Right under my nose
May 3, 2010, 3:16 pm
Filed under: chile, culture, food, santiago, south america, travel

Parque Balmaceda

Originally uploaded by cobismith.

We’ve spent the week exploring our local neighbourhoods, Providencia and Bellavista. It’s a ten minute walk half through park and half along highway (what a contrast) to the hubs of both neighbourhoods, in either direction.

On our first morning in Providencia we stumbled unexpectedly upon the local market, where they sold all the fruit and vegetables I could imagine, along with several I’ve never imagined before. We’ve become fond of a fruit that sits alongside the apples in supermarkets but is more like a small melon. It’s mottled white and green on the outside but on the inside is like a small, but sweeter, honeydew melon.

I love the way they handle pumpkins here. Rather than sell pre-wrapped portions, or opt for some dwarf variety, most market stalls and even supermarkets have one giant pumpkin. A customer asks for however much pumpkin’s desired and the grocer lops a chunk off with a giant knife there and then.

There’s also a bewildering array of grains and pulses. I was thrilled to get a bag of quinoa for about a dollar at the market, given that it’s typically several times that at health food stores in Australia. They also have puffed and honeyed amaranth as a breakfast option.

South America is lucky to have these excellent, whole-protein grains to call their own. So it could be a health food paradise – except fast food chains probably have more of a grip on the local population than traditional staples. As well as the typical Macdonalds and KFC there’s a fast-food chain called Schopdog, which sells hotdogs and revels in United States kitsch. Here in Chile guacamole comes with everything; hotdogs are no exception.

Guacamole or avocado salsa comes with everything because avocados are abundant. Tim was thrilled to discover you can buy them for a dollar fifty a kilo at the supermarket. Given we use avocado instead of butter (especially with vegemite on toast – try it!), having this staple so readily available is a one of those little things that make living in Chile worthwhile.

They eat late here, with breakfast nearly non-existant and lunch the main meal after 2pm. This took a few days to get used to, and one day we were hungry at 1:30pm after wandering since 11. We were in the heart of Providencia’s restaurant area but everywhere we asked said they didn’t start serving until 2. We resigned ourselves to eating at home, so walked back to our apartment with growling stomachs, imagining what we’d concoct with what remained in the fridge.

We reached the base of our apartment building and, still in the spirit of wandering, peered down the lane alongside. It was filled with upmarket cafes! Somehow we’d missed this every time we’d left and returned from the apartment thus far, as from the street the lane looks like it could be just a service entrance. I blame the jetlag on our lack of attention to detail.

Fortuitously it had just passed 2, so there was food and service galore. We sat down at a table where we could bask in the afternoon sun, where I had a vegetarian pizza (which was average, but I was hungry enough not to care) and Tim had a tofu and betroot salad, which was excellent. We also had fresh mint and pear juices served in beer glasses, which was a delightful combination I intend to repeat at home.

The best value vegetarian food we’ve found so far turned out to be right under our noses.


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