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.

Tags: ,


  1. kyle’s avatar

    HAHA, David, this article really made me laugh.

    Thanks for the mention and great pictures too!

  2. Margaret’s avatar

    ¿it certainly can’t be the men? Hmmm… David! Sorry, but that’s where you’ve got it all wrong! Don’t get me wrong, marraquetas are great stuff, but there’s just something about certain Chilean men that have kept so many of us here! In fact, we have a group called Chilespouses–native English speaking women with Chilean partners, and at last count we numbered over 500 in that group alone!
    Good luck with your street food explorations, and thanks for the link!
    Margaret at Cachando Chile

  3. david’s avatar

    Consider the “it certainly can’t be the men” like a bad David Letterman joke. It must be the men! There are so many women that found their perfect match in Chile. So I take it back! But we both agree that it’s not the mayo, right?

  4. Margaret’s avatar

    Ok- let’s go with the mayo then… I’ve yet to meet a non-Chilean of any variety that can handle the major gobs of that stuff! And, to make things worse, up until quite recently, it was more often than not homemade, which may sound fine at the outset, but when you start hearing stories about 200 people from a wedding ending up in the emergency room with salmonella, the homemade stuff on a hot Santiago day doesn’t sound so great after all!
    And just for the record… there are plenty of non-Chilean women who stay here just cuz they like it! Check out Eileen Shea at http://bearshapedsphere.blogspot.com/, for example!
    Let’s just say that Chile has a way of getting under your skin!

  5. eileen’s avatar

    Eileen Smith, that is, and yeah, that’s me. Here for five years and just because I like it, even if I do fear oven explosions, traffic and those pesky questions everyone asks expats. I do still cook, ride my bike and talk to people though.

    Funny piece. It is fascinating to me that you find so many gringas that stay though. And the gringos? A mystery for our times. Any thoughts?

  6. Margaret’s avatar

    Oops! Sorry- I meant to say travel writer Eileen SMITH at http://www.bearshapedsphere.blogspot.com !! (Sorry I keep conusing my Eileens these days!)

  7. Alisha	Cox’s avatar

    A few workers in our area got Salmonella poisoning. It is a good thing that they did not die and they have fully recovered. “

Comments are now closed.