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.
We’ve made it through August as they say here, the deadliest winter month, and are moving on into Spring. A lot of events are starting to kick off from the Feria de la Mujer Indígena [Indigenous Women Festival] to Ecological festivals and soon everything Dieciocho de Septiembre related – aka Independence Day. Santiago a Mil comes to town in January and a lot of film festivals are happening throughout spring and summer. The Department of Cultural Affairs in Chile has this handy link that directs you to the various festivals throughout the nation. Many take place in Santiago, but there are a number of them in the south, north and the coast. From cartoon, animation, women-made films, shorts, full-length, documentary, national, international, and social commentary, there is a lot to choose from. One I have yet to attend, but sounds interesting is all about the environment and sustainability in Antarctica. It takes place over three events in southern Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales and Puerto Williams. Many are free, several are not. There are usually volunteering opportunities that will provide you with free screenings and a chance to meet the filmmakers if that’s your thing. If you are learning Spanish, movies are a great way to practice. If you need a language break, there are always plenty of English titles on offer as well. Happy screening.
For more of what’s shakin’ up and down this skinny strip of a nation, check out the tourism board’s page.
Many foreigners spending time in Chile think of Mendoza, Argentina as a place to do a visa renewal run and little more. I believe now you can pay a fee and extend it without traveling, but Mendoza is still worth a visit. Unfortunately, the Argentinean government is desperate for cash so they’ve expanded the entry tax fee from only airports to any means of entry and you have to prepay online. This covers Australians and Unitedstatesians traveling for tourism or business, and Canadians traveling for tourist purposes. If you are a resident of a MERCOSUR country but not yet a citizen, and your identification states that you are from one of these three countries, they will still charge you. The payment lasts for ten years, even if your passport doesn’t. You can just give them the number and they’ll look it up and confirm you’ve paid if you no longer have the original. If prepaying online here, print out your PDF to bring with you. Scroll down to Online Instructions under Tasa de Reciprocidad.
This place feels like Chile and Argentina had a romantic fling that resulted in a mini-city. This hybrid nature is most easily recognizable in the linguistic blend. They’ve got the ‘cachai’ and ‘huevon’ variants of Chile, but choose ‘vos’ and put the accent on the penultimate syllable in the imperative, leaving out the stem-change as Argentines do. Instead of ‘siéntate’ for example, they say ‘sentáte’. Of course that last accent mark is superfluous; I just put it there for emphasis.
Mendoza also looks like a small version of Buenos Aires with pasta, pizza, steak and fernet everywhere served in unique cafés that have much more style than does Chile. Fernet is one of the most consumed alcoholic beverages in Argentina, originally from Italy. The liqueur itself is made with a number of bitter herbs and is technically a digestif, but most drink it as a mixed cocktail with cola. The soda makes it sweeter. It’s a unique taste that can’t be compared to anything precisely, but is similar in style to other stomach-soothing herbal liquers. The coffee in Mendoza and Chile is bad. Tea is more typically drunk in Chile, while yerba maté is the thing in Argentina as well as southern Chile. I think that accent mark in the English spelling serves to distinguish it from ‘friend’ or rhyming ‘mate’ with ‘ate’. However, the stress is on MA.
The center of the city is Plaza Independencia, a very large square with two indoor theaters as well as two outdoor staging areas for live music and kids’ shows. Artisans line one entire strip of it, extending for several blocks where talented improptu rock bands and evangelical Christians share space. I like these evangelicals. They set up shop and are there to talk and hand out literature, but don’t get in your face with microphones while shouting about Satan. How refreshing. These particular artisan offerings are honestly the most unique, quality pieces I’ve seen so far in any Latin American country. I got myself a handcarved mate cup made of Algarrobo wood. It’s got one of the typical Argentinean keys folded onto the side as a handle, like those old school ones seen in children’s animated movies.
There are four smaller plazas found equidistant from the central one: Chile, San Martín, Italia and España. Each has a unique design and setup. It’s worth it to walk around the different barrios to find the various art museums, beautiful buildings and food districts. The Sarmiento strip that cuts through the central plaza is the size of a street, but for pedestrians only. This is where you’ll find a lot of bad coffee and average food. Walk on by. Las Heras street on the northwest side near the Plaza de Chile is the center of the Tenedor Libre spots, or all-you-can-eat. Don’t make my mistake of going there in the late afternoon. This city shuts down for siesta time. I forgot about siesta, because it’s not a thing in Santiago. They have distinct lunch and dinner hours. The best meal we ate there was on Arístides Villanueva moving westbound, passing up Plaza Italia. Marce and I had two bottles of delicious Argentinean syrah, and dinner that included two empanadas as an appetizer, juicy steak, salad, side and dessert plus a fat tip for about 35 USD total. That’s nuts. Great service as well. The area is considered a “gastronomic zone” and you can wander up and down the street until you find something that suits you on one of the spacious outside patios or hip interior spaces.
There is plenty of lodging, but I will definitely recommend where we stayed. It’s near the bus station on Don Bosco called Alojarse en Mendoza. Not too original on the name, but the space is an old family building converted into lodging with high-ceilinged private or shared rooms. I had booked a private room with shared bathroom via email and didn’t have to put down a deposit. When we arrived they gave us a room with a private bath and patio as well, simply because it was available – and at the same price. It was about 45 USD per night and included an excellent breakfast of yogurt, granola, dried fruit, various teas, croissants with dulce de leche and hot ham breakfast sandwiches, a wide variety of teas, juice and yes, instant coffee. They prepare it for you at the hour you wish. If you want to be ignored, don’t stay here. They will help you plan any tour or give you tips on anything you’d like to do or see. Alicia will also engage you in long conversations if you let her. But as she’s funny, interesting and a joy to talk with, that’s not a bad thing. When we left we told her we’d be seeing her the next time we return to Mendoza. She says that we can stay even if we don’t have any money and then just pay her whenever we can. Who says stuff like that?
Mendoza is the heart of Argentina’s wine-making region, and I’d like to return for the vendimia [grape harvest] sometime. This trip we spent time listening to live classical music instead. The International Classical Musical Festival is a ten-day event each April with a variety of artists playing in the city and at each of the different wine bodegas. The tickets are only offered in exchange for powdered milk. No cash, no online sales. So we bought the milk and found the office to trade it in and we were told they had no more tickets. Not cool. Well we went to four concerts anyhow. After they let the ticketed folk in, if there were seats left, they’d let us in. There was always plenty of available seating.
From Santiago, Mendoza is only six or seven hours by bus, as long as the mountain pass isn’t closed with snow. If traveling in winter, you’ll likely have to fly. The view driving through the mountains is spectacular. The leaves were changing into fall colors and many of the peaks are naturally pink in color. There are restaurants, shops, horses and small businesses dotted throughout the drive. Oddly, I had expected to see little en el camino. There is nothing better than staring out the window at gorgeous scenery, watching it all shift and twist as you snake through the Andes.
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.