The nine years since we’ve been in Santiago has been a busy time with the city growing up a lot since we were here last, particularly in terms of its cuisine. Our previous edition of eating in Santiago was punctuated by three main factors that come to mind all these years later; horrid amounts of equally horrid cheese, bread I’d described as better used for self defence than eating and western fast food, no more needs to be said on that matter. In all honesty the bread still isn’t too flash but it is now sadly useless in a home invasion, the argument for gun control laws has lost an ally it seems. I’m sure the cheese ‘issue’ is also there in some measure along with the poxiness of fast food but all of these factors are blessedly far from the perch of dominance they once held.
Or are we just a bit better at sifting through the rubbish? Indeed we are, and being far more equipped with Spanish is no hinderance at all; although Spanish is not Chileno, Chile still defrauds the world by saying it speaks Spanish, this hasn’t changed it seems. What is unmistakable though is that the diversity of Chilean food has swelled immensely in the nine years, we’ve been in the country just over a week and this factor is already undeniable. Chile, you now have more to the repertoire than a plate of lamb chops, delicious as they were.
In Valle Elqui we found Chilean comfort food, slow cooked cheap cuts that are favoured by us as much as they are new on the radar here, at least in a broader sense. We had goat and rabbit all cooked in traditional simple methods to carry us straight back to another time, this feeling repeated on our first night in Santiago with Osso Bucco in white wine; delicious. As in Ecuador we have so far seen an abundance of embracing what the country knows and does well in favour of chasing an attempt at exotica for vanities sake. It seems so obvious doesn’t it, but how often it fails.
Another gem we have found is some of the most heavenly fish stews and soups to grace a bowl in front of us. Overflowing doesn’t begin to describe the manner in which the seafood bursts over the rustic traditional bowls that are lifted straight from the stove top and onto our table. In a busy fish market in Santiago city centre we absorb the flavours and scents to the backdrop of hurried bargaining, a salty fresh sea smell and chaotic energy. The food is to die for and the atmosphere is what we live for, it’s authentic, local, fresh and joyfully simple, exactly what anyone could possibly hope for eating at home or abroad. And just for nostalgias sake again in Santiago we’ve had the lamb chops, they come out on a plate with nothing else, just a big pile of meat. These little slabs of heaven don’t need a supporting act, they’re seasoned to a salty perfection embodying all that can be so wonderful about a nice piece of meat treated well.
Accompanying the improved parks, monuments, streetscapes and suave European atmosphere is also a bar scene that has leaped forward in sophistication. Swept aside are our memories of a city with beer and wine and little else, now there is a bursting array of options to sate any intoxicating vice. Of course we have a Pisco Sour with dinner in Santiago which is nothing short of heaven in a champagne flute but the real winner is the atmosphere, in simple words, Chile seems to just get it. We wander through a bar area after our first delicious dinner with a Pisco and a bottle of wine between us, not really needing another drink as much as we don’t need an excuse to have one. A random bar above a restaurant oozes all the atmosphere, design aesthetic and vintage class we could hope for. For a place this perfect for indulgence we expect to share it with a large crowd, but not here it seems. Another Pisco Sour even better than the first accompanies the best gin Martini I have ever had, yes who needs an excuse.
We swerve our way the few blocks it takes to get back to the hotel and fall into bed full in the belly and more importantly with souls equally crammed. Tasting another country, another culture is often a succinct window into the culture itself and in this regard Chile remains an impressive place to be. It could be us, it could be luck, it could be a lot of factors but what is unmistakable is that the taste Chile is serving up is among its greatest advertisements as a nation. With assets like the Atacama and Patagonia on the national identity list the cuisine of Chile is elbowing into some exclusive company. It may not be pushing in front just yet but to be rightly in the same sentence is more than outstanding. May the gluttony continue to be drowned in Pisco and seasoned to perfection.