Eating My Way Through Santiago

Kira Isaacs Santiago: Cheescake

Manjar. Also known as Chile’s Nutella. You know how they call the food of the Greek gods “ambrosia’? Well I’m thinking that what they really meant by ambrosia was manjar. Some of you may know manjar as “dulce de leche”, but for those of you poor souls who’ve never been lucky enough to try it, it’s a caramel-like spread made of condensed milk and sugar.

I have no shame in admitting it; food brings me an abnormal amount of happiness. Especially sweets. My sweet tooth is out of control, and Santiago has been living up to its expectations. One of the reasons why I was so excited to come to Chile was to try a new type of cuisine that I’ve never had before. For whatever reason, despite all of the Argentinian, Peruvian, and Brazilian restaurants, I’ve never found a Chilean restaurant in Boston. Now that I’m here eating Chilean food every day, I can honestly say that my inner foodie is content. Before coming here, I had heard that Chile is not known for their food—nothing compared to renowned Peruvian cuisine. While Chileans eschew spiciness, the plethora of other flavors makes up for it.

Now back to manjar. In Santiago, you can’t walk two blocks without finding it. Outside the metro stops are women who sell steaming hot, manjar-filled churros, one of my favorites. Walk down the street, enter any café, and you’re almost guaranteed to find a decadent slice of manjar cheesecake. Last week (at a food truck festival in Parque Bustamante!), I ate a manjar crepe that was the most delicious dessert I’ve eaten since arriving in Chile.

Living with a host family means my host mom, Pili, serves me three meals a day (I’m so spoiled, I know!) I’m at my Universidad Católica classes on the San Joaquin campus most of the day so this means that she also packs me a lunch, or colación. Sometimes, yes, I feel like a third grader having my mom make me lunch, but I wouldn’t have it any other way because my host mom is an amazing cook. These lunches can range from a piece of tortilla Española (think a thick vegetable omelet) to chicken stew. Some of the staples here are avocado, eggs, and bread. Bread can be served at all three meals, especially Chilean specialties like Pan Amasado or Marraqueta. I have a couple of gluten-free friends back home and at Georgetown who unfortunately, would probably have a difficult time with such a bread-heavy diet.

Bread aside, I already have fallen in love with some traditional Chilean dishes that I eat at home (meaning my home in Santiago). Chilean empanadas are the most traditional, and probably my favorite. Almost every Sunday, my host family invites more family and friends over for a big lunch. I’d say Saturday and Sunday lunch here are the equivalent to my Sunday dinners in the States—where mom or dad cooks a special meal and the whole family sits together for more than a quick bite. There are always two options—empanadas de queso and empanadas de pino, but I prefer the former: warm pockets of fresh-baked dough filled with hot, melted cheese. My host mother also prepares “Mote con huesillo” about once every two weeks, a sweet traditional drink with soft grains of corn or barley.

Embracing my inner grandma, what I love about my home here is the amount of tea that we drink. A lot of my friends, both here or back home (shout out to Meghna and Dion) think tea either tastes bad or is inferior to coffee. Haha, to each their own! However, like my dad, to me, drinking a warm cup of tea is one of the simple pleasures of life. Luckily, my host family thinks the same way; we have at least four cups a day here. The best part is that my host mom often makes her own blend, using tea leaves and adding her own flavors like orange peel and ginger. Pili happily explained to me that superiority of “the tea ceremony” as opposed to tea bags.

Food and drink to me is so much more than the actual food or drink, if that makes sense. And that is why I am such a foodie. With traditional dishes comes culture and history, with family recipes comes stories passed down through generations. Drinking rich hot chocolate in Barrio Italia was when I laughed with both my program friends and new Chilean ones. Last weekend, my host mom and I exchanged stories about our love lives as she treated me to my first Chilean “completo” or famous hot dogs. There are so many foods and experiences I haven’t tried yet, and I know they’ll both keep on coming!

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