Santiago Days (Food and Drink in Chile)

By 08 February, 2011

Santiago Days is a new column by Mark Briggs, taking a magnifying glass to life in Santiago, Chile. This week he is going to bring you some of those little bits of life that tell you you’re in Santiago, Chile, South America. And it’s going to be food and drink.

The first food to mention is undoubtedly manjar. My brief research into the subject has found it is from the condensed milk family of treats. It isn’t a uniquely Chilean staple. It can be found all over the continent (with names including dulce de leche and doce de leite). It tastes a little bit like caramel, a little like a Werthers Original. If you have breakfast in Chile manjar will be there. Although I simply can’t handle something that rich and sweet in the morning, it is a good pick me up when you get back from work.

Next we will look at empanadas. Take some dough and fillings (local favourites include mushroom and spinach or tomato, ham, and cheese) then put in an oven. Good things will happen.

This is a side of Latin American culture straight from the Spanish textbook. Stalls selling these things are everywhere. Every little shops will have empanadas, they may lack peanut butter (seriously no idea where I can find that!) but empanadas and manjar have suitably filled that particular snacking void vacated by that crunchy, smooth, nutty, buttery…

Drink now! I would like to bring to your attention the delight of the evening and scourge of the next day that is Pisco. Every country has found away to produce alcohol. Each chooses their particular favourite way to get a bit boisterous and bleary-eyed. Pisco is Chile’s number one choice.

Find a glass (about a half pint) fill it up with ice, add pisco til you hit halfway then add some coke to the top. That will set you back “tres lukas” and the next day of your life.

Traditionally, and in travel guides, you hear of the pisco sour. A cocktail invented – and here I sit firmly on the fence – by either Chile or Peru. There have been many a battle, both legal and not so legal, over who can lay claim to this drink and hence promote it round the world a la the Scots and whiskey.

It shows no sign of abating so I will simply say this. I’m not that big of a fan. Too sweet (the glasses are lined with sugar) and also too sour (because its full of lemon). Instead of contradicting each other they battle for supremacy of your mouth long after you’ve swallowed the thing. I’ve also heard some disturbing things about the use of uncooked egg whites. Although thankfully I think that’s more of a Peruvian variation.

Fittingly Peru celebrated national pisco day this weekend. Poor devils.

I should mention one other “cocktail” that’s making big strides across Chilean bars at the moment. The Terromoto. Translated as ‘earthquake’ the drink comes served in a half litre, largely full of white wine, a mysterious dark line represents a shot, of a still unknown amongst my peers, liqueur. The whole thing is topped off with healthy scoop of…pineapple ice cream. I leave it up to you if you want to try that one at home.

It’s more of the café style here, not so much the queuing at the bar, more waiting for the waiter. The main drinking street of Bella Vista (Pio Nono) is lined left and right with plastic chairs and men waiting to bring you and your friends a litre bottle of beer which you share out, and order another. Escudo is defiantly the standard choice for that particular procedure.

I leave you this week on a slightly healthier note. The fruit here at the moment is the bees knees. Fully in season and mostly produced in Chile’s central valley which surrounds the capital, street corners are lined with the stuff; plums, avocados, nectarines, they are all cheap and delicious.

Perhaps because of that Jugos Naturales are also widely found. A mix of fruit juice and smoothie, they are produced on the street, in bars and restaurants, and bizarrely the best one I’ve had so far came from an otherwise unremarkable hot dog hut. But there you go, if you keep your eyes open these things cross your path.

As ever you can contact me on twitter @briggsma, or feel free to leave comments at the bottom.

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