dish is based on chicken, except for sides of salad or fries. The short of it is the following: very efficient, friendly service with fresh food in strikingly clean, beautifully wood-paneled dining rooms with loads of daylight sweeping in. It’s a delightful place to sit in right in the middle of Patronato on Antonia Lopez de Bello. The downside is that the food is just okay. Not bad, not great. But to be fair, we only tried the standard lunch dish. It includes thin, pounded chicken breast dusted and baked in panko bread crumbs with zero additional seasoning. It’s served with plain white rice, boring and mealy french fries and a small tossed salad with a sesame-Dijon type dressing easily improved upon at home. The chicken is topped with a dollop of mushroom sweet and sour sauce. This particular meal came HIGHLY recommended by some friends. A lot of Chileans aren’t too familiar with the variety of Asian foods out there, so depending upon your palette, you may really love this place. Everything else on the menu is served family style for 2 or 3 people per dish and appears to be much more spiced. They also serve fresh yellow, red or green pepper, spinach, banana, apple, carrot and beet juices or lemonade. I could go back and try the other plates, or head over to a neighboring Korean BBQ joint instead, if only to escape the K-pop pouring out of the speakers and on constant display on the giant TV. They have birthday party packages available and I’d venture to guess they would get it done right. The establishment is definitely one of the more professionally run places I’ve come across in Santiago. Did I mention the restrooms sparkle?
Television in Chile has all the crap one can find in most places like “reality” TV, game shows and celebrity shite, but there are some stand-outs worth checking out online. One is called En Su Propia Trampa or Caught In Your Own Trap and is so classically Chilean. It is about people who make a living out of estafas or trampas, which are bullshit stories used to sucker money or other gain out of unwitting folks. I catch it every once in awhile and every time I do I find myself maybe a little too excited to watch the hustlers fall. The most recent one featured a woman who made up a story about having cancer, being a psychologist and helping other children with cancer and receiving a lot of donated cash through her website stuffed full with tall tales. The show producers typically set up a scenario in which the liars are publicly called out and made to answer to their lies. In this recent episode they brought out a mess of witnesses who she’d lied to or representatives from the universities she’d supposedly attended or hospitals where she was allegedly seeking treatment who all unequivocally stated they had no record of her ever in attendance or that they in fact do not treat cancer at their hospital, so she could not possibly be their patient. Then the liars usually kick it into high gear but there is nothing more than can really say. There is something thrilling about watching the shysters squirm.
My personal favorite is Recomiendo Chile hosted by Chilean chefs. It is about food, drink and travel throughout Chile. How could you go wrong? Aside from the capital with half of the country’s population, the rest of the country is fairly rural. There are several mid-sized cities of course, but thousands of small towns that are simply gorgeous and inspire one to leave the city behind. The show features a lot of scenery and recipes from the Mapuche people in the Araucanía region, to the Italian families of Capitán Pastene, fisher-families on the sea, Easter Island [Rapa Nui], the various indigenous peoples in the northern highlands or even the sizable German population in the south, and so on and so forth. It makes me want to hop in the car that I don’t have and just go! It’s best to watch this show after eating, or you will just suffer through it. It is, however, a slower-paced lazy stroll through the nation. There is nothing adventure sport about it. They have a lot of clips on the ‘tube. Here is just a minute of season 3.
An excellent drama now in it’s final season is called Los 80’s [ochentas] about living in Chile through the dictatorship during the eighties. It follows an average family as their lives are affected by the changing political situation and strife that was life for many during that time. The characters are well-written and acted and really draw the viewer in. It’s quite helpful to paint a picture of life that is beyond the bare facts and figures of that era. The show successfully captures the style, fashion and imagery of that decade. Again, a great snapshot of Santiaguinos casual speech. This is the first part of the first episode, first season.
Lastly, 31 Minutos! This show is loved by children of all ages. It’s a sarcastic and hilarious, puppet-based fake news broadcast and features music by all kinds of Chilean bands who make funny songs specifically for the show. The original program ended in 2008, but it was recently revived to the delight of grown-up kids everywhere.
If you’re on your way to Chile or already here and want a good source for foody connections, join the Facebook group “Food Finds – Chile”. It is full of good folks from around the globe who are into food, drink, cooking and dining out with a ton of good tips on how to find what you need to make a feast. In the last five plus years that I’ve been here, the food scene has really exploded, but you still have to know where to go and where to avoid. The range is vast on the quality spectrum. Also, I mentioned on there that I have dairy kefir grains, yogurt culture [the real deal] and kombucha SCOBY for gifting if anyone is on the lookout at any point. Just hit me up! And of course – spread the love. Happy food hunting.
Ñam Ñam = Yum Yum – Both the sound of the words and the festival are equivalent to delicious. If you’re not sure, that little mark above the N adds in a little Y sound so it does sound like yummy which I think is adorable. Anyhow, I’ve been here for five years today! That’s super weird because a] it wasn’t planned and b] how time doth flieth. Today also kicks off the 4th Annual Ñam Latin American Food Festival held this year in and around Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral or the GAM as it’s called. I have recently noticed that so many cultural, gastronomic and artistic events are all entering there 4th or 5th year in 2014. Were they waiting for me to get here? I guess not, but it certainly is handy. The whole weekend features cooking demonstrations, talks, tastings and markets for food and drink. The restaurants surrounding the GAM in the Lastarria neighborhood are said to be offering special dishes and festival discounts. There is even relevant cinema and film on offer that should pair nicely. Check it out!
This past weekend was the ACHIGA Gastronomy and Food Industry Fair wherein restaurant industry people and others could go and try a variety of food, watch demonstrations and peruse and test restaurant items from furniture to industrial stoves. Marcela and I spent seven hours there on Saturday meeting a heckuva lot of really nice people and snacking on way too many things from Wagyu beef to salmon tartar, ice cream, wine, hard cider, dried fruit, frozen fruit and an excessive amount of Italian coffee. I was surprised by how tasty farm-raised lamb is, having never been a huge meat eater. The people demonstrating different lamb-based recipes at the Buena Carne stand were informative and generous with the food, including lamb kebabs and a lamb stew with homemade oven-baked bread.
The other nice surprise was how delicious Concha y Toro’s upscale wines are. I will drink red wine that costs 2 bucks a bottle, or 200 for that matter, but I’d always thought their wines were only the cheap variety. They do sort of have that reputation in the US, but their higher end stuff is quite good. We tried the 2010 Terrunyo Carmenere, the 2011 Gran Reserva Syrah and the 2012 Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon. I like big reds and if that’s your thing you will appreciate this spicy cab, and even the Syrah is quite full-bodied and fruity. Carmenere is Chile’s signature varietal, so if you’re looking to try something that is classic in this region I’d try the Terrunyo. I’m motivated to check out the vineyard tour they offer in Pirque found in the countryside immediately to the south of Santiago. It’s under an hour by bus to get there.
The other demonstrations included an explanation of different types of cacao plants where they discussed organic chocolate versus super-processed stuff and the variety of chocolates produced in Peru. It really is quite different. Chocolate isn’t my thing, but after having tried the homegrown quality made stuff in Peru I’ve been converted. Properly produced high-quality chocolate with 55% or more cacao is nothing like chocolate bars at the checkout counter. It’s like comparing champagne and gassy water.
I’ve been trying to find chicken that isn’t marinated, but all the grocery stores I’ve been to here sell “marinated” birds, which means they’ve been injected with saline solution to flavor them, plump up their weight and increase their shelf life. Canto del Gallo sells boneless free-range frozen chicken that has no additives, hormones or additional salt added to them. You can order through their website.
Worst thing at the fair? Nestlé foods “desserts”. They had mousse-like things in cups with three flavors, which all tasted like industrial processed nastiness that is likely mostly vegetable oil and sugar with fake flavorings.
Yeah, beans. Imagine putting a simple looking, medium sized off-white fresh bean in your mouth. Imagine it is warm, steeped in a summery mix of chopped corn and basil, maybe dusted with a touch of Parmesan. You barely sweep your tongue over the the delicate seed recently liberated from its pod, and it melts as if on command like country whipped butter. Add in the nutritional kick from this humble vegetable and it’s almost too good to be true. I’ve never had a legume quite so perfect as the Poroto Granado.
It may be because it’s fresh that it can be so wonderful in texture and a perfect mix with any sort of vegetable or meat. If you dry them, in Chile they are then called Poroto Viejo, or old bean. Blech. Boring. The standard recipe here calls for a decent stock, homemade is best if you want to avoid the MSG and all manner of extra useless colorings and anti-caking this or that. Essentially, you need a simple stock of bay leaves, onion and garlic [I like to throw shallots in nearly everything] to start. Sauté those babies together, cook the beans once shelled in boiling water, add in ground corn, pumpkin squash and chopped fresh basil, a touch of salt and there you have it, a summer stew. I never measure anything – I suppose if I were a baker I’d be forced to – but if you like to, search for a Porotos Granados recipe and you’ll find plenty of variations in English or Spanish.
I’ve recently seen a post on the crackBook by a Chilean-United Statesian friend saying she’d found them at a market in New York and they were selling them as “Cranberry Beans”, of course this may be due to the red-colored shell they come in. Granada refers to pomegranate, while granado is the pomegranate tree [Often the feminine version of a word is the fruit, and the masculine is the tree it comes from. Backwards? Maybe], as well as “choice or select”. I tend to think this is the meaning behind the recipe, because they really are that much better than any dried or canned bean I’ve ever had. In my life. I’m not sure if “cranberry bean” came from an incorrect translation of pomegranate, or it’s just because they’re red. Regardless, cranberry bean sounds so much more delightful and festive than “choice beans”. The point is, if you find ’em, try ’em. It’s a fab veg dish, and extra taste-tastical if you add a touch of mild, white cheese and hot sauce. I think I’ll make a piquant batch of minestrone with them, and it shall be wondrous.
Speaking of hot sauce, there is one made in the Mapuche area of Chile that is smoky like aged earth with the perfect blend of heat and flavor that you can’t buy in a store. I don’t even know if it has a name beyond “smoky, hot sauce from the south”. They sell it in little plastic bags for 40 cents a pop. And the red. Such a luscious, full-blooded color it almost looks as if it’s been distilling and perfecting itself for hundreds of years. I have a hot sauce smuggler who works in the region, but lives in Santiago so he brings it here to shut me up. I have committed myself to finding out how it is made and seeing if I can replicate the magic. It will be so worth the hunt.
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If you can’t go to Germany for Oktoberfest, go to Chile’s festival with a German! It worked for me. This two week beer-tasting party in Malloco just outside of the city is a guaranteed good time, especially on a weekday when there’s no line for the potty. Samples are free, and an average half liter […]