If everyone who'd ever complained about food here in Chile were to raise their hands simultaneously, it would create an upswell current that would probably rip the pants off of whoever lives on the opposite side of the planet. Who is that, anyway? My bearshapedsphere is all distorted, don't you know.
So the point is, we bitch about the food. It's not what we're used to. It's not bad, it's just new (to us). It also tends towards hearty and mildly flavored. There's not a lot of delicately snipped herbs tossed in a light vinaigrette. It's more, here's your damn lemon juice and salad oil (or maybe olive oil, if you're lucky), plonk, now have a nice day (or don't).
There's a lot of typical Chilean food that Chileans are over the moon for, just like your mother's lasagna (I'm talking about my mother's lasagna here, if your mother's lasagna is no good I can put her in touch with Mamaj) is the best lasagna you've ever tasted. In my case, I'm spoiled because everyone in my family cooks quite well, either by intuition or recipe. Have I told you about my brother-in-law's cooking affinity? The man could easily knock your socks off culinarily, even from a distance. But anyway, the food you grew up eating has a special place in your heart (on your waistline) and in your palate.
Today I'm here to talk about two foods which my friend and I recently ate (one for each of us) at El Rincón de Pancho, to my mind the best option in the market that's close to the Congreso in Valparaíso. The closest metro stop (about four blocks) is Muelle Barón (a funny name in and of itself, since b and v are pronounced the same, and Muelle Varón would mean a male pier. What do I know, I just hope they put up one for the ladies sometime). There's another market, too, farther from the bus station (rodoviario, not estación in Valparaíso, anyone know why this is?).
Anyway, off to Fransisco's corner we went (El Rincón de Pancho), and we ordered two of Chile's wintertime specialties: perníl, and mariscal.
Here's the perníl, and no, my friend does not have unusually tiny hands, this is a tremendous hunk of chancho (pig). C had been dreaming of perníl since the summer, and was not disappointed. This particular cut can be cooked on the stove or in the oven, or started in the oven and finished on the stove. It must take an eternity to cook, and though I'm sure someone's grandmother out there is starting it right now for a late lunch, it's something people mostly eat when they are out and about. It seems to be part of the chancho's leg and a quick google reveals it to be the pork shoulder. A nice, thick layer of something you don't eat (fat? skin?) that you pull off to reveal the succulent meat below. We joked and joked about how huge it was, and a fellow diner came up to check on my friend's progress a number of times. I asked him if it was among the top 10 perniles he's ever eaten, and he said it was one of the very best. So there you have it. If you've been craving perníl and your abuela won't make it, or it's been too hot to eat it, head over to this resto and get your fill. Price: 4,000 pesos and a dose of statins. Want to make it yourself? here's a recipe. Disclaimer: I am not a pork eater, so I just looked on in amazement.
The second dish is the famous mariscal. Mariscal looks like this:
and tastes like this:
Insert happy/sad faces here.
To be fair, I am not much of a seafood eater. Usually, when faced with either shellfish or fish or veggie options, I will choose veggie, followed by fish. Shellfish just isn't my forte, which is a great way of putting it, because the flavor of shellfish in Chile with all of its jiggly mystery phalanges and OMG, I actually saw the valves of the bivalve is strong. Mariscal is a soupy collection of a giant variety of shellfish, including the piure (red sea squirt), picoroco (giant barnacle) and more ostiones, choritos and other little sea creatures you can think of. If you are a seafood eater (like Mamaj), it is delectable. C also said it was delicious. I was looking around the room and wondering how many bivalves a cat could eat before he or she would get sick. (only one kitty indulged me, and of course I didn't start feeding her until I was done eating).
Still, this was the best seafood soup I've tried in Chile. It was brothy and fishy and soupy and perfect for a rainy day, if only I really loved seafood. I tried it because I could, and because the other version I once tried was deemed not good by the people I was with. As I was staring into a soup of things that would have stared back at me if they could have, I thought of a friend (who may identify herself, if she likes) who was recently on an all-meals-included work junket and presented with a lovely mariscal for dinner. Problem being, her stomach tells her to pass on the stuff. She sipped the broth and maybe even dipped some bread (how ordinario!), and feigned a lack of hunger. I don't have stomach problems, per se with mariscal, it's just not something I need to order again. Like ever. 3,500 pesos, and don't forget the lemon, especially after eating the red sea squirt (piure).
I think I'm all out of stuff to say about these two foods, and am off to wander the city and go from meeting to meeting, and then do a stint as a foley artist (helping a sound tech with making rustling sounds, I hope I do a good job!), and all the while think happy salad and vegetable thoughts. And if I get hungry, maybe I'll check out that new Vietnamese place over in Recoleta. I hope they have something vegetarian.