June 2014

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I still haven’t found a bar that will serve me a terremoto, the illusive cocktail that the concierge at the San Cristobal Tower insisted I must have in order to truly say I’ve been to Santiago. It’s not that I don’t know where to get one—I do. Several people have said, “Just go to El Hoyo. That’s where the terremoto was created.” But that would be too easy. I want to have a terremoto at some place like the wine bar at the Ritz-Carlton. While I’ve been desperately searching for a classy Ms. Terremoto, I’ve learned a little something about the drink.

Here’s the English version of how, according to El Hoyo “the famous drink called Terromoto (sic)” was created: “Everything began in March of 1985, when German reporters came to Santiago to cover the damages that the recent earthquake had caused. Due to the heat they entered our restaurant to request something to drink. Pipeño and by request of the foreigners a little fragmentation of pineapple ice cream was added to it, when they taste, one of them exclaimed “!that is an Earthquake”..This is born of the name Terremoto.”

Lovely story though I doubt any of it is true. Except the fact that terremoto does, in fact, mean earthquake. But, really, can you imagine a bunch of hot, sweaty, beer-swilling German journalists stopping in some little Santiago picada and asking for pipeño and “a little fragmentation” of pineapple ice cream?


But at least we now know what goes into a terremoto, right? Well, sort of. I mean, what’s pipeño?

Did you ever drink any ghetto wines in college like Ripple or Thunderbird? Well, that’s what pipeño is like—a sweet, fortified young wine that tastes best, obviously, when mixed with something subtle like pineapple ice cream (god, if the winos could only get their hands on some good sorbet). Not that I’ve sampled any to know, but I hear that at some places they add a little chicha to the mix, just to really mess you up (chicha goes way back to the Spanish conquistadors, before they had screw tops and sterilized bottles. What the Conquistadors would do is fill a big copper pot with grape juice and boil it for a week or so and then let it ferment. This way it wouldn’t lose its taste or alcohol content. I guess you could say chicha is sort of like non-distilled pisco, which is like grappa, which is like…well, you get the idea).

Speaking of pisco, which I quite like, the kids here have a drink that is sort of the Chilean version of a cuba libre called piscola—coke and pisco. Which is much better than a jote (red wine with cola) or a fanschop (half tap beer, half Fanta orange pop) or a chacolí (hard cider mixed with orange juice). But if you go out drinking with your buds at some place like La Piojera (which translates, appropriately enough, into “flea house”) another good place, I’ve been told, to get a terremoto, you will, after everyone runs out of money, inevitably end up with a bigoteado. Making a bigoteado is simple; you just wander around the bar picking up the leftover dregs—pisco, gin, beer, red wine, pipeño, whatever—pour into a tall glass and stir.


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Almondine the salt farmer

There is not much to see at the salt museum, housed in an old farmhouse on the edge of Loix. Actually, it looks more like a small classroom where students have set up their science exhibits. A few old photos, rusty tools, and modest displays showing the process for farming salt. All in all it takes no more than 10 minutes to go through the whole thing.

But there is a salt pond behind the museum where I sat on the bank, watching a young woman named Almondine pull a wooden rake through the shallow water, bringing the gray salt from the floor of the pond to the berm where she carefully piled it into two-foot-high pyramids to dry.

photo by David Lansing

photo by David Lansing


Almondine is from Paris and has a degree in psychology so I asked her why she did this work on this little island. “I like being out here in the marshes,” she said. “It is very beautiful and quiet.”

And it was. Just the cries of gulls overhead and the soft sound of the wind rustling the dead stalks of wild mustard along the banks. Because the salt ponds are all in protected habitats, there is a lot of wildlife out here if you take the time to notice. More than 300 species of birds in fact, like the egret standing stoically just yards away from where Almondine worked.

We walked to the lowest pond where a thin crust of very fine salt had formed on the surface. This was the fleur de sel—flower of salt—which you can only get when the weather is hot and windy and the salt doesn’t sink but floats on top of the pond, giving it a naturally white color and a delicate taste. So delicate you can, as I did, taste it straight from the marsh.

“What does it taste like?” Almondine asked me.

“Like life,” I said.

She smiled. ”Oui, comme la vie. Très bon.”

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I was going to talk about one of my favorite Chilean discoveries, the lomito sandwich, but I got into so much hot water yesterday for suggesting that all the ex-pat women in Santiago stay because of the bread and not the men (my favorite comment came from an outraged Chilean male calling himself “the dude” who wrote that he hopes I enjoy my stay in Chile “because when you go back to your country, you’ll realize that you’re still the virgin loser that left there in the first place”–how thoughtful, dude!) that I was afraid I’d also mess up writing about the lomito. So just to cover my virginal loser ass, I asked culinary expert Liz Caskey to address the subject.

In addition to leading culinary and wine tours of Chile, Liz writes a blog, Eat Wine, which is about all things wine and food in South America. So read what Liz has to say about lomitos (thank you, Liz!) and then check out her blog as she shares her favorite pours from Malbec to Carmenere and Tannat, food & wine pairing secrets, recipes, thematic tastings, visits with culinary artisans, muses, rants, and stories about the sweet life in South America.

Take an informal poll among Chileans of what food they crave when they are in country, out-of-country, any time of the day, and in many cases, would call the “unofficial” national dish of Chile, and they will tell you: El Lomito. This towering, mammoth pork sandwich is Chile’s most ubiquitous and beloved “fast food”. Chileans scarf them down enthusiastically and round-the-clock at joints throughout the country. Its popularity can only be compared to the hamburger in the US.

Lomito sandwich photo by Francisco Ramirez

Lomito sandwich photo by Francisco Ramirez

Of all the places in Chile that serve them up, none compare to Fuente Alemana off of Santiago’s central Plaza Italia. After all, they were born here. Even after 60 years of business, El Lomito is still king. In fact, I would say if you want to really understand classic Chilean cuisine, you must visit Fuente Alemana on your visit to the capital. Generation after generation has been well fed at this Santiago institution. It’s comfort food in the form of a sandwich.

Enter off the deafening Alameda, grab a stool around the U-shaped counter, and let the veteran waitresses/cooks, clad in white like nurses, attend to your every sandwich need. Not a whole lot has changed since opening. It’s pretty simple. Solo diners and friends come to scarf down 6-inch high sandwiches and frosty mugs of schop, draft beer. As you wait, the sizzle of the griddle and the waft of meat slowly browning, primes your taste buds for what’s to come. Tranquilo, sandwich heaven is only five minutes away. Observe as the cooks rhythmically assemble these gargantuan sandwiches from the central grill while taking orders, clearing plates, serving beer, and never missing a beat. An art? Absolutely—those ladies have been doing it for 30-odd years.

The Siri Brothers, who founded Fuente Alemana, are responsible for El Lomito’s creation. The sandwich is perhaps the greatest gastronomic homage paid to Chile’s Germanic roots. Marinated pork loin is slow- braised for six hours with aromatics and secret spices. The pork is hand-shaved into paper-thin slices that are kept warm in a flavored broth (the owner would not divulge exact ingredients) until use.

A typical lomito is layered with half a pound of pork on a freshly baked bun (6-inches wide). From there, order your fixings directly with the counter ladies. Try some of the perennial favorites: melted mantecoso cheese, mashed “green gold” (aka avocado), thick slices of fresh tomato, tangy sauerkraut, copious amounts of homemade mayo (a national passion). If you just want the italiano, you’ll get the lomito plus avocado-tomato-mayo. If you get the works, completo, they’ll serve you all of the above.

Do not, and I repeat, do not, attempt to eat this with your hands. The natural laws of the universe, err…gravity, make this an impossible feat. Use a fork and knife to tuck into this baby. If it seems peculiar that a simple sandwich could induce a nationwide fever, just lay into one and by the end you’ll understand. And probably either lick the plate clean or order another. Yes, it’s that good. –Liz Caskey

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Why women love Chile

It seems there are a lot of American women who come to Chile and never go home. Like Margaret who “didn’t know a soul or have a clue about what I was getting into, but had enrolled in a 6-week intensive language program at the Instituto Chileno Norte Americano, had a hotel address in my pocket, and a couple years of high school Spanish under my belt. And ganas—a great desire—to know this new country.” She’s still there 18 years later.

Then there’s Kyle who, when she arrived in Santiago in 1998 as an exchange student, was so overwhelmed “I got scared and just decided to hide in my room to try out a little theory—if I slept long enough eventually I’d wake back up in an English-speaking country with my mom and brother where nobody tried to invade my personal space with a slobbery kiss on the cheek. Clearly that idea failed….” And now Kyle is married to a Chilean and has a thriving wedding photography business.

But one of my favorite stories comes from Liz Caskey who graduated Cum Laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies and then got a job as an analyst with a small corporate finance advisory firm in Santiago in 2001. A job she hated. So she followed her passion—food and wine—and ended up starting her own food and wine tours, focusing on Santiago’s street food, picadas (mom-and-pop joints), and its fabulous markets.

When I e-mailed her before my arrival, telling her I wanted to explore the food scene in Santiago and would be thrilled with any recommendations she had, she immediately replied, offering to hang out with me for a day, taking me to her favorite bakery, pastry shop, cheese store, and the city’s two big markets: Mercado Central and Vega.

Which is what we did yesterday, starting with a stroll from her apartment across from the Museo de Bellas Artes to Vega, the produce and meat market.

First we stopped for breakfast at a little sidewalk cart, a carrito, where a woman in a hand-stitched blue apron was frying up puffy sopaipillas the size of a clutch purse. The cost was 200 pesos or about forty cents. “This is a typical Chilean breakfast,” Liz said as I dipped the still-hot pocket donut into a tub of homemade pebre, sort of like a Chilean salsa.

I love sopaipillas, having grown up across the street from a Hispanic family from New Mexico whose mom fried up these golden brown pillows every Saturday morning. We’d take them fresh from the hot oil and sprinkle a little cinnamon on them before dipping them in a bowl of honey. Fabulous.

Before I could even finish my sopaipilla, Liz was dragging me into a bakery in the funky Barrio Brasil. “Chileans are crazy about bread,” Liz said. “In fact, they’re the second-largest consumers of bread in the world, behind Germany. It’s not a meal unless there’s a basket of bread on the table and a bowl of pebre.”

Photos by David Lansing

Photos by David Lansing

There were shelves full of flat bread, the size of coffee table books, etched with hearts in the middle, and mounds of marraqueta, sort of the Chilean baquette, which is a favorite for serving sandwiches. But whatever the shape, it was all white bread. Obviously Chileans aren’t into whole grains or wheat flours or enchanted with things like rye bread or brotchen, the German breakfast bread. Which is kind of interesting because the dark-bread-loving Germans, more than any other nationality, have had a big influence on Chilean cuisine, right down to the kuchen you’ll find in almost every pastry shop and supermarket in Santiago.

Still, we had to get a still-warm marraqueta, just so I could try it. It comes in squares that you break off. Liz gave me the first piece then broke off a corner of hers and popped it in her mouth, moaning with delight. “This,” she said, dreamily closing her eyes, “is one of the great pleasures of living here.”

Maybe the marraqueta is the reason so many young women come here and never go home. It certainly can’t be the men.

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The strays of Santiago

Daniela and I were eating sopaipillas in the Plaza de la Constitución, in front of La Moneda, the presidential palace where Salvador Allende supposedly shot himself during the Chilean coup of 1973 (there has always been controversy over whether Allende committed suicide or not, largely because his death came from an AK-47 assault rifle, given to him as a gift by Fidel Castro, which seems like an odd way for a physician to kill himself, don’t you think?).
Anyway, we’re having some street food and looking at the palace, trying to figure out which parts had been destroyed by bombing during the coup, when BAM! a wild beast came out of nowhere and snatched my fluffy sopaipilla right out of my hand.
“What the hell was that?” I said. Daniela was laughing.
“No, no, it’s okay,” she said. “It’s just one of the street dogs.”

The sopaipilla-snatcher. Photos by David Lansing.

The sopaipilla-snatcher. Photos by David Lansing.

That’s when I noticed there were more strays around the presidential palace than soldiers (and there were a lot of soldiers).  In fact, wherever you go in Santiago, you will stumble across a street dog—sometimes literally. Most of them really are strays but quite a few of them—including a dozen or so around La Moneda—have collars on them, which means they are owned by someone (although Daniela says this can also be a ruse; evidently the government decided a couple of years ago to get rid of all the stray dogs in the downtown area around the palace, decreeing that any mutt without a license and collar would be picked up, so people went around putting bogus collars on strays to make it look like they were pets).
Stray dogs are like mosquitos; once you become aware of them, it seems like they’re everywhere. And in Santiago, they kind of are. There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, as in most Latin countries, Chileans seem to think that “fixing” an animal just isn’t right. God created cats and dogs to go out and procreate, so for god’s sakes, let them fulfill their biological destiny.
Secondly, Chileans think it’s mean to keep a dog locked up in a house all day. So even if the German shepherd that stole my sopaipilla is someone’s pet (and he certainly looked too healthy to be living on the streets), most likely he was let out of the apartment to go out and play with the other doggies when his owner went to work in the morning.
I know, weird, huh.

Do you think he'll bite if we pet him?

Do you think he’ll bite if we pet him?

So now I see street dogs everywhere in Santiago—chasing each other in Parque Forestal, snoozing in the doorway of an ice cream shop, wandering in packs around Plaza de Armas. But here’s the thing: They seem pretty meek. And, as I said, for the most part they look pretty well-fed (several times I’ve seen garbage collectors or park maintenance employees putting out bowls of food for the animals). It’s like everyone in Santiago has decided that all the stray dogs are communal pets and so everyone has a little bit of a responsibility to feed and take care of them.
Which includes, I suppose, letting them eat my sopaipilla. I just wish next time they’d do the traditional begging routine instead of dining and dashing.

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