The Salt of Cahuil

I am currently reading the most amazing book, ´The Omnivores Dilemma´ by Michael Pollan. In it, Pollan explores the production of – and costs behind – our food, from the realms of industrial agriculture, organic farms and small providers, right through to exploring the acts of foraging (see below) and hunting. This is an eye opening book and one that raises many questions, particularly because Pollan himself is such an accomplished writer and researcher.

(I have linked to the Book Depository site, as this is where I buy all my books unless it´s for my Kindle. Over the last few years, I have never had any issues ordering to Chile and arrival times range between two weeks to three months, depending on how functional the postal network is at the time, as well as how Customs are working given they continuously strike).

Here in Chile, a nation where UHT milk reigns supreme (read my essay here) and where the battle against soft drink is real, we are both blessed and unlucky. We are unlucky because the murkier side of food production, namely big business, has got its claws firmly sunk in to everyday society, at least in Santiago anyway (essay here).  How else do you explain the proliferation of fizzy drinks at every meal and the goody bags overflowing with lollies at each birthday party (at a recent birthday party E sat down at the table to his individual paper plate laden with different packets of biscuits, chocolates, cakes, candies, as well as being surrounded by bowls of various chips, lollies, and other unusually colorful things).

We are blessed because – as I keep saying over and over – it is still possible to buy nearly all that you need in the local feria, (market), a place which forms the vital breath of the outer lying comunas, including right here in Recoleta. We shop from this ragged tumble of stalls each week, sometimes more than once, and it is there that we fill up our reusable bags and pull-behind shopping trolley (the most practical shopping invention, and one unfortunately relegated to the elderly in New Zealand). It is here where Chile shows itself at its most exotic, the place where I feel all manner of emotion, from being humbled, surprised and even uneasy as I walk past realms of fruit and vegetables, deciding which stall vendor best deserves my hard-earned pesos.

This is a country that produces in its truest sense, where even in the starkest of places you can find life springing forth with more colors than a Monet painting (i.e. the Desierto Florido in the Atacama).  And it helps the rest of the world grow food too, in the form of fertilizer composed of Chilean Nitrate (NaNO3) which is found only in the deserts of Northern Chile. For a foodstuff a little more direct, that you can apply directly to your plate at the dinner table, you can use sea salt, famously harvested near Pichelemu, in a tiny place called Cahuil.

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To some, a trip to this patchwork of colorful pools beside an estuary marks no big occasion, but to others (like myself) this is a trip into the heart of food, for is there another ingredient more essential to a meal than salt?  Salt is one of the five primary tastes humans have evolved to recognize, and its addition can help the release of certain molecules into the air, heightening a dish´s aroma, while also overriding bitterness and balancing other flavors. It also helps to balance fluids inside your body, and contains two of the most essential elements for all living creatures on the planet, namely chloride and sodium ions.

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Salt has also been recorded as far back as our records go, to preserve food that would otherwise decay and become hazardous to eat, and the indigenous of Chile were no different. The original inhabitants of the Barrancas area, where the Cahuil saltpans are today, worked this spot for hundreds of years, taking advantage of this naturally salty river flowing on its way to the Pacific Ocean. Close to this meeting point are the ´cuarteles´, networks of various pools measuring 20 square meters each, all with different levels of water that will eventually evaporate to leave behind salt. The process begins in spring once the rains have finished and the estuary decreases in water level, allowing the pools to be cleaned.  The water then re-enters, decanting via small gates between each pool, and by the time summer rolls around the salt is ready to be extracted, although this is a highly sensitive process that depends upon humidity, rain and other external conditions. The pools, with their different levels of water, therefore place the salt at a different proximity to the mud, thereby creating different types of salt. There is the ´flor de sal´ which is very fine, and then the ´espumilla´, or regular sea salt, while the bottom layers are used for things like leather tanning and the removal of snow on roads.

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The saltpans of Cahuil have been declared a ´Living Human Treasure´, a remarkable slice of culture and history that you can take home with you in the form of bathing or cooking salt, available with a variety of additions such as merken, seaweed and smoked salmon.  For me, this is a spot where you can immerse yourself in nature which swims and flies all around you; it is here where I have seen more birds than anywhere else in Chile, so if you are a budding ornithologist you should put this place on your list.

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The Nitty Gritty

How To Visit Cahuil:

Open all year round and completely free; though production begins from September and finishes in March. It is located 2km south of Cahuil in the sector of Barrancas. Check out the map here.

What The Family Thought:

You cannot use a pushchair or wheelchair if you want to explore between the pools as the paths are not very wide, however the pools are not deep so they are suitable for toddlers to walk around (with supervision). My 3 year old son really enjoyed himself. There is not much else to do in the area although it is geared up for summer visitors in the form of cabañas, probably to house the streams of Santiaguinos who escape the city in the hotter months to relax by the beach. Cahuil makes an excellent day trip from the Colchagua Valley or from Pichelemu.

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Where You Can Shop:

Agricola Tinajacura sells pasture raised chickens that live glorious lives beneath the sun (they are fed a mixed grain), beside grass-fed lamb.  The chickens (both laying and broiler) are moved outside from 3 weeks of age, where they live always on the grass, which supplements their diet with bugs and flowers, an area which they spend less than 24 hours on a time (so no living on top of their waste and more ground gets fertilized). The lambs eat only grass and the land is untouched by fertilizer. The animals receive no hormones.

Santiago & Viña Organic Pastured Cowshare is run by expat, Frank Szabo, where you can order a percentage of grass-fed beef cuts. Orders are in bulk and killing takes place at selected times during the year.

La Paloma Saludable delivers fresh milk and eggs from the farm as well as a plethora of organic foodstuffs.  Email orders only.


More Like This:

For a restaurant that serves foraged food, visit Silvestre Bistro;

to learn more about the local feria and Chilean food, read Fantastic Food;

to read about my favorite walking spot, read about La Campana National Park;

to discover some of the interesting history of Valparaiso, visit City of Artists and Dreamers;

for a list of local small providers you can support, browse my Local Business Directory.

 

 

 

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Ambrosia: Number 20 of Latin America´s 50 Best Restaurants

Restaurant Ambrosia has been a recommendation on the tip of everyone´s tongues lately. ¨Go to Ambrosia!¨ is what I´ve been commanded from pretty much all the foodie buffs and so, being someone who thinks only of her stomach, we booked ourselves in for a romantic child-free Friday night*.

Ambrosia is headed by chef Carolina Bazan, and sommelier/manager, Rosario Onetto.  Bazan gained her culinary skills at restaurants in Brazil, Asia, Asia and Europe, the latter of which saw her placed at Gregory Marchand´s Frenchie restaurant in Paris.   Meanwhile Onetto studied at none other than Le Cordon Bleu, therefore resulting in a pairing that would be a culinary force to be reckoned with.

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Ambrosia opened in its current spot in 2011, in a setting that looks pretty nondescript from the outside. There are no signs to signal the fact that this quiet residential street contains one of Latin America´s Top 50 restaurants (it sits at number 20 in the famous listing by San Pellegrino) or that Bazan herself is rated Chile´s number one chef.  The horde of cars parked on the street are the only giveaway of the classy restaurant housed behind the hedge, along with the twinkling lights that light up the corner of the visible terrace.

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Ambrosia is classed as a French restaurant, but the changing menu reflects more of Bazan´s travels, particularly to Italy as pasta dishes are a regular component. There is no static menu as the primary concept of Ambrosia is seasonality, with only the freshest in-season produce served. Meat and fish dishes are the main fare, though there is always a vegetarian option, and the wagyu beef is the particular plate that earnt Ambrosia its accolades from San Pellegrino.

There is an outside terrace, bar and two eating areas, one a little more modern than the other but all lend a hand to create the warm ¨at home¨ ambience Ambrosia strives for.

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Service is exceptional, with plates cleared and menus produced almost instantly.  The waiters seem to take great pride in their role, presenting themselves more as food guides than servers. Each dish was explained to us in detail, down to each lavish sauce and delicately placed herb.

The food is light with a big focus on presentation. Mains are priced at the higher end, while drinks, starters and desserts are consistent with other Santiago restaurants.  Each plate we tried contained a multitude of different sauces and colors that, when combined, worked really well.  The loco shellfish we ordered as a starter was our favorite, followed by the lamb main (cooked for 6 hours) and the white chocolate ganache.

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Locos with their juices, pesto, orange, lemon and white wine.
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Perfectly soft octopus with squid ink, lemon confit (so delicious),  and sauce made from olives.  All together this was really good.
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Pork with mustard seeds, sweet potato puree, brussel sprouts and baby carrots.
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Lamb (cooked for 6 hours) with lemon confit, cous cous and pea puree.
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White chocolate ganache with passionfruit and caramel sauce – combined together the flavors balanced well.
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Creme Brulee with orange
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Chocolate Mousse

Verdict: A perfect spot for a romantic night out, that has all the class and fine food you´d expect from a top restaurant while retaining the feel of a place a little more casual.  Food was quality, though portions were on the smaller side, and vegetarians are not going to be spoilt for choice.

*We originally tried to book the Bistro, as I was attracted to the casual concept of the small wine-bar that is Ambrosia´s sister restaurant. This place fills up fast so make your booking in advance.  Address: Nueva de Lyon 99, Providencia.

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The Nitty Gritty

Address: La Pamplona 78, Vitacura

Phone: 22217305

Email: contacto@ambrosia.cl

Website here

Instagram here

Facebook here

 

 

A Look Back at Santiago Food Adventures

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Green Pizza, Lo Barnechea
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Quinoa (vegetarian), Vitacura
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Vietnam Discover, Patronato
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Hochi, Patronato
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Casa Luz, Nuñoa
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Silvestre Bistro, Nuñoa

 

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La Fraternal (vegan/veg/raw), Nuñoa
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Mestizo, Vitacura
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Coppelia, Providencia
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I-Ching, Independencia
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Donde Maria, Tirso Molina, Patronato
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Foodlays, Patronato
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Typical Chilean asado, Recoleta
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El Huerto (vegetarian), Providencia
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Typical humitas in the summer
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Typical shop at the market, clp$20,000
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La Manzana, Barrio Lastarria
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Charquican
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Vegan Bunker, Nuñoa
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Jimbo´s Australian Pies, Providencia
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Rico Saigon Cafe, Patronato
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La Vega
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Blackberry juice

The cold means … sopaipillas eaten warm with something spicy.

The heat means … mote con huesillo, pastel de choclo, humitas and endless asados.

My favorite food spot is … Silvestre Bistro in Nuñoa

Vegans … have lots of options! Nuñoa has the most that come to mind first such as La Fraternal and The Vegan Bunker.

In general Chileans  … eat lots of meat, salt, oil, avocado, and marrequeta bread.

Always … ask for the bill before you are ready to leave, as the server often tends to disappear, and remember the 10% propina is expected unless you state otherwise.

Don´t forget that … lemon goes with everything (as does palta).

 

Silvestre Bistro: Wild Food

It is the morning after my lunch at Silvestre Bistro, and I am still excited. Everything wowed me at this tiny restaurant in Ñuñoa – from the eclectic vibe through to the passionate staff, a passion which is evident in the beautifully prepared dishes.

Located in Barrio Italia, right in the heart of Santiago´s ´healthy food´ neighborhood, lies this small restaurant that, from the outside, looks completely unassuming. However inside, it is a paradise of truly veg-tastic proportions. A produce-laden table greets us upon arrival, and the restaurant sprawls between a small inside eating area and a larger outside space which is elevated on wooden crates. The walls are covered in all manner of colorful paraphernalia, and we plop ourselves down on mismatched chairs beside an antique typewriter.  Despite it being a cold Autumn day in Santiago, we are pleasantly warm outside (there are heaters) and, also despite being in a city, we are watched over by a plethora of greenery.

 

There is no regular menu at Silvestre, only a changing daily menu that offers lunch specials and more elaborately plated evening meals. The prices are not expensive but what you get has a value much, much higher than your regular run of the mill food stop, for Silvestre is a place that is doing things a little differently.

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Silvestre in Spanish means wild, and this is a concept that lays at the heart of the Bistro (and what has got me so worked up). Each month food is foraged from around Chile, from the forests, beaches, hills – you name it – and the findings are what dictates the menu. The two masterminds at the head of this operation are Nestor Ayala, a self-taught cook known for developing a line of popular supermarket sausages, and Patricio Pichuante, a chef with 24 years of experience working in top restaurants in Italy. Together they are a magical combination, creating dishes that defy labels; the food is both complex and simple, using well-known and traditional ingredients in a way that highlights them but never overshadows them.

 

The day we visited, we opted for the Gnocci, the Tandoori Chicken and the Quiche, three of the four options (1 vegetarian that day).  Service was prompt, and we received a juice of lemon, orange and ginger that was refreshing; I enjoyed it because I found myself drinking it because I was thirsty not because it was pumping me full of sugar, and so it lasted the whole meal.

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Taking my notes thanks to this notebook from Apicola del Alba, a small Chilean business located in Curacavi that promotes sustainability and Chilean flora and fauna, and makes creams, shampoos, aromatherapy treatments and vitamin supplements.

The Gnocchi: In all honesty I don´t know the first thing about Italian cooking, but I really enjoyed this. That pesto though … que rico, rico, rico! I loved the unusual herbs on top (see below).

 

The Quiche: My son ate it all. The salad was delicious with a lovely dressing. What more can I say? The 3 year old approved!

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The Chicken:  This dish, to me, was one of the best I´ve had in a long time.  There were really unusual flavor combinations and the quinoa/brown rice/millet was absolutely gorgeous.

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Now for dessert.

There were two options that day and we opted for the carrot cake because I´m a bit of a fiend for carrot cake!  I didn´t think anything would top my sister in-law´s version but I have to say, this one was pretty up there!  The photo´s do not do it justice.

 

¨It has been hard to educate the producers not to throw things away that are a bit different, like manta ray or eel,¨ Nestor tells us, ¨and it is also hard to educate the people eating them.  We forage for everything, like the seaweed we go to the beach to get, or around places like San Javier or Zapallar, and we also have all these plants [gestures to the wall behind us] that we use.  We use fruit and vegetables that are in season, we buy locally and we use small providers.¨

 

The dinner menu is more elaborate, and Nestor shows us photos of plates with stunning presentation and lots of color.

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Verdict: If I am to give stars, this would be 5/5.  Everything about this place echoes what I believe in and what I love to eat. Best of all, my family all enjoyed it too!

 

Tip: Linger around the area of Barrio Italia because this is a neighborhood worth exploring. Right beside Silvestre is Padre Nuestro, where you can pop in to see a real artisan at work making shoes for men by hand and utilizing Chilean leather.  If you are visiting Santiago for the first time or even if you live here, this is the place to buy your gifts and souvenirs as they 1) small businesses and 2) they are often made right there!

 

The Nitty Gritty

Address:  Caupolicán 511, Ñuñoa. Metro Santa Isabel.

Phone:  91569974

Facebook here.

Instagram here.


If you liked this, check out some other foodie posts:

Vegan + Vegetarian food at La Fraternal

I Ching Chinese Restaurant

Rico Saigon Vietnamese Food

 

Lunch Review: Vegetarian + Vegan Food at La Fraternal

Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food

– Hippocrates

Hippocrates is famous as being the father of modern medicine, who believed in the time of Classical Greece that illness came as a result of poor diet, living conditions and environment. Today this type of thinking is in mode, with the idea of health through food popping up everywhere from our Instagram feed right through to the streets of Chile. La Fraternal is one of those restaurants pioneering cleaner eating, being a vegetarian/vegan/raw food restaurant in Ñuñoa that also sells health products as well as giving cooking and yoga classes.  The head chef, Alejandra Olmedo, aims to make this type of cooking easy and accessible for all, and her passion is obvious as you can see on her food blog.

The restaurant itself is uplifting, all wooden furniture, color with relaxing music, wafting incense, lots of light and a mishmash of designs.

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Our waitress was very warm and friendly, and the food was served in quick succession without any of that awkward waiting or trying to catch the server´s eye because you feel abandoned.

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La Fraternal serves up a colacion, or set menu, including on weekends, as well as a regular menu which contains an extensive drink selection with juices designed for various health purposes.  We went for a lemonade and a Jugo del Luz, which is a specialty of the establishment that contains vitamins and greens (recipe below).

As part of the menu for the Thursday of our visit, we had a starter; I chose a Vegetable Soup and Luis had a ¨Timbal de NO Atun¨, which was essentially a ceviche with lentils. Both were very good, the lentil ceviche was a standout and very clever. In typical Chilean style, we also received homemade bread.

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For the main, we had a burger patty made with mushroom above wild rice with a country stew and some added greens for good measure. This was very nice, though I did find the burger a bit bland.

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The dessert was delicious, cooked apple with chocolate mousse and oats – it was small but the chocolate was very rich and full, and I loved the combination of the three.

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Given La Fraternal´s attention to healthy drinks, we decided to also order a Carrot & Orange juice (which was so good!) as well as the India Milkshake. Visually, this drink was spectacular and the oat milk, cacao, banana and cardamom all worked well together.

Overall, I was happy with this discovery. Excellent service and food which, although sometimes bland, came at an excellent price and pace. This place works well if you are in the area and need something filling but budget-friendly and also healthy. I also personally am super excited by the effort being put in by the people of La Fraternal to revolutionize food and simplify a way of eating that appears so daunting to many. I will definitely be back.

More Information

Address: Av. Holanda 3362, Ñuñoa, Santiago.

Phone: 56 2 2921 7724

Website here.

La Fraternal Food blog here.

Facebook here.

Instagram here.

YouTube here.

Family friendly: Yes. There is a play area for children

Casa Luz

Stepping into restaurant Casa Luz is a little bit like entering someone´s home, albeit one dripping with an infinite amount of style.  The decor is warm and inviting, with plates and picture frames hanging off of exposed brick and deeply painted walls, and there are huge vases of freshly cut flowers. The centerpiece of this five-year old restaurant, however, is the atrium that greets you upon entering, and which allows for shafts of stark light to bathe the elegantly composed tables.

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I have come to Casa Luz on the recommendation of a friend who described the restaurant as both romantic and delicious.  I concur with both statements, as you shall see.

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First up we ordered some starters.  Casa Luz offers no traditional entradas but instead has a variety of small tapas to choose from.  We tried the Camerones con Cabeza, Ajo y Perejil flameados en Ron and the Patatas Bravas con Aioli.  

Next came our mains. My Merluza a la Plancha, Risotto de Cilantro & Salsa de Crustaceos was very nice and light; the fish was cooked to perfection and the coriander risotto was a nice touch.

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However, Luis´ main dish, the Risotta de Hongos, was absolutely spectacular. Even now, a few days later, I am finding it difficult to describe the depth of flavors the dish had.  It was very more-ish, and perhaps a bit heavy for those strange folks among us who don´t like mushrooms, but for me it tasted a little bit like how I imagine heaven to taste like if it was my dinner.  So, so scrumptious!

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For dessert, I ordered the Mousse de Chocolate y Cardamomo. Again, this was a nice and light dessert, beautifully presented, but I am not a fan of passionfruit icecream.

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There was a dessert special that day, which was a Barbaroa de Naranja. This was delicious and ended our meal out on a very high note.

Verdict: It is, in fact, exactly what the website states it is: sophisticated but simple food utilizing unusual, seasonal ingredients that are presented in a stunning, warm environment.  A perfect place for a romantic night out.

The Nitty Gritty

Address: Av. Italia 805, Providencia, Santiago

Phone: 2 2918 7204

Email: info@casaluzrestaurant.cl

Website here.

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Did you like this? Don´t forget to LIKE me on Facebook or FOLLOW this blog to be notified about new blogs! Here are some other foodie posts to check out:

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Quinoa Vegetarian Restaurant

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Autumn Giveaway!!

 

Jimbo´s Australian Pie Shop in Santiago

Ask any self-respecting Antipodean what they miss from their home turf, and chances are high that the humble pie will feature on that list.

This hand-sized piece of goodness has been described as Australia´s national dish and is considered to be part of New Zealand´s national identity.  On average, Aussies eat 12 of them a year, and New Zealanders a whopping 15, more often than not while watching Australian Rules football or rugby league.  The pie is so popular that New Zealand even opened its own version of McDonalds, but instead of burgers they sold (you guessed it) pies!

So imagine the excitement across the expat community when Santiago´s first antipodean pie shop opened last year, Jimbo´s Australian Pie Shop. I will never forget that first bite I took of that Mince & Cheese because it took me back to my youth in New Zealand, standing under endless blue sky with wet hair and togs one hand, pie in the other, as I walked home from the pools. There were just no words to describe how good it was. Here I have a chat with its owner, James/Jimbo Martin, the Australian who brought pies to our Chilean tables.

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Hi Jimbo!  Tell us about yourself.

My name is Jamie Martin, I am from Brisbane Australia. I met my Chilean-born wife, Patricia, in Brisbane in 1999.  I have a background in construction in Australia. I completed 2 apprenticeships, plasterer and tiler, I had 2 trades at age 23. Bakeries are my families background on my mothers side stretching way back to my great grand father. Everyone male on that side of the family is/was a baker. As was my dear mum who is now retired, that’s until I need her help 🙂 I was working in bakeries owned by my uncles when I was very young for a few bob pocket money. That advanced over time to doing night shifts and learning a thing or two.

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What brought you to Chile?

I first visited Chile in 2000 and was here for 4 months. During that time I craved a traditional Australian meat pie so I began making a couple of dozen at one time in my mother in law’s kitchen. I gave many to friends and family but eventually they demanded that they pay me for them. It wasn’t my intention but before long I was swamped with orders. A bit of wondering, dreaming and light conversation ensued as to whether a pie shop would work. We then returned to Australia and resumed our jobs.

Why open a pie shop? How has it been received?

In 2013, Patricia’s mum required a double knee reconstruction and with no one to take care of her we decided to take a year off from our busy lives in Australia and take care of her. In no time at all I started thinking pie shop. Once Mama was back on her feet we set up a shop in Curico. We bought a property about 40km to the east, that was home for 2 years. We decided to move the business to Santiago in 2016. We are getting great feedback from the local people as well as expats. We have made many friends in our time here and hope to make many more, and we have no immediate plans to return to Australia though it is our intention to retire at home, the fishing is too good to turn our backs on 🙂

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If you had to pick a favorite, which pie would it be?

I go through phases, at the moment I go for the beef, chilli and cheese but I think a pie with mushy peas is my all time favorite.

Can you reveal to us your favorite places in Santiago and Chile?

Our favorite place in Chile is by far Elqui Valley, it’s like nothing I have seen anywhere. As for our favorite place in Santiago, it’s hard to say, there is so many quality restaurants, if I have to puck one it would be Casa Lastarria. I have never been able to find a fault.

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More Information:

Jimbo can prepare custom orders and will happily make what you are after.  He usually offers a vegan option each day, and can also make vegetarian pies. He also offers event catering as well as selling frozen party pies.  They also sell various pastries, such as lamingtons, cinnabuns, boston buns and more.
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 11am-5pm; Saturday 11am-4pm
Address: Los Piñones 29, Providencia (closest metro Salvador)
And don´t forget to follow them on social media:
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Chinese Food Interesting Tidbits

Chinese food follows the basic principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which uses food as a way to treat disease, recover from injury and improve overall general wellbeing. There are five flavors that form the basis of dishes, of which taste is considered the most important factor and the soul of the food.   These are: salty, sweet, spicy, sour and bitter. The most dominant flavor you taste in a dish depends on the region you are in, therefore each plate can reveal to you an area´s geography, history and geography.

Spice expels wind and cold from the body.  It is popular in Central and Southern China. notably Hunan and Sichuan cuisine.

Salty food should be eaten sparingly and is for dissolving ¨stagnation¨.  This food is popular in the North of China, because there is a lack of fresh vegetables in winter so food is preserved using salt.

Sweet flavors can improve your mood and health while also cutting through the greasiness of some dishes.  Dishes that are predominately sweet originate from the East of China.

The sour taste is popular in the South, and is a very important part of TCM. It helps with digestion, quenches thirst and can also reduce a dish´s greasiness or fish flavor. Sour foods are common in the South where people are generally poor, and who pickle most of their foods to avoid wastage.

Bitterness is a component in many dishes alongside other flavors.  It is used to make dishes seem fresher and to satiate your appetite.

The North of China produces a lot of wheat, and so the people eat things like dumplings, wheat noodles and steamed or stuffed buns.  In the South they rarely eat wheat and instead rely upon rice products, of which they use in every meal.

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The quantity of fruit and vegetables eaten in China is double that of the Western diet, and they use dozens of varieties that are unknown outside of China, including many types of weed-like plants that have not been translated into English.  Food is eaten seasonally, in order to balance one´s yin, yang, dryness or dampness (TCM components). Bones are an important element of dishes, so fish is usually not served filleted, while the appearance of a dish is often symbolic, using shapes, colors and textures to represent traditions, holidays and superstitions.

 

Traditionally, food is served to be shared, placed in the middle of the table, which in restaurants is usually a turntable to promote the communal nature of eating.

Enter Foodlays, a large restaurant located near to La Vega in Santiago.

 

In my opinion, the food at I Ching in Independencia had bigger portions and nicer food but a few dishes really stood out, particularly the Spicy Eggplant plate as well as most of the noodle dishes.

The Nitty Gritty:

Disabled/pushchair access in lifts

Customer carparking (ask the guard at the entrance)

Outdoor patio, which we used as a kids playground when we were there (we didn´t see any smokers)

Most vegetable dishes options contain meat so ask before you order if you are vegetarian. 

Address: Los Artesanos 681, 3rd floor, Recoleta. Metro Patronato or Cal y Canto.

 

Note: A glance at the Facebook page for this restaurant shows a few bad reviews due to the presence of shark fin soup. I did not see this option on the menu when I was there. This post has not been sponsored.

 

 


If you like this post, check out:

I Ching Chinese Restaurant

Rico Saigon Vietnamese Food

Lunch Review: Rico Saigon Cafe (updated)

I am standing in Mai´s kitchen, and she is laughing.  That is the thing about Mai – her smile and energy are infectious – which makes it pretty easy to forget the real reason why I have come: the food. But luckily this is a subject never far from Mai´s mind and she never disappoints.

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I am back at Rico Saigon because Mai wants me to try something traditional – something that is not on the menu – exactly how her grandmother prepares it.  The result is Fried Fish with Lemongrass, a dish that is visually stunning as are all Mai´s creations.

¨You will not find this sauce outside of Vietnam,¨ She tells me with pride, before instructing me just how to eat it. The fish is cooked to perfection and goes perfectly with the sauce (fish sauce mixed with egg and lemon) as well as the usual fresh vegetables that accompany Mai´s Vietnamese food.

¨We eat a lot of vegetables. We don´t cook them a lot, just a little, and we always use a sauce. In South Vietnam we like to eat sprouts and mint – a lot, a lot of mint!¨

Mai hails from Saigon in the South and tells me that the food in North Vietnam is very different and more closely resembles China.

¨We eat a lot of seafood and pork but never beef as it is too expensive – all our beef and milk is brought from New Zealand which is why we use coconut milk so much¨.

Staple ingredients include mint, ginger, garlic, spring onion, lemongrass, 5 star anise, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper and, of course, the freshest vegetables.

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Mai´s husband tells me laughing, ¨She has been kicked out of La Vega [Santiago produce market] for digging around the food for the freshest! Some days she goes through 5 or 6 lettuce sellers to find the best – it´s very difficult to find the good stuff. You have to go early because by 9am all the good stuff is gone¨.

Now Mai has certain sellers that she frequents because their produce is the most reliable, and she loves the Peruvian stalls.

¨Their food is the best because they don´t use any chemicals  – they don´t want to pay for them – so it´s like organic. There is so much difference in flavor!¨

Sometimes this limits Mai as to what she can cook, and sometimes she finds something that she will find a way to incorporate in the day´s menu. It took her a while to find all the spices and some things, like the tea, she has to bring from Vietnam.

Mai has no formal training in the kitchen – all that you see she has learnt growing up or by experimenting.  The idea for the restaurant was inspired by the famous cafes of Saigon which Michael describes as, ¨so cool and unique.  Each one has a different motif – some have water like creeks running through and fountains, others might have a cat theme or a jungle … they are just quiet zones where you can go and have a coffee in an interesting spot¨.

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When Mai and Michael decided to make their own Saigon cafe they had a lot of ideas in mind. First they found the property – a derelict house that was devoid of plumbing, electricity and a kitchen. Mai then started buying plants and planting her own but found she couldn´t compete with the quality at La Vega. When a building site down the road began throwing out crates they scooped up as many as they could lay their hands on, eventually becoming the deck and tables you now see. Mai was originally planning a dessert cafe but her ideas quickly grew.

¨Mai was always cooking at home and people started telling us how phenomenal her food was – it wasn´t just me saying it¨  Michael says, ¨She began doing cooking lessons and then when we were putting the cafe together it was clear that Mai´s passion was in cooking these beautifully designed dishes¨.

And so Rico Saigon Cafe was born, and today it is a place with a cult following. Customers come for the food and stay for Mai´s vivacious personality.  It really is like being inside Mai and Michael´s home – which is exactly the feel that they want.  They host a lot of birthday parties and beam at the knowledge that people are having fun there.

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Mai is the sole cook and most days she is the waitress too.

¨I try my best – I don´t want to hire people and make it more expensive for people. It is homey, casual, really healthy food and we want to keep the place like this¨ Mai shrugs with a smile, and this is a recurring theme I keep hearing.

¨Tasty, fresh and healthy food¨ Michael describes Rico Saigon Cafe and Mai laughs,

¨That´s right – he´s in my mouth!¨

What To Try

  • Southern Pho Bo, made with sprouts unlike the Northern version of the soup
  • Bun Bo Hue Soup, beef soup with shrimp, tomatoes and rice noodles
  • Cha Gio Nem Ga, chicken and vegetable rolls
  • Cha Gio Nem Tom, rolls with shrimp and vegetables
  • Fried Fish with Lemongrass (not on the menu, available on request weekdays)

Special offer for all my readers: FREE Vietnamese tea with your meal when you say you read this blog!

Metro: Patronato

Pushchair/disabled Access: poor but possible!

Price: CLP$4.500 – CLP$6.500

Address: Santa Filomena 207, Recoleta

Phone: 09 8986 3369

Follow their active Facebook page here

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Similar foodie blogs to read:
* Chinese menu at I Ching Review,
* The best and ONLY place to eat real Indian Food,
* Vegetarian delights at Quinoa Vegetarian Restaurant, 
* Delicious fine pastries and cakes at Pasteleria Lalaleelu

Fantastic Food, Fabulous Ferias!

Santiago is the heart of this nation – all foods end up here – and nowhere is this more obvious than the ubiquitous feria, or market.

The feria is my favorite thing to do here in Chile because there is no other place where you can delve right into the culture and discover what it really means  to be a local. They are a lifeforce for the people in the suburbs who use them everyday (except Monday) to stock up on  almost everything they might need, from fruit and vegetables to medicine, fresh fish or clothing. Stallholders begin in the wee hours, receiving deliveries and then setting up their spot for the day, of which aesthetics are key. Effort is put in to ensure their produce looks fresh and better than the neighbor’s offering, with everything from fake grass, realms of hanging garlic to delicious preparations of ceviche (seafood marinated in lemon juice) or pebre (a spicy tomato salsa mix) made to show off their ingredients to the max.

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NZD$20 (not including packaged items)

Food plays a key part in Chilean life. The indigenous of both northern and central Chile had a diet rich in potatoes, quinoa and meat from sources such as pudues, alpacas and llamas, well before the arrival of the Conquistadores. The Spanish then brought with them domestic livestock and ingredients that today make up traditional comida chilena, the very best of which is known as comida casera (homemade food).  Many of the dishes are simply prepared, which reflects Chile’s peasant past.  Dishes include the cilantro-heavy cazuela stew or lentejas (lentils),  while the hugely popular Corn Pie (Pastel de Choclo) mixes both meat and chicken. Beans (porotos) are so frequently consumed and traditional that there is a saying – “mas chileno que los porotos!”

Chile is also blessed to have the Humboldt Current drifting past it’s Pacific Ocean coastline, which brings a huge variety of sea dwelling creatures up from Antarctica. All year round you can enjoy seafood in delicious dishes, my favorites of which are Chupe de Jaivas and crab/prawn empanadas.  You know it must be good if it has been immortalized in poetry, which Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda actually did in his Caldillo de Congrio (Kingclip Chowder) poem.

I also find the feria to be a place where you can see real artisans at work, from the man who quickly wraps up the carton of eggs to the elderly gentlemen who will rapidly explain the medicinal or culinary uses of strange ingredients. Remember to shop around for the best prices (cheapest in the centre), watch your belongings, take small change (no big notes!) and use a portable shopper to cart your purchases (not just for nanas!).  Finally, stallholders will give you about a million small plastic bags for your purchases so it can be a good idea to take along a reusable bag or simply place things directly in your trolley – and therefore baffling them all!

Ask the locals where the day’s feria is when you are in the suburbs – they will likely be able to tell you! For a unique Santiago experience head to the bustling La Vega market in Recoleta wbere you can try comida chilena in La Vega Chica, or go for huge portions in the Tirso Molina.