food interlude

this was my first completo–a typical Chilean food, sold basically everywhere: their take on a hot dog comes loaded with copious condiments, including avocado, tomato and mayo.
one of several empanadas I’ve had already–from what’s known as the best place in Viña. empanadas are typical street food & sold everywhere.
before I left Philly, I was chatting with a friend’s housemate who studied here in Viña a few years ago, and he offhandedly told me, “the food isn’t that exciting; it’s mostly bland European food.” aaaaannd…well, that’s partially true. they definitely keep it mild–the “spicy” foods here are … just not spicy at all. hot sauce (or, as they call it, ají) tastes like tangy ketchup. there’s that.in general, the food culture here is very humble. people don’t have the same piousness around food as is common, encouraged, even the norm in the States. like: people eat carbs. bread is a centerpiece of every meal. cakes. muffins. cookies. empanadas. while it seems Chileans really like discussing weight–in particular, elders lamenting que gorditos they are and que flaquitos are the younger folks–I haven’t heard anyone turn down gluten, or ask for non-dairy milk, or forgo a cookie for a kale smoothie. (I don’t think I could find a drop of kale smoothie in this country if I tried.)

if you’re reading this, you probably know I love me my dairy-free gluten-free green-everything, but it’s tremendously refreshing to be away from the obsessiveness around food. have you ever thought about how often, and how passionately, people in the US talk about food? I don’t mean only the gushing, although that’s part of it–“I had the most life-changing tacos the other day”— but also the confessional litany–“I had a burger for lunch, which was so bad, so I should have something small for dinner, but I don’t feel like a salad, so I should have a smoothie, but the place I like isn’t open, so I think I’ll make  a stir-fry, but that has too much fat, so I’ll only eat half, and do you want to share something?” always guilt and obsession and counting. if it’s not shame, it’s fervent infatuation. seriously. meals in the US are an emotional roller coaster.
I could be wrong, but here, I don’t think people have so many feelings about food. it’s more that they have feelings around it: there’s a real culture of hospitality. lunch is the biggest meal of the day, and it can last a few hours. at the end of a meal, the host brings out dessert along with a huge thermos of hot water, tea and a container of instant coffee…
which brings me to perhaps the most important part of this post.
if you know anything about Chile, you probably know that the coffee culture here consists of Nescafe instant coffee and hot water. and if you know anything about me, you know how quickly upon my arrival I learned this (I’d love to hear your bets. it was less than 15 minutes). drip coffee doesn’t really exist here; a few cafes have espresso machines, but they aren’t common. yesterday, though, on the way to the museum, I hunted down a cafe that serves coffee-coffee, espresso and all, and had a cappuccino.
the least Chilean thing I have done this week. my first, and probably last, cappuccino here.
it wasn’t great, wasn’t horrible, definitely wasn’t typically Chilean. apologies to the barista friends reading this: a single-origin pour over or well-crafted cappuccino is great when I can get it, but being the versatile, scrappy, culturally-immersed caffeine addict I am, I’m adapting quickly. Nescafe in the morning it is. I could just switch to tea, but, well, could I?

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