On Anthony Bourdain and Food
“If I’m in Rome for only 48 hours, I would consider it a sin against God to not eat cacio e pepe, the most uniquely Roman of pastas, in some crummy little joint where Romans eat. I’d much rather do that than go to the Vatican. That’s Rome to me.” – Anthony Bourdain, 1956 – 2018
Of course, the memory of Anthony Bourdain was bound to be felt pretty strongly during our trip to Chile. It has barely been two months since his passing, and his loss was felt greatly by many a Michelin-star chef and home cook. My husband, the latter, who embraced Bourdain for his love of food and life, felt this blow particularly hard.
Visiting Santiago and now, reflecting back on the food, I feel I have a Bourdain-like appreciation and fascination for all things Chilean. Things that, at the time, I was indifferent to or at worst hostile to. You see, the first thing I had to understand is that Chileans don’t eat like Mediterraneans. Sure, you’ll find a fair number of posey Italian restaurants, but as most locals will tell you, the pasta is best avoided.
If there’s one thing that Europe’s sun-bleached centre does well, it’s food. I’m not a foodie, I’m a boring, bland, picky eat-because-I’m-hungry kind of person, but having been deprived of my usual food choices for the better part of three weeks, I guess I gained a new sense of appreciation for my home cuisine.
“Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.”
For all the hype on the internet about ‘Santiago’s emerging food scene’, I struggled to really get it. While Santiago does have some wonderful dishes, fantastic restaurants (you must check out Peumayen Ancestral Food!) and diverse cuisine, it certainly lacks a few things. And, just as dear Anthony would have, I’m going to tell it like it is, as eloquently as I can. 1. Chileans Like Meat, Lots Of Meat I came across entire booklet-sized menus without seeing a single meat-free dish on the menu. And whilst I’m no vegetarian, I can and do like to skip meat at some meals, particularly when my arteries are begging me to do so.
2. Eggs, Eggs, Eggs
You don’t buy these babies in half dozens. You buy a whole crate full, and then do the same again tomorrow. They sure do love their eggs.
3. That’s Not A Salad
As a general rule, I don’t do restaurant salads. Overpriced and over-leafed, I prefer to make my own. However, as I was desperate to eat something that didn’t once moo, cluck or oink, I braved the salad menu. It turns out, tomato and onion counts as a salad out here.
Poor Man’s Meat
One of the most common dishes that you’ll find on any restaurant menu in central Santiago is the Lomo a la pobre, or poor man’s steak. A piece of fairly tasty pork is unceremoniously given a duvet of eggs, and smothered by a mountain of chips. Delicious? Certainly. A daily appointment? Certainly not.
5.. Great For Drinks
While I was personally underwhelmed by my honeymoon fodder, I was more than impressed by the drinks on offer. From the beautifully easy-to-drink and quick-to-make-you-happy Pisco Sour to araucania, to dubious quantities of Fernet Branca. Not forgetting the wine that even France is begging for.
Coffee Has Legs
Yes, it really does. If you’re in the mood for a rather strong wake up call on a cold winter morning, why not pop down to one of several franchises: Cafe Haiti, Cafe Bombay or Cafe Caribe, to enjoy a short cup of coffee served by a waitress with an even shorter skirt.
There’s More To It Than Food
It really wasn’t about the food. Travelling isn’t about eating, it’s about getting to know the locals, their lifestyle, understanding their morning routine and what keeps them up at night. Whether it’s being casually followed by the world’s friendliest stray dogs, to steep climbs up the Cerro San Cristobal, this is the heart of Santiago and what makes it unique. This place is rich, it’s poor, it’s progressive and it’s backward. As Bourdain would say, it’s not a Hallmark card.
Understanding the food culture of a foreign land is about first understanding the culture. Chile is only just emerging from a cruel dictatorship, and those scars run deep. Economically strong, Chile is somewhat torn between the past, the present and its somewhat bright future. Down on the street, inequality is still high, and the people work hard for pretty shoddy money, but things are looking up. The Chileans are resilient, happy to serve you the food that keeps them full and satisfied all day long. The food that is cheap to buy, easy to prepare and easy to cook en-masse.
For now, it’s about getting by, prosperity will happen later.
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