After living alone in Chile for 3 months, I can confirm what they say – vegetables go off faster when you’re the one buying them. Travellers will often tell you that a great way to get to know a culture is through the country’s cuisine. When it comes to Chile, this statement really hits the spot. Food is undoubtedly a substantial part of the Chilean culture, around which many social norms are based. During my time here, my relationship with food has been an adventure to say the least.
To start, one must talk about the Chilean cuisine itself. In comparison with other countries in Latin America, notably Mexico, there is not a ‘classic’ food style which immediately comes to mind when one thinks of Chile. However, there are plenty of traditional Chilean dishes which I have been fortunate enough to try and I would love to share some of my highlights here. The top of my list would be the humitas, which is a corn based meal. The corn has been cooked slowly with other ingredients to make a kind of thick paste, which is then wrapped up in the corn sheaves and heated until ready to serve. I always eat it with sugar sprinkled on top, a tip given to me by a local woman. They’re such a great size for a light lunch and definitely my favourite treat! Unfortunately, they’re far too complicated to make back in NZ (for my cooking abilities at least!), so I’ll need to eat as many as possible while I’m here! Another traditional dish, also made with corn, is called Pastel de Choclo. It slightly resembles a shepherd’s pie however it also includes olives and hard boiled eggs within the meat mix and in place of the mashed potato it has, once again, some kind of corn derivative.
While these are traditional Chilean foods, they’re not eaten super often. Much more common are the asados (barbeques). These are an incredibly common form of social event, in which friends will gather and cook A LOT of meat for everyone, always with an old school open fire grill. The most common form of asado here in Chile is the classic choripan, which is quite simply small chorizo sausages with bread and usually mayonnaise. This is such a common event that basically every household will have an asado station ready for any family/friend reunion.
Around enjoying the occasional Chilean cuisine treat, my diet has also had to overcome the challenge of cooking for myself for the first time in my life. While I already knew some basic staple dishes (Spagbol, stir fry etc), I really did not have the knowledge of how to feed myself substantially three times a day upon my arrival in Chile. It has been a significant learning curve. Through trial and error, I have gradually improved the quality of my meals (there were a few evenings when I went hungry due to a less than tasty experimental concoction) and I feel myself becoming more ‘adult’ with very new successful recipe added to my repertoire. However, I still have a long way to go to before I become the next master chef.
To sum up, exploring the Chilean cuisine has been a great part my exchange, although perhaps dangerous for the waste line, and hopefully I’ll be able to bring a few Latin American eating tips back with me to the Kiwiland!