Although the current weekend is only just now starting, here in Santiago I am starting to wind down a ten-day weekend due to las Fiestas Patrias, the celebrations of Chilean Independence! Los chilenos are a proud people, and this is never more evident than the week of “El dieciocho,” (the Eighteenth) during which everyone (and I mean everyone) spends days celebrating Independence Day and la chilenidad.
The past week has been a blur of activities, from asados and get-togethers with my family or in friends’ houses, parties in nearby parks, concerts, parades, fondas(giant food stands/tents, some of which have tables and chairs with space for dancing), and simply walking around and people-watching. I have never felt more popular in my life, with all the party invitations, Facebook messages, and texts I got from Chilean friends this week, asking me to come celebrate Chile with them (Chileans love their country, and other people who love it as well!).
It has been such a unique, fun-filled week; los santiaguinos who are normally rather stoic were all smiles and warm greetings, even for strangers.Ashleigh and I made an effort to go to places that would be more authentically Chilean rather than touristy, and therefore tended to be the only non-Chileans wherever we went (although we always made sure that we went WITH Chileans, for safety reasons). Strangers even came up and asked to take pictures with us, and more than one drunk person in the fondas asked to touch my hair. People danced in the streets, and there were more musicians playing on the micros than normal (and they played more traditional Chilean music, such as la cueca). As one of my professors dismissed our class last week, he told us, “Coman harto. Tomen harto. Bailen harto. ¡Disfruten el Dieciocho!” (“Eat a lot. Drink a lot. Dance a lot. Enjoy the 18th!”)
The most impressive part of this week, though, has been the food. Apparently, Chileans attempt to break free from their salt, mayonnaise, hot dogs, and carbohydrates chains and bring out the good food during las Fiestas Patrias. Supermarkets were slammed with customers last weekend, with everyone preparing for asados and big family meals (my favorite moment was turning around in the check-out line to see a little old woman with a shopping cart full of cerveza). In my house, we had steak every day of the week. Gloria told me that on Saturday we were going to have an asado that would just be “something simple and casual”…and I arrived home that afternoon to see a the grill covered in steaks, cuts of pork, Italian sausage, and empanadas, and the table stocked with various salads, potatoes, fresh bread, fruit, homemade sangria, and Chilean wine. I spent the afternoon with Mario, Gloria, Juli, Feña (her husband), Feña’s parents and younger sister, a couple who are old friends of Mario and Gloria, and one of Mario’s nephews and his family, enjoying the meal and fellowship.
Since I finally have Chilean food and to brag about, I am going to snag this opportunity to share some examples of what was available in the fondas, parks, and streets:
- Anticucho- or as Ashleigh and I prefer to call it, “meat on a stick.” These skewers come loaded with meat (I’m not sure if it’s beef or pork, but I prefer to dwell on the deliciousness rather than the uncertainty) and occasionally a small chunk of hot dog (some traditions die hard, I suppose). If the vendors are really buena honda, then they will have hot sauce and chunks of bread to go along with it.
- Empanadas- I am fairly certain everyone knows what empanadas are… and if by chance you do not, go find out as your life is lacking! Chile boasts the empanada de pino, which means it is filled with beef, grilled onions, an olive, and a hard-boiled egg.
- Mote con huesillos- a Chilean beverage of semi-cooked wheat and a dried peach that marinate in a generous amount of peach juice and nectar
- Choripan- Chorizo (sausage) and pan (bread). Add sauces to your liking. So simple, yet so tasty!
- Chicha- a drink that is sort of like a very sweet wine. I say “sort of” because it can be made from grapes, corn, apples, cassava, or other fruits.
- Sopaipillas- warm circles of heaven, in my humble opinion. They make wheat dough, add pumpkin to the mixture, mold it into discs, and then fry it. Depending on the thickness and consistency, sopaipillas can be served with salty sauces such as ketchup, mayonnaise (there’s no avoiding it), mustard, aji, pebre, or mashed avocado, or it can be served with cinnamon, powdered sugar, or manjar.
- Alfajores- there are many different varieties of alfajores, but the traditional Chilean alfajor is manjar sandwiched between two biscuit-y cookies, sometimes sprinkled with coconut flakes
- Rellenos- crispy crepes rolled up and filled with manjar
- Terremotos- Terremoto means “earthquake”, which is appropriate because this drink can knock you off your feet! It is composed of vino pipeño (which I believe is a “young” and rather strong wine, but don’t quote me on that) and pineapple ice cream, and you have the option of adding fernet, grenadine, or mint. After drinking just one of these, you won’t need any more drinks for a while…and in the morning you may feel like you were hit by a “terremoto.” (**For my mother: …so I have heard!)