In my hunt for international foods in Houston I never came across a Chilean restaurant. So I figured I better just visit the country.
How different could Chilean food be from our Texan food? Our flags look pretty much the same!
City, Seaside and Country
Actually, the real reason I went to Chile was so my husband could study Spanish and we could visit our nephew. We also managed to get in some wonderful dining adventures along the way. I'll highlight what we discovered about food in 3 different areas...city, seaside and country.
The City of Santiago
The busy Bellavista area is one of the most active and curious dining areas of Santiago. On a balmy Saturday night we wandered down Pio Nono which was packed with cafes and bars. A couple of the dining patios were enclosed like zoo cages, which hinted that this area might not be one of the safest. But once inside the 200 year old building that housed, Venezia, we felt very safe.
It was very comfy inside... unless you sat on the thin wooden bar stools. There was a guitar player and a local family having a birthday celebration. The floors were covered in wonderfully worn tile and the walls were covered with faded photos and movie posters. Despite the Italian name and checkered table cloths, Venezia served traditional Chilean dishes. We started our meal with typical South American cocktails, pisco sours. I wonder if the Chilean poet, Pablo Nerunda celebrated here with pisco sours years ago when he won the Nobel Prize. It is said this was one of his favorite restaurants.
Better than the Food!
More memorable than our Chilean meal was the entertainment that paraded just outside the open cafe door. We heard the drums and shouts before we saw the colorful costumes dance by. Drums, horns, singing and laughter accompanied this never ending line up of cheery characters!
Food in the Home
Since our week in Santiago revolved around Spanish school, we stayed in a private home. I will fondly remember the meals prepared by our host, Ana Maria. Here are the 2 most traditional meals we ate. To the right is Pastal de chocla, which is a corn pie made with vegatables, olives (with pits) and mashed corn. Ana Maria made hers vegetarian with spinach, but we also had it with ground beef. The dishes are baked and served in clay bowls made in a famous nearby factory.
This chicken soup is also very popular. The soup was a mixture of dark chicken broth, potatoes, chicken, beans, carrot and an awkward but tasty, corn on the cob. Chileans use little salt or spice, but we got used to the purity of the food. Fresh vegetables and fruits were served with each meal. The avocado was the best I've ever eaten.
In Santiago's Barrio Yungay
It wasn't easy finding Boulevard Lauaud in this old, rather run down neighborhood.
The building (circa 1868) was once home to a ritzy hair salon. The atmosphere was very European with a French and Chilean menu. My quiche was delicious, but once again my memories are about the atmosphere. Soaring ceilings, stone floors, beams, brick and lace! I loved the vintage hairdryers and salon memorabilia decorating the maze of small rooms.
For the Men...and for the Ladies
The best thing for men, is that you can still get your hair cut after or before you eat! Pelugueria Francesa is the name of the quaint barbershop that is tucked in the corner of the restaurant. I assume it has been in business since the fancy salon days.
I discovered a treat for the ladies when I asked the waiter to show me the restroom. I followed him through a number of small dining rooms and then he pointed to a large wardrobe. I thought he was joking, but then he walked away. When I opened the door and stepped inside, I found no toilet, but a hallway that lead to one. That was a real restroom adventure for me...taking me back to one of my favorite childhood books. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!
From Santiago, we traveled by bus a couple of hours to the seaside city of Vina del Mar. We heard from a few sources that Cap Ducal had the best seafood in Vina. But I was more intrigued by the idea that this restaurant/hotel, built in the 1930's was shaped like a boat!
Once again we enjoyed some pisco sours made by Max our bartender who kept us supplied with olives and cheese and meats until time for our dinner reservation.
At 8:00 we were moved to the best table at the bow of the boat with a view of the Castillo Wulff. I had read a few reviews raving about the food but reminding diners that the atmosphere should only be enjoyed with dim lighting, if you were picky about cleanliness. No problem. The only lighting in the dining room seemed to be from candles. Candle light, crashing waves and some amazing eel for dinner! Perfecto!
Food and Drink in the Country
Some of our best eating and drinking was in the out of doors, especially in the Central Valley, south of Santiago. At a wine festival in Curico, we had many foods to choose from!
There were numerous outdoor clay ovens cooking empanadas! Pino is the traditional Chilean empanada. Inside the flaky crust you'll find beef and olive (with pit) and half of a boiled egg. We didn't sample the clams above, but that was quite a steamy sight with clay bowls at the ready!
At a wine festival, you must have wine! What a fun atmosphere with friends and families enjoying their wine at tables or strolling with glasses through the park!
If you don't like wine, some parks have vendors selling a traditional non-alcoholic drink called mote con huesillos! Sipping this drink was quite an adventure. So many surprises swirling in the sweet nectar! There were peach chunks and fresh husked wheat, a fat peeled apricot (with pit) all soaking up the honey sweet flavors. A sample drink in the size of an espresso cup would have been plenty! I made sure I was out of sight of the sweet, smiling vendor when I slipped the remains of my drink into a garbage can. Too much of a good thing, I guess.
In the Village
Our nephew lives in the mountains, close to the tiny town of Los Quenes. What a treat to have Andy there to guide us in dining adventures! Just a 5 minute walk from our hosteria and we were at main street. As you can see, things are pretty quiet with all the sleeping dogs. Andy took us to the building on the right for a delicious Chilean pizza experience!
We visited in March, just after the busy Chilean summer. During a summer weekend, the lower and upper outdoor areas would be filled with diners.
Tiny Table, Tiny Dining Room
I could have sworn there was a dirt floor and stucco walls. This photo makes the dining area look more like a campus bar than the village café I remember. But I will always have fond memories of this tiny cafe that we had to ourselves. Our tiny table could barely hold our delicious feast of Chilean pizza and beer. Maybe it was the country air or the fine company, but this meal was one of my favorites in all of Chile, for food AND atmosphere!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.