Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Food glorious food

I think it is fair to say Chile is not a food-lover's first choice of destination unless you happen to be a fast-food-lover in which case Santiago is the place to go. One of the first things you notice are the plethora of hot-dog joints, soda fountains and German-style themed chain restaurants with improbable names such as Doggi's, Domino and Tip y Tap respectively (the latter being one of the better prospects for a filling and wholesome meal when faced with hungry children on a shopping expedition). In general however if you look hard enough you will find something for every taste and budget though the more interesting propositions need to be sought out.
As with all aspects of life in Chile, food can be an enigma and a contradiction. Chile is an immensely fertile country with impressive homegrown fresh produce which is often smothered in bottled mayonnaise (bafflingly the proud occupant of its own aisle in any local supermarket) or served with industrially manufactured and uninspiring cheese. Dairy produce is definitely not its forte: fresh milk is not available thus people make do with UHT cartons or "bricks" which you can conveniently bulk-buy and also take anywhere with you without having to worry about how long they may have been out of the fridge. The downside however is that yoghurts, cheeses and other dairy items are not exactly at the vanguard in their field and thus one has to get used to inferior, additive-laden quality or going without.
Having said that there are some redeeming features which shine like beacons and provide a sharp contrast to the junk elements. One of these is the tradition most restaurants maintain which is to serve with bread a lightly spicy appetiser of chopped fresh tomatoes and onion seasoned in olive oil, salt and coriander while one's order is being prepared. For those who like coriander it is a treat not to be missed. Also the avocado (or more humbly "palta") is probably the single most widespread item on any menu or in any supermarket and is far from the luxury food one associates it with in Europe. It costs next to nothing for the largest, juiciest and most succulent varieties one could ever hope to find and in fact Chileans put it everywhere: in sandwiches, on hot-dogs, in salads, smeared on toast for breakfast, and so on. Meat is also a safe bet on the whole especially grilled as the cuts are good and a "parrillada" is always welcome. Not to mention Chilean wine which is admittedly in a class of its own and difficult to fault. Why then do so many (adult) people order Coca-Cola or Fanta with their meals?

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