When was the last time you tasted something without knowing that it was? We live in such a globalized world that this experience is becoming fairly rare—I mean, even my grand-mother know what sushis are. She won’t eat them, though—to her, not cooking the fish is plain laziness, and why would anyone pay so much for raw fish and rice?!
I had the chance to give my taste buds something new to try in Santiago when I noticed vendors selling “Mote con huesillo” all along the Paseo Ahumada. I had no idea what kind of drink this was, but I bought one glass—the chico size for $1, not the litro. Verdict? It tasted like sweet iced tea. A bit too sugary, but this was a great beverage to share: Feng had the peach, Mark drank the juice and I ate the wheat.
I researched the “national drink of Chile” afterwards. The sweet clear nectar liquid is made with dried peaches (huesillo) cooked in sugar, water and cinnamon, and then once cooled mixed with fresh cooked husked wheat (mote).
The first thing I noticed about food when we arrived in Santiago is that there was international cuisine, unlike in Argentina and Uruguay where restaurants mostly revolve around meat, pizza and pasta. Just in our block, you had the choice between Thai food, sushi, Peruvian sandwiches and seafood.
That said, I didn’t have a great memory of food in Chile, and I immediately remembered why—Chileans seem to have an unusual fondness for hot dogs, burger-like sandwiches, sausage and fries. This is the basic kind of food food you find in fuentes de soda, the cheap restaurants. So, once again, I opted for empanadas—ham and cheese, mushroom and cheese, corn, etc. I’m in love with these savoury turnovers. As for bakery, they don’t do the bite-size facturas but offered huge portions of cakes, the more cream and dulce de leche, the better.
The central Mercado is still here, but I found it more upscale than the last two times we were there. I wasn’t hungry for fish in the middle of the day—too hot.
Food is cheaper than Uruguay, and slightly cheaper than in Argentina, although I do think overall mid-range restaurants in Argentina offer better deals, with meat dishes for instance (better cuts, etc.).
As for people, Chileans are different from Argentinians and Uruguayans. “Duh!” you may think. But it’s quite obvious: they are people from the Andes and look less European, they are Mestizos. Santiago also felt more multicultural than Buenos Aires, with folks from Bolivia, Peru, China, etc. Of course, these are just quick observations from an outsider arriving in Chile, demographic data could prove me wrong!