People of Santiago (Plus a Dog)

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

At the corner of Mosqueto and Monjitas, in barrio Santa Lucia, there is a small business with no name. Day or night, people can be seen hanging out in front of the boarded window on the Mosqueto side or sitting on one of the concrete sphere bollards on the Monjitas side.

They are either eating or about to eat pizza and empanadas.

Welcome to the small business with no name, a white façade, a sullen owner, and delicious empanadas.

Like most places, I found this one by chance. In 2014, our flight from Montevideo to Buenos arrived late at night. This was our first time back in Santiago since 2008 and we were staying in a whole different part of town we didn’t know much. I was hungry and I had very little hope of finding anything open since it was close to midnight—Santiago isn’t Buenos Aires where people routinely have dinner at 11 p.m. and go watch a movie at 1 a.m. Besides, I didn’t know what to look for. The only food I remembered eating in Santiago were fries in one of the pedestrian streets and a delicious sopa de pescado at the Mercado Central—no doubt I wouldn’t find either that late at night.

We checked in and I rushed to the supermarket downstairs. Phew, still open. I bought a few things for the guys and looked for something else for me. There were a few cafés open around La Merced but they were just selling drinks and huge slices of cake. Tempting, but I was really hungry and bingeing on cake felt wrong, so I asked around for sandwiches or other acceptable dinner options.

“Over there,” a helpful soul advised.

And this is how I stumbled upon the business with no name. I probably would have walked by without noticing it if it wasn’t for the fact that the lights were on and there were people eating empanadas in front of it.

This is when I stepped in and met the empanada guy.

I mean, I’m sure he has a name but clearly, he couldn’t be bothered giving his business one, so names are irrelevant here. To me, he is the empanada guy. A big sixtysomething man behind the till, curly hair and red face, eyes on the TV.

“Do you have… empanadas?”

He pointed to the menu on the counter. And by “the menu” I mean the single laminated sheet of paper by the till.

I studied it carefully.

Dos empanadas, por favor. Una champiñones queso y una…”

Dos mil seiscientos.”

Apparently, my choice of empanada filling was irrelevant. I looked at the menu. Right. They were all the same price.

I paid and turned to the left.

Another guy by the giant oven was checking if the pizza square another customer was waiting for was ready.

¿Si?

Una champiñones queso y una¿que hay en la napolitana?

Jamón, tomate y queso,” he replied, looking at me as if I was from Mars (unlikely) or high (likely, given the neighbourhood).

Bueno.”

Without a word, he put two empanadas in the oven. Clearly, this wasn’t the kind of place where you customized your food and talked about it on Instagram. Just as well. I was hungry.

As I was waiting, I looked at the display I had missed behind the counter. There was bread but I didn’t have any ham, butter or cheese.

¿Que e esto?

Pan de huevo.”

¿Es dulce o salado?

Okay, maybe it was a stupid question but in many bakeries, I can’t tell what’s sweet or savoury. Cheese bread and coconut bread kind of look the same, for instance. Same goes with empanadas. I don’t have X-ray vision, I gotta ask what is inside.

Es pan de huevo.

Right. Some people like to introduce stupid foreigners to local foods, other don’t give a shit. We were clearly in the “don’t give a shit” category here.

Uno por favor.

I like bread, I like eggs. Maybe I was about to eat bread made with eggs or bread with boiled eggs inside, who cares.

Quinetos.”

I handed him a 500-peso coin. He stood up, put the bread in a paper bag and gave it to me.

¿Y esto?

Coco.

Uno también.”

And so I brought dinner back to the hotel.

It was delicious too, so I’ve been going back there ever since and I can tell you I’ve never seen the empanada smile or utter more than the price to pay. He is a character. His wife too—she’s as sullen as him. They take turn behind the till, which makes sense considering the place is open 24 hours on weekends and until 1 a.m. or 3 a.m. on weekdays.

I like characters like him.

And people of Santiago in general.

Guard at the Palacio de La Moneda. the seat of the President of the Republic of Chile

Clown on Plaza de Armas

Family walking by the Basilica de la Merced

Woman praying at the Basilica de la Merced

Supermarket on calle Monjitas

Internet café on calle Monjitas

Fuente de soda downtown Santiago

Teens at the Costanera Center

Barrio Bellavista

On La Alameda, the main avenue of Santiago

On La Alameda, the main avenue of Santiago

Dog in front of the Costanera Center

Fuente de soda on Plaza de Armas

Chess players and protesters on Plaza de Armas

Police on Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

Pizza from a food cart on Paseo Puente

The no name empanada place on Monjitas

Inside the no name empanada place on Monjitas

Share.

About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

4 Comments

  1. I wonder what the empanada guy is like with his friends and family! Does he smile off-hours?

    I find it interesting that you often mention getting different food for your husband and Mark than for yourself! I think when I was a kid my family always made one stop for meals.

    • We ALWAYS eat different stuff. Like, I can’t remember the last time we share one single meal. We used to argue a lot about food early in our relationship, because we have different tastes and grew up with different food. I like bread, cheese and dairy product while Feng loves meat, fruits and sweets. I think the only thing we agree on is veggies–we both like everything. All in all, we’re not picky eaters but we have different eating schedules (Feng eats whenever he’s hungry, I eat late in the day) and priorities so different meals it is, and no arguments!

      • Thanks for responding because this topic fascinates me! Food is really important to me, and I’ve been in situations where the person I’m dating eats very differently and at a different time of day than I do. Eating is something we do with such regularity that I’ve questioned how well matched a couple should be in order to get along . I also just really enjoy sharing meals with people who are important in my life. It’s good to hear you’ve worked out your routine.

        • You found the right person to talk about food with! This is a fascinating topic to me as well.

          growing up, we rarely ate at the same time. My parents usually ate late at night (flexible work schedule), I ate a bit earlier and my young brother and sister ate much earlier (we have a six and ten year age difference). We ate the same thing mostly, though, with a few tweaks depending on the age of the eater. My grand-parents have a much traditional set lunch and dinner hours and I often ate with them too (they live a few blocks from my parents).

          I love sharing a meal with people too but honestly, Feng isn’t the right person for that. He… doesn’t care much about food. To him, food is food, basically. It has to be filling and that’s it. His words, not mine. In fact, I find he actually cares a bit because he does cook and he doesn’t eat *anything* but frankly, he isn’t much for long conversation over lunch or dinner.

          Early on, we realized we both needed food we were craving and that these foods were different, which isn’t surprising considering our different cultural backgrounds. Then, with crazy work schedules and all, we ended up eating at different times. I’m actually okay with that because we share other moments together. I do love meals with my family in France, though, since we’re all grown up now we eat together when we go there and it’s fun and relaxing. But in a daily routine, my parents still don’t eat together most of the time.

Leave A Reply