Sabores of Southern Chile

So, for this blog I thought I’d take a little departure from my usual situation and write about food that I didn’t cook, but that I enjoyed very much.  And I’ll probably talk a little bit about my trip to the unbelievably picturesque location where I ate said food.

As some of you might know, if you read my blog from time to time, I am currently living in Santiago, Chile.  But I’m leaving in 6 days!  Argh.  I haven’t seen that in writing before.  That hurts.  Fighting back tears…Okay I’m fine.  Between this year and last year, when I studied abroad in and first fell in love with Chile, I’ve been here about 16 months and one of my goals was to get to know the country.  Chile is known as the land of fire and ice because of its extreme terrain.  I had a Chilean culture professor who said that when God made the earth he had a bunch of stuff like mountains, lakes, deserts and frozen tundra left over and threw it all into Chile.  What I’m getting at is that the landscape is dynamic and spectacular.  I’ve been to the north, where I’ve spent time in the driest desert in the world (San Pedro de Atacama) and I’ve been to the deep south, to Torres del Paine and Tierra del Fuego, which is basically the end of the world.  When you look past the coast the next piece of land is Antarctica.  It’s like, pretty crazy.

So, ever since I arrived here people have been telling me: “You’ve got to get to the lake region!  You’ve got to go to Chiloe!”  Except they tell me in Spanish, but I don’t know how many people reading this are fluent in Spanish so I figured I’d go with English.  Well, I finally got myself to the lake region.  I got myself to Chiloe.  Well, first I got myself to Puerto Varas.  It didn’t take long to figure out why they wanted me to go.

oh. i get it.

Yeah, that’s a volcano there in the background.

ok, no, yeah. i get it.

We spent a day in this beautiful city, which looked more like the page from a German storybook than anything else.  There is a lot of German ancestry in the city and you can really see the influence in the architecture.  If you look closely you can also see a restaurant called “Restaurant.”

In this city I ate some of the richest smoked salmon I’ve ever had.  It’s hard to find good, fleshy, salty smoked salmon in Chile.  It was so tender and delicious, I could have eaten a pound of it.  I mean.  I guess I basically did.

From Puerto Varas we took a bus and then a ferry and then a bus to Ancud, Chiloe.  Chiloe is an island, and it shows.  What I mean by that is it is so totally untouched by the outside world.  Everyone has at least a couple cows and an acre of land.  The local fisherman still use antiquated methods and old wooden fishing boats.  This is a picture of the virtually untouched Chiloe countryside.

not pictured: corporate greed.

My first meal in Chiloe was ceviche.  Cevicheee.  I say it like that because I love it.  It is one of my all-time favorite dishes and I have never been disappointed by Chilean ceviche.  This batch was particularly fantastic because I could take the freshness of the fish.  You know it’s fresh when you can look out the window and see a fishing boat sitting in the water.  This ceviche was made from merluza, a yummy, white fish very popular in Chile.  The rest of the ingredients were simple: bell peppers, lemon juice, cilantro.  It was very similar to my recipe for Chilean CevicheIt was much better than my friend’s dinner, which was fried merluza that took 30 minutes to prepare and came with what were essentially boiled potatoes in butter.  Not impressive.

One of the cool things you can do in Chiloe is get on a boat and go visit some penguins.  You can’t actually pick the penguins up and hug them, which I found disappointing, but you can look at them and take pictures from afar.

my camera got zoom y'all!

We saw penguins, cormorants, otters and sea lions.  It was a pretty magical experience.  And even without the animals, the view was spectacular.It was an unbelievably beautiful day, even though the ozone layer over southern Chile is gone and my face almost melted off.  Also, there was a little wind.

not pictured: melty face

After a hard day of penguin watching and boat sitting we were ready for the traditional dish of Chiloe known as curanto.  Curanto is either made in a giant pot or made in a hole in the ground.  It is made in giant batches and if you want the hole-in-the-ground curanto you need at least 10 people to commit to it.  10!  We opted for the giant pot kind since we only had 8 people and even though we only ordered 5 “servings” it was more more more than enough.  Here is a “serving.”

So, you’re thinking…what the f%&$ is all that?  That’s what I was thinking too.  Some of it was recognizable.  Clams and mussels make up the bottom layer.  There is chicken in there and some really tender ribs.  We’ve got a longaniza (Chilean hot sausage) on top there with a boiled potato (the only vegetable in sight) and then there were some squishy grey and cream colored doughy disks that we had to actually look up in my friend’s Chiloe book of fairytales to identify.  They are called “chapaleles” and they are made of flour, potato, salt, lard and sausage.  Kind of like a giant, fat dumpling.  The grey one was unsurprisingly kind of weird-tasting but the cream colored one was alright.  We ordered the curanto with wine because that’s what our taxi driver recommended.  Actually what he said was “You have to drink it with wine, red or white, it doesn’t matter.  Coca-Cola is okay.  But never, NEVER with Fanta!”  Needless to say there was not one bottle of Fanta on our table.

The stuff was actually pretty good.  My vegan friend did her best to be adventurous in her desire to sample the traditional fare and ate a head-sized portion of mussels and some potatoes.  The rest of us tackled the meat and while I appreciated it for the tradition and everything, I don’t know that I’d order it again.  It was a little too much.  Delicious, but too much.

way too much.

On the whole: Puerto Varas and Chiloe, highly recommended!


Chilean Ceviche

People are often squeamish about ceviche in the same way that they’re squeamish about sushi.  “Eeeww, raw fish!” they might say.  Well, ceviche doesn’t actually contain raw fish.  The fish is “cooked” in lemon juice before it’s served.  More accurately one might say that it’s cured.  But the lemon juice kills any offensive bacteria that may make you run for the hills when confronted with a slab of raw fish.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, to the preparation!


2 lbs reineta or corvina (in the US, corvina is known as Chilean sea bass)

2 cups fresh squeezed lemon juice (you need a lot of lemons, about 2 lbs)

1 large onion

1 red bell pepper

1 green bell pepper

2 tbl fresh chopped cilantro

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbl cumin

2 tbl EVOO

Salt to taste

Okay so, first thing’s first: “cook” the fish.  Chop the fish up into small, bite sized pieces and cover with the lemon juice.  This needs to be done first so that the fish can cure while you’re preparing the rest of the dish.  Set the fish and juice aside, stirring occasionally to make sure all the fish is in contact with the lemon juice.

Now chop the onion and peppers into very small little pieces (julienne) and add to a separate bowl.  Add the cilantro and garlic and mix it all together.  Add the fish and lemon juice to the veggie mix.  Stir so that everything is covered.  Add cumin and salf and let the mixture sit for at least half an hour in the refrigerator before serving it.  Add the olive oil immediately before serving.

You can serve it on toast, crackers or just eat it plain.  It’s also great with avocado.  Hope you enjoy this elegant and easy dish!