It’s a rare treat to meet up and spend time with family/friends while travelling for such an extended period. We got a double dose of socializing in two days when we met up with my cousin Matthias in Valparaiso for lunch last Friday. Then we spent the weekend hanging out with Loutz and his friend Matt in Santiago.
Matthias is one of my cousins in Switzerland, who happened to be doing a study abroad program in Valparaiso. We hadn’t seen each other in over ten years; the last time being our cousin Jason’s wedding in So Cal over 10 years ago. He took us to lunch at a very Chilean place that had good empanadas, but only after 6 PM. We had very good tomaticon (a tomato, beef and bean stew) instead.
Loutz of ice cream fame was doing a bike trip around central /south Chile with his buddy Matt from North Carolina. (Apparently, Dave and Matt, who’ve known each other since college, do a bike trip abroad every couple of years.) So we arranged to meet up in Santiago, which was great, because we hadn’t seen Loutz since 2009 when we went to visit him in Boston.
Better yet, Loutz had been to Santiago 6 years ago, so he was able to be our tour guide. Even better, Loutz is a transportation planner, so we were able to geek talk, which I haven’t done in a long time. Like discussing . . . .
Santiago vs Buenos Aires: Metro system comparison:
- Price per ride: US$1 vs. $US 0.35
- Smartcard name: Bip! vs. Sube
- Able to ride on negative balance: No vs. Yes
- Cleanliness: Santiago
- Age: Buenos Aires (100 yrs old)
OTHER ODDS AND ENDS
Christmas decorations: We’ve seen some Christmas trees festooned with lights in building lobbies, etc, but Christmas decorations seems more low key here. We could count on one hand the number of homes with outdoor Christmas lights. I think that’s because energy costs are so expensive. The most common small Christmas decoration we’ve seen is a Santa climbing up a rope ladder to get in through a building window. That makes sense, since there are almost no chimneys around here!
Long Bean Slivers: A sandwich universally contains some sort of meat and some sort of vegetable. Back home, the vegetable component is usually sliced tomatoes and lettuce. I usually find it underwhelming. Tomatoes in the winter are tasteless: I used to wonder why they couldn’t be substituted with a slice of orange instead. Lettuce has very little nutritional content, and is insubstantial.
In Chile, you get sandwiches at fuentes (or fuentes de soda), literally a “(soda) fountain”. The common fixings in sandwiches are sliced tomatoes, mashed avocado, chucrut/sauerkraut, and slivers of cooked green beans, which are still green/not overcooked. I really like the green bean slivers, there’s more texture, taste and nutritional value to them than lettuce. They also remind me of my step-mom, who used to put them in noodle soup when I was growing up, although she would cut them in short twigs, rather than slivers. I wonder why Chileans cut the green beans in long slivers, that would seem to take more effort and knife skills.
Chileans are also very big on mayonnaise in their sandwiches, less you think them all health-nuts. When we went to our first fuente today: Fuente Alemana across the street from where we were staying, we thought the glop was melted cheese. But there was a sign on the wall “Our mayonnaise is made with pasteurized eggs.”
The sandwiches here are so enormous that you have to eat them with a fork and knife. At Fuente Alemana, they didn’t bother offering french fries or any other potato product as an accompaniment. Very tasty, rather old-school with a long lunch counter like Apple Pan in LA, but very spick and span.
Dandelions: I’ve mentioned the llao llao, which are very unusual orange fruit-looking fungus which grown on tree trunks in Patagonia/Tierra del Fuego. They looked so wonderfully exotic to me, that it shock to see another plant so familiar: dandelions. I wonder if they came with the European immigrants, or if they were indigenous to the New World. And if so, did dandelions first appear in North or South America? They were all over the trails in Tierra del Fuego park outside Ushuaia. Of course you’re not supposed to pick the flora in national parks, but if I were hungry and scavenging young dandelions leaves for salad along the trail, wouldn’t I actually be doing a good deed of weed eradication?
Seafood and fruit vs. beef and ice cream. In Argentina, it was all about the steaks and helado. In Chile, to my relief, good seafood is everywhere, and relatively good value for price. Most of it is fish (white) and conger eel and lots of bivalves like mussels, clams, razor clams, and some abalone/geoduck. Most salmon is farmed. Scallops are called ostiones, which confused us, since that refers to oysters in Mexican Spanish. But they are really good here. I missed erizo (sea urchin) season, which is a pity, because I’d love to know how they prepare it here. There are two types of crabs: king crabs (centolla) and jaibe (stone crabs.) I don’t eat king crabs in California, because they are usually frozen from Alaska. But here, they are fresh, and very tasty, and better yet, they are usually served peeled. Still, my palate is tuned to Dungeness. There’s not a lot of shrimp (most are labeled Ecuadorian). I tried to convince my parents to come travel for a bit with us in South America, but they were intimidated by the distance. I think if I told them how good the seafood is here, they’d be more willing to come. The preparation styles are relatively simple as well, which lets the 鮮 (sweet/fresh) flavor of the seafood shine through. Lightly cooked in their own juices, with some aromatics (onion perhaps), lemon juice, and a dusting of chopped parsley, cilantro.
There’s not as much ice cream here, but since it’s summer here, there’s good stone fruit like strawberries, cherries, peaches, apricots and pears. It’s easier to find jugo naturales (fresh fruit juice) here, than in Argentina.
A lo pobre: A common style of food presentation is some sort of meat or seafood, served with french fries, sauteed onions and topped with a fried egg. We’re very happy to find it in Chile, as it tastes great with fried fish. I wish it was as easy to find at home.
Reading vs. speaking Spanish: We’ve picked up a fair amount of survival Spanish, at least for reading menus. In some cases, even when there are English versions of the menu available, we prefer to read the Spanish version, since some restaurants simply applied Google Translate and came out with dish names so mangled, it would take us much longer to figure out what they meant in English. “A lo pobre” comes out as “at the poor.” “Media luna” is literally “half moon”, which is a croissant.
The other thing I like doing is when we’re hanging out at a cafe (really, travelling life is just like life at home in some respects) is to read the local magazines (glossy pages of fashion, ooh!) and the newspaper (it’s good to get a sense of what goes on in real life for people who are living here, as opposed to just passing through.) And usually there is something that is relevant to our travel as well.
I can generally get the gist of newspaper articles, since a lot of the vocabulary is similar to English. But occasionally it backfires, as people might ask me something in Spanish, like “can I have that paper when you are done,” and then my response is a confused look of incomprehension. They’re probably thinking “why doesn’t she understand what I said, when she must know Spanish, since she’s able to read a Spanish newspaper?”
Interesting things can be gleaned from advertisements. Like credit card payments and discounts. Maybe I’ll get around to discussing that next time, but I need to go to sleep now.