Story and food photos by Manos Angelakis
Additional photos courtesy of restaurants depicted
Santiago de Chile: Culinary Recollections
A number of years back, while in Santiago on a business visit, I was taken to a 150-year old eccentric eatery called Peluquería Francesa i.e. French Wigshop in the Yungay barrio, at Boulevard Lavaud. Dating from 1868, it started as a barbershop; the name comes from the Spanish Peluca, meaning wig. I was told that it was the place where early Santiago lawyers had their wigs prepared before appearing in court, as the Chilean legal system was modeled after the British.
When I first went there, half of the building's ground floor still operated as a barbershop, with a number of patrons reclining on classic barber chairs, swathed in white foam while being shaved, and the other half was a combination coffeeshop/sandwich emporium and antiques store that sold, among other things French onion soup, outstanding empanadas, and an excellent pork shoulder sandwich I washed down with a local beer. Now, I’m told, it is a full-fledged restaurant that offers very interesting seafood dishes, but still maintains the barbershop section!
The decoration was superior with bare brick walls in some rooms, stained glass windows in others, antique furniture (some still call them second-hand because not many pieces match), art deco lamps, rococo chandeliers, Murano mirrors and ancestors looking down disapprovingly from frames hanging on the walls. I saw a gorgeous Art Nuveau Gallé Cameo Vase there, but the price was higher than the price I had seen in Paris for a similar item, so I did not purchase it. Now, I wish I had!
Very eclectic, everything was for sale; the place was buzzing with shoppers from the stores near-by having drinks while young housewives out for a stroll or on a shopping trip, sipped tea or coffee and munched on delicious pastries baked in-house and displayed in a modern pastry case, one of the few items not for sale.
Nearby, there were a couple of what I considered uniquely Chilean coffeehouses called by the locals “Café con piernas” i.e. coffee with legs. I thought of them as an interesting Santiago phenomenon. They roasted their own blend of beans that were also sold in the stores and were served in the cafés. They offered a pretty good cup of espresso or cortado (espresso with a splash of foamed milk).
Their presence was a real surprise in a country as conservative and Catholic as Chile. They were a combination of Starbucks and a very racy Hooters, in a single space! No alcohol was served, except for one on Amunátegui Street, a few blocks up from the Palacio de La Moneda (the Presidential Residence) and the Hotel Carrera, that sold Miller beer and sandwiches, in addition to the coffee.
They were usually a store with a stand-up coffee bar that had a couple espresso machines and 3 or 4 tall bar tables and perhaps a marble counter or two where patrons, mostly businessmen from offices nearby, would stand and drink their espresso or cortado cups during their morning or afternoon break and ogle the scantily clad, very attractive, baristas and waitresses with voluptuous, curvy figures in hot pants or extremely short hemlines, and high heels!
As I said, I thought of them as a Santiago phenomenon at the time; there were 4 or 5, mostly around the business center and the shopping areas of the city. Some were racier than others, with the female staff only wearing bustiers or bras and fluorescent G-strings! They were jammed with patrons while Starbucks coffeehouses nearby were practically empty. I now find that there are not only close to 80 scattered around the city of Santiago, they have also appeared in other cities in the Americas including Miami and Hialeah, in Florida; San Jose in California; Trujillo in Peru; Bogotá in Colombia and Buenos Aires. Most of the ones not located in Santiago are serving food as well as soft drinks and beer in addition to the coffee.
Another place I still fondly remember is the Enoteca Restaurante at the top of the San Cristóbal hill. It was heaven on earth for a wine geek like me as it had, at the time, one of the largest wine collections among Santiago’s eateries; long verticals of high quality wines from Chile’s vintners. The food was typical of Chile. Their ceviche was spectacular. It was also a wonderful place to watch the sun setting at the far end of the city. Unfortunately, the last time I was there, the view was so obstructed by smog… you could barely see the buildings down on the valley. Actually, the roof-top restaurant of the Hotel Carrera, was as much of a great perch to see the sunset as any other location.
From humble origins selling food and affordable drinks to the workers of Santiago's nearby central rail station, El Hoyo has grown over the generations into one of the city's most beloved restaurants. Santiago residents, stop by El Hoyo when they want a taste of Germanic rustic comfort, whether that means the famous arrollado, boiled, spice and garlic marinated pork loin wrapped in pork skin, or pernil, an irresistibly tender pork shoulder. My friend Reinhold W., always took me there, once every visit, as it reminded him of his mother's cooking!
Mercado Central. Santiago's central fish market is a classic for hangover-curing ceviche and exceptional fish stews like the tomato- and potato- based caldillo de congrio, i.e. conger eel soup, one of their specialties.
After a night of imbibing, head to one of the tiny stalls at the market's periphery and order a soup plate full of freshly shucked clams, oysters and pink razor clams, sea urchin eggs, sometimes spider-crab meat and always a big squeeze of lemon, plus shaved red onion and chopped cilantro and occasionally fresh corn kernels; according to most Chileños, that is all it's needed to keep the Pisco Sour or Chicha hangover at bay. The market is open till about 4:30 am, and is crowded after midnight with hungover-suffering Santiagoans. The crowds did not abate much even in the years of Pinochet’s dictatorship when for the rest of the city, there was a curfew between 1 and 7 am!
Pisco Sour is a typical drink in Chile made from a grappa-like distillate and is considered as the National Drink; it is great to enjoy before dining and it was ubiquitous at all the functions I used to attend. Chilean chicha is a sweet, fruity, high-alcohol drink made from fermenting corn juice and strawberries. It is sweet, but not as sweet as a dessert wine. It is one of the most traditional drinks (dating to Inca times) but if you are not used to it, beware… it packs a considerable wallop. Just don’t try to stand up unassisted after you had a few. Ceviche, is the traditional remedy for overindulging in Chicha or Pisco Sours.
I don’t know if the El Galeón restaurant is still operating, but one of their best traditional Chilean dishes is Curanto en Hoyo. Prepared by heating seafood, potatoes, two kinds of pork sausage and often rashers of bacon, chicken thighs and drumsticks and sometimes Star Crab (centolla); the food is covered by red hot rocks in a hole in the ground. The ingredients are wrapped in leaves or burlap soaked in seawater and then covered with dirt so that the dish slowly cooks in a humid environment over a number of hours.
One of the best fish and seafood restaurants in Viña del Mar was Restaurant D'lamari. Again, I have not been to Viña for a while so I’m not sure if they are still open. However, if they are still cooking, this is one of the best places to try Chupe de Mariscos, a casserole made with stale bread, cornmeal, garlic and lots of day-fresh assorted shellfish covered with grated Parmigiana cheese and spices, cooked in an indigenous clay pot. Another of their best dishes is Mariscada, a delicious stew made with mixed seafood, vegetables, and a little rice.
While in Santiago, make sure you have completos, Chile’s answer to the North American hotdog. They are, surprisingly, one of the most beloved Chilean foods sold in sandwich shops and stands throughout the country. A typical completo is served with sausage, chopped tomato, mayonnaise and sauerkraut. Also, to eat like a local, venture to Bellavista or Vitacura; the restaurants there serve authentic dishes like the above mentioned caldillo de congrio, the conger ell stew, and ceviche made with fresh sea bass or a mix of shellfish, onion and cilantro with lots of lemon juice or matsas alla Parmesana (pink razor clams baked in their shell, with Parmesan cheese on top) and Cazuela nogada (stew with walnut sauce) and beef charquican, topped with a fried egg. Then pair your meal with a glass of their exceptional local wines.
Keep in mind that Chileans eat much later than Americans. Have a good, solid breakfast. Plan for lunch between 1:30 and 3 p.m. and don’t venture out for dinner before 9:30 p.m. You can have a snack if you wish between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m or between 4 and 8 p.m. because there are many cafeterias, bars and salóns de té that serve “onces” (in Chile “onces” I think means any time outside normal lunch or diner hours, not only around 11 a.m. as in Spanish speaking countries in Europe or “elevenses” in English speaking areas). A few restaurants close between 4 and 7:30 p.m.
Chile has been known for excellent seafood dishes and wonderful wines; and both have improved through the years. The restaurants I ate in, offered outstanding examples of both. Enjoy a visit to this remarkable country.
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