Friday, April 15, 2011

Five Foot Traveler :: Chile and Argentina, es muy rico

2011 has proven to be pretty exciting so far. Exciting in both a "yay this is fun!" way and also "holy $&#% this is scary" kind of way. I have to admit, I wouldn't mind if it were completely boring for the rest of the year. Last month's earthquake distracted me from writing about our epic trip to Chile and Argentina. This post is long overdue, but here we go...

It basically all comes down to this photo. This is a lomito from La Fuente Alemana in the Bellavista neighborhood of Santiago. It is epic, iconic and delicious. I learned about this masterpiece from the Chile episode of No Reservations and it's all Blammo and I could think about before our trip. Actually, it's all we thought about during our trip and it's all we think about after our trip. Paired with a schopp of beer, nothing gets more Chilean than the lomito. Composed of a large pile of pork topped with tomatoes, a generous slather of avocado and homemade mayonaise, needless to say, this is one messy sandwich. Did I mention that the white stuff oozing out isn't cheese? It's mayo. Creamy, yummy, handmade mayo. 

Just like every other South American country, Chileans love their meat and potatoes. This is a plate of chorillana - steak on top of fries topped with a fried egg. Chileans are very proud of their potato heritage. Much to the chagrin of their Peruvian neighbors, Chile claims to have been the first to ever harvest potatoes. Not entirely sure if that is true, but they do grow very different varieties of the spud and opt for potatoes over rice in just about every single dish. 

Another Chilean classic - pastel de choclo. A corn casserole filled with ground beef, onions, chicken, raisins, hardboiled egg, olives, and topped with sugar and butter. Very very delicious, but also very very rich. If I had to choose one word to describe our entire trip, it would be rico, the Spanish word for "rich". If you want to compliment a Chilean chef on their food, just tell them it's "muy rico". 

Moving on to some sweets. Chile has incredible ice cream. Why? I have no idea, but you'll get no complaints from me. Super creamy with lots of interesting fruit flavors. 

This might be my favorite discovery during our trip. Mote con huesillo is a summertime drink made up of cooked dried peaches and stewed corn. This is essentially, a really sweet cold peach tea with corn and the perfect way to cool down in the summer heat. I wouldn't mind finding a recipe for this for the coming air conditioning free/power saving Summer in Japan. 

We did more than eat, I swear! My favorite mural in Valparaiso; a must see if you go to Chile. 

Let's talk condiments. Who puts ketchup in a green bottle?! People who like spicy sauce is who. 

Drinks. At the top, cafe tres leches (condensed milk, milk and...foam? I'm not exactly sure what the third milk is but it was sweet and delicious). Next is pisco sour and draft beer, the national alcoholic drinks of Chile. Lastly, fresh raspberry juice. Chile has a lot of great fruit and you can get fresh juice on the street that will make you rethink your juice from concentrate. 

Sweets! So, I didn't know before going to Chile, that there was a heavy German influence in both their architecture and cuisine. The Germans introduced beer, cakes and streudel to Chile and Chileans have really embraced the cultural exchange. Actually, one thing people say about Chile is that it has no culture of its own. They sort of allow other cultures to come in and influence their own society. I have to say, after walking away from Chile, I have to agree. Aside from native mapuche culture, Chilean culture is hard to describe. 

Again, we did do more than eat. This is proof of it. If you go to southern Chile, definitely go to Puerto Varas and explore the many volcanoes and lakes in the area. We took an awesome boat/bus trip from Puerto Varas to Bariloche, Argentina that I'll never forget. Just make sure you have a return plan. Trust me, getting stuck in Argentina is not that fun. This is a photo of Volcan Osorno, which looks a lot like Mt. Fuji to me. Actually, Chile and Japan have quite a lot in common. More on that later. 

View from a helicopter - glaciers galore!

View from a helicopter II: turquoise lakes of wonder!

Would you like to spend 7 hours in this taxi? Probably not, but I can tell you from experience, it's not the most comfortable or economical way to cross the border. Again, be sure you have a return ticket to Chile before entering Argentina!

One of the coolest parts of our trip was renting a car in Santiago and driving around aimlessly. We found this empanada stand on the side of the road. This is the proprietor and he bakes a mean twig fueled oven bread. 

Simplicity is best - fresh baked bread, ham, cheese and butter. Muy delicioso!

The NY Times picked Santiago as one of the places you must travel to in 2011. After visiting, I totally understand their reasoning. It is a completely livable city, which is rare in South America. It has great transportation and an old European feel to it. If you ever have a chance to visit - DO IT. 

Final thoughts on Chile: Chileans may not be overly friendly, but they are kind and mind their own business. When I went to Europe for the first time, I was really taken aback at how people treated me. What I mean is, I was really offended that people would walk past me and say "ching chong" or "nee how!" while pulling back their eyes. (I'm looking at your Brits and Spaniards!) I've come to realize over the years that maybe they're not trying to be offensive, but it's still jarring. I sort of prepared myself for this kind of behavior in Chile but not once was I made to feel like a total outsider-Asian-weirdo (even though, let's face it, I am one). Honestly, people just didn't care and I appreciated that. 

One of our awesome tour guides in Puerto Varas said that Chile has 112 active volcanoes and is prone to earthquakes. He joked that he didn't know why we would want to travel to such a dangerous place. The dangers Chile faces are the same as in Japan and throughout our trip, I couldn't help but draw parallels between the two countries. Earthquakes, beautiful mountains, active volcanoes, reserved but friendly people and an intense love of mayonaise. 

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