Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Food and Drink Nostalgia, Chilean Style: Sorbete Letelier

In an apparently Chilean tradition of basing hypersweet drinks on the flavor of dried fruit (see: Mote con Huesillo), there's a soda in Chile based on the flavor of dried cherries. And not just any dried cherries, but guindas. Guindas are sour cherries, and when dried, they wrinkle around the pit and become leathery. When reconstituted, they get that "fat raisin" texture I associate with my mother's noodle kugel or Ecuadorean quimbolitos (cakes cooked in corn husks).

So what's the soda? Sorbete Letelier. It looks like this (photo with an iphone I recently was told was "a relic" so pardon the quality).


What's so interesting about Sorbete Letelier is not necessarily that it tastes like your Cherry Coke married a Dr. Pepper and the spawn had a genetic anomaly that made the Cola taste as well as the kick of the pepper disappear and the sugar content double.

What's great about this drink is that it was here, and then it was gone. And when it came back, there was great rejoicing. From what I hear, I'm new here, myself. The beverage is originally from Talca, a city I admit not to knowing, but which I'm going to get to know pretty soon, I hope. S.L. was introduced in probably about the 1920s for local production, Castel bottling took over its production in 1958 and then pulled it from the market due to production problems in 1985. It returned to the market in 1997. It's still not available everywhere, and when it shows up, there's an occiasional rush of "tienen sorbete letelier!" (They have sorbete letelier!) and accompanying coin-digging-outage. I've yet to see anyone drink an entire one, but that might just be because everyone all around is wondering if they'll get a rush of nostalgia at taking a sip.

The reconstituted dried cherry in each bottle obviously goes to the person who bought the drink. I don't think this is the equivalent of who gets the worm in the tequila bottle, but I couldn't be sure, having never tried either. The expression for artificially-flavored sodas in Chile is "bebida de fantasía." Which still doesn't explain why Bilz tastes like bubblegum, but at least there's no gum inside.

See here for the drink's official website: Sorbete Letelier, and here for Urbatorium's writeup of the drink (in Spanish, with original label pictured). Dates supplied by above websites.


Margaret said...

UUUUU, Sorbete Letelier!! I've never actually seen it myself (not for lack of trying, mind you), but need/want to because as you said, everyone gets all nostalgic at the mention of its name.
I first heard about it at a wine tasting when someone used it to describe a wine smell, which meant something very clear and specific to everyone in the room but me. But if the drink tastes anything like that wine smelled, I can tell you right now it's not for me... but I'm game to try it anyway (if I ever find it), because it's all about trying new things... and sometimes discovering cool surprises, but at least understanding the wine descriptors used by my local peers!

Eileen said...

Hey Margaret,

This particular bottle was purchased and photographed on Cerro San Cristobal at Plaza Tupahue, but I'm not sure from which of the stands. If I see it again, I'll pick it up for you.

I can't believe Sorbete Letelier's not in Le Nez du Vin!

Margaret said...

haha. I acgtually have the Nez du Vin, and you're right... Sorbete Letelier is NOT there, although cherry (cereza, not guinda) is.
I also have the defects (faults) version of the Nez du Vin (common problems found in wine). Maybe I should suggest they make ANOTHER set called "soda pop" to include not only Coca Cola, Fanta, and Dr. Pepper, but Sorbete Letelier, Inca Kola, Bilz & Pap!