fun foodie events

20140221-172922.jpgWhen I first arrived in Santiago, it didn’t really seem to have a big culinary scene. Certainly, after the wide range of “puertas cerradas”, restaurants, parrillas and great bars in Buenos Aires, Santiago’s line up paled by comparison.

But, after much research, more time to get to know the city, and advise from people who had been around a lot longer, more options started to bubble to the surface. And not just the range of restaurants to try out, but in particular, those events that take place outside the standard confines of a restaurant.
The many different iterations of “cena escondida” (hidden dinner) events.

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Creative chefs who either don’t have their own permanent space, or want to use it a little differently, and try something new, without a standard menu that only changes once every couple of months.

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There are Chilean chefs who want to honour traditional recipes with quality produce, or take quality local and produce something creative, sometimes testing the boundaries, based on what’s fresh and in season.  There are chefs that have come from abroad, putting their own creative spin on the wide range of available ingredients.  The common underlying factor is that they want the freedom to express themselves through their food, and produce a quality product which, for the consumers, is great news.

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Most of the events are based on shared tables, making it suitable for solo diners but, of course, it is always nice to go with someone with shared interests so finding some fellow foodie friends here was a big bonus!

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It’s not as easy to keep up with what’s going on in these circles as it is to walk past your local restaurant and see if they’re open.  Many a time a local has asked me “but, how do you know about these things?”.  It’s really a case of keeping “an ear to the ground”, and social media and word-of-mouth goes a long way.

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So, despite my initial reservations upon arriving in Santiago, I now find there is such a wide variety of events that it’s sometimes impossible to keep up and, for the budget and the waistline, I can’t get to all of them.  Still, it’s great to seek out something new and interesting, and treat ourselves once in a while, definitely something I love about living in Chile!

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Plaza Peru

Another of my favourite outdoor places, Plaza Peru is a little oasis nestled in the middle of one of the busiest business districts of Santiago.

A large, city-block sized park, with some play equipment for kids, lots of park benches and plenty of shade, it’s a great spot to take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life.

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On Wednesday’s, they host a small organic market, and have free yoga classes.

I often meet a friend there for lunch after an English class, either buying a nice baguette from a nearby bakery or, if I’m organised, bringing a salad from home.  It’s always a popular lunchtime meeting point for people from the surrounding businesses, or Nannies with kids from the neighbourhood (sometimes, you even see the kid’s actual mothers!).

It’s a little piece of peace in the middle of the day, and one of the things I like about living in Santiago.

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South America

20140211-202151.jpgOr “location, location, location!”

Let’s face it, I’m not just living in a new country, but also a new continent, which brings with it a variety of different places, people and culture, and fantastic opportunities to explore.

It’s not like I’m on the move all the time like last time I visited South America and covered 7 countries in five months.  I work and have some form of daily/weekly routine that keeps me in Santiago most of the time.

But living here allows me to get out from time to time, and get to know places that would be   s o   f a r   away if I was still in Australia.

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I have managed to see a little more of Chile, flying up to San Pedro de Atacama when a friend visited, taking a road trip up the coast and into Valle de Elqui with another visiting friend, and another road trip south as far as Valle de Maule with another friend. These latter two trips obviously incorporated some wine and, indeed, my interest in that field has also led me to explore, in depth, many of the wine regions around Santiago.

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I saw a lot of the rest of Chile when I was here last time, but I’m sure the opportunity will come up at some stage to revisit more of this beautiful country.

But there is, of course, also opportunity to get out to see a little more of the continent.

Last August, I took a truly-foodie trip to Lima with fellow-foodie-friend Fernando and, in addition to seeing some of the city’s sites, experienced the great range of Peruvian food, from the street, to China Town, to the city’s top two restaurants.  Although I would have liked to have seen the sun sometimes (Lima is notoriously cloudy), the trip was delicious, fun, and worth the extra 5 kilos!

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Over New Year, it was great to be able to take a friend up on a very kind invitation to spend some time on his country property in Uruguay.  After finding some reasonably priced flights, a group of four friends enjoyed a relaxing time together, sharing home cooked meals and exploring the coastline and surrounding areas.  Those of us who were visiting, albeit for a second or third time, got to know a different part of country and enjoy seeing it through the eyes of someone that had lived there for 10 years and knows it very well.

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When a Buenos Aires-based friend managed to get a free apartment for a week in Mendoza, I was able to find a very reasonable flight (US$140 return – cheaper and quicker than the bus) and join her and another friend for a girly week of wineries and restaurants.  With the exchange rate very much in our favour, it turned out to be an indulgent week with a relatively cheap price tag.

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So, I’ve managed to get to know some places a little better and it’s great to be able to jump at these opportunities, which would be so far from reality back home, when they arise.

This year, I plan to see some places that I’ve never been before, both of Chile (e.g. Easter Island), and abroad, like Colombia.

Although flights here are not cheap compared to Europe or the US, where competition is more intense, good offers come around and I will be keeping my eye on them to see what other opportunities present themselves.

So, I don’t just love living in Chile, I love living and experiencing all that a whole new continent has to offer!

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Cerro San Cristobal

20140210-211347.jpgCerro San Cristobal perches above Santiago, and is another popular spot for exercise, by bike riders, runners and walkers alike.  There is also a cable car to get you to the top if you’re feeling less energetic, or you can drive up in your own car.

The hill makes a great weekend workout and, after climbing the steep paths to the Virgin that stands at the top, you are rewarded with a view over all of Santiago.  Unfortunately, it also the best vantage point to see exactly how polluted Santiago can be at times, which you sometimes don’t notice as much at street level.

20140210-211400.jpgThe locals are out in particular force on the weekend, and I swear that some only make the effort in order to drink the ridiculously sweet, yet refreshing, “mote con huesillo” at the top, a local specialty made with dried peaches, sweet juice, and a good serving of “mote”, a kind of barley.

When I take the hike, I don’t usually carry my camera, or any valuables for that matter, as it can be unsafe.  There are stories of robberies on the sometimes secluded trails, and particularly if you are there late in the day (which I’m not, Dad.)  Unfortunately, that means not many photos from the top!

It’s great to have Cerro San Cristobal close by for the occasional weekend challenge, and to see so many people making the most of the great outdoors, making it one of the reasons that it’s one of the things I love about living in Chile!

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Valpo

20140209-220606.jpgValparaiso is Chile’s biggest port city and, before the Panama Canal, was thriving.  Now, it’s still an active, if less-busy, port, but the city now thrives on tourism.

The lower part of Valpo is built on reclaimed land from the sea, and the surrounding steep hills are filled with colourful, tightly packed houses – all different colours because they were apparently originally painted with whatever leftover paint was available after the ships had been painted.

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Another unique characteristic of Valpo is the “elevators” that carry people up the hills, for about $200 pesos (40 cents).  Many of the elevators are currently under repair, but a few of the main ones still operate.

20140209-220549.jpgI visited Valpo for the first time when I was here five years ago, stayed a couple of nights, ran around and saw the major “tourist attractions” (including one of Pablo Neruda’s houses), got debilitating food poisoning from something and, when I was able to, went back to Santiago.

No wonder that, when I got back to Santiago last year, I wasn’t really in a hurry to go back to Valpo.  I went to the beautiful Casablanca Valley (which is on the way) a number of times, but never bothered to go any further than that.

My next trip to Valpo eventually came about after living in Santiago for 7 months, when some friends were visiting from Argentina and we took a day trip on the bus.  I went again shortly afterwards when a bestie visited from Australia, and we spent a day in Casablanca before continuing on for an overnight stay in Viña del Mar, and an exploration of Viña and Valpo the following day.

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Each time I go, I discover a little more about Valpo and love it a little more.  Sure, at ground level, it’s still a port city – grungy and dirty and at times, a little shifty.  But there is beautiful architecture and interesting life and, hit the hills and (as touristy as they are), they are an open-air gallery of beautiful street art and lovely hidden art galleries that you can explore for hours.

20140209-220737.jpgThere are also great restaurants and, in a case of third-time-lucky, I finally got to “Pasta e Vino” with some visiting Aussie friends, and have been back twice since!

It’s quickly become probably my favourite restaurant in Chile and, yes, I’ve been known to take a Sunday trip to Valpo just to have lunch there after fantasizing about their corn gnocchi with carne mechada.  Yum!

20140209-220757.jpgIf you have a car, great, but it’s a cheap and short 1.5 to 2 hour bus trip from Santiago, and you don’t have to worry if you have a couple of wines at lunch.

So, now, I’ve come to think of Valpo less as a place that you go to show visitors around, and more as a nice day trip from Santi to get out-of-town on the weekend, eat well, and spend some quiet time exploring the meandering and colourful side streets and their resident galleries.  It’s almost like the Melbourne equivalent of Daylesford, without the spas.

Valpo, you have definitely become one of the things I love about living in Chile.

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vendimia

20140204-171315.jpgVendimia!  Vintage!  Harvest Festival!

I had SO much fun last year, and the first festival of the season is just one month away. The biggest, held in Santa Cruz in the Colchagua Valley, will run from 7-9 March, and the other regions will soon fill the calendar in the weekends after that, finishing in early April.

I managed to make it to at least four last year, Colchagua, Buin, Pirque and Casablanca, plus a couple of private ones at wineries and restaurants. Hopefully I can get to as many this year, and maybe fit Curico into the mix.

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Folk dancing (cueca), live music, grape squashing, traditional costumes, local produce, great weather, country settings, good friends, lots of delicious food, and wine, wine, wine!

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It’s the best time of year to be in Chile, and one of the things I love most about living here.

My first Thanksgiving dinner

20131124-203822.jpgIt’s been a while between posts, and I’m sorry about that.  There’s a number of reasons, but a lack of fun things to write about is certainly not one of them.  Rather than backtrack, I thought I’d sit down and write about an event while it was still fresh in my mind.

One of the good things about living in a diverse city with so many expats, is that you get to sample a lot of different cultures, not just the local one.  It’s been “French Week” here for example, so there have been a number of French-style events around Santiago.  I also recently enjoyed a South American festival, with a great selection of food and wine, on a sunny Spring day in the park.  On top of that, the North American Thanksgiving is upon us, Christmas will promptly follow, then it’s New Year’s, etc.  They don’t call it the “Silly Season” for nothing!

untitledIt seems rather ironic that, although I’ve spent time in the US (and have an American brother-in-law!), I had my first Thanksgiving dinner in Chile.  When I first saw the event published, I thought the menu looked great, but I didn’t immediately sign up as I didn’t think of it as “our holiday”.  The event had been organised by Kimberly, another fairly recent arrival, this time from New York, who has set up her own business “Savory Five” and works with local chefs to deliver events with a twist.  As the date got closer, I heard from a few “gringo” friends about what Thanksgiving means to them and, no, it wasn’t ALL football, the discovery of America, and turkey.  In fact, for many, it is the launching pad for the holiday season, a great time to share with friends and family, and an opportunity to reflect on all the things you are thankful for.  With a new perspective, and a few places still remaining at the table, I enlisted seasoned foodie friend, Fer, to join me and we booked ourselves in.

20131124-203833.jpgThe evening started relatively early by Chilean standards, at 7pm, and was held at Casaluz, a pretty little restaurant in Barrio Italia.  When we arrived, we were shown to a beautiful, leafy courtyard where we were immediately welcomed with a refreshing cocktail.  Always a good start to an evening!  Despite the recent bout of hot weather, the day had been quite cool and the evening threatened rain.  Given the outdoor setting, and the amount of work that had been put in to make the courtyard look beautiful, I really hoped that it wouldn’t be the case.  The organisers were prepared for the cool change however, with soft, fluffy blankets available to wrap yourself in as the evening cooled down and, thankfully, the rain held off and the sky cleared as the night went on.

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We initially mingled, armed with our cocktails, and enjoyed some Thanksgiving-themed appetisers, my favourites being a yummy Pumpkin Arancini, and a Goat’s Cheese and Bacon bruschetta with Apple Chutney.  We bumped into some friends we already knew, and met new people, including a lady who had recently spent time with her daughter in Melbourne and couldn’t speak highly enough of our beautiful city.

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As people filtered in, musicians played softly under a nearby tree, and the pumpkin-resembling lanterns were lit up.  The courtyard and tables had been decorated with abundant Thanksgiving produce, some embellished with gold paint.  The overall effect was relaxing and lovely.

We were soon seated at our tables, and our order was taken for our choice of entrée, main and dessert, all with a Thanksgiving flavour of course.  Fer and I chose different dishes for entrée and main, but both decided we really needed to try the Pumpkin Pie for dessert.

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The rocket salad with figs, pecans, dried cranberries and parmesan looked great, but my Pumpkin and Ginger soup was not only good, but also reminiscent of home.

By the time the mains were being served, the sun had fully set and the lantern-lit courtyard was full of the buzz of people enjoying their evening.

For the main, Fer had ordered the quintessential Roast Turkey.  It was a little on the dry-side, an easy thing to do with turkey, especially when feeding so many people.  I went for the Rib-Eye, not being able to go past the promise of a good pepper sauce.  I felt a little like Fred Flintstone when my huge steak arrived and, although the meat was nicely cooked and tender, there was no way I was able to get through it all, not even with the help of some willing neighbours.  I wasn’t sure about the connection between Rib-Eye and Thanksgiving but, as we ate, our hostess Kimberly explained that her Great Uncle Stan always prepared a fresh Rib-Eye at Thanksgiving and the dish was on the menu in his honour.  A sweet tribute.

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The mains were served with “fixings” or sides, served “family style”, shared in the middle of the table.  There was a lovely plate of roast vegetables, mashed potato, an apple sauce for the turkey (as fresh cranberries had proven elusive in Chile at this time of year), and the delicious pepper sauce for the Rib-Eye.

During the meal, we were served different wines by our friendly sommelier, starting with a Sauvignon Blanc and a 100% Petit Verdot, and followed by a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which was my preference.

20131124-204123.jpgOur dessert arrived and, although the pumpkin pie was soft and sweet with a good texture, it really wasn’t to my taste.  I guess that’s what comes from a lifetime of eating pumpkin as a savoury food.  The alternative dessert, a pecan bar, arrived for my neighbour and he was kind enough to let me taste it.  It was nutty and tasty, but a little dry and possibly could have benefited from a little caramel sauce (yum!).

After being offered coffee, and lingering a while longer, we decided to make a move before we ourselves turned into pumpkins.  As we said our goodbyes, our hostess gave us a lovely “care package”, which contained a hand-drawn Chilean card, and a take-home serve of roast turkey.  I guess, like any good Christmas, there’s never a Thanksgiving without leftovers, and it certainly made the next day’s dinner an easy choice!  The package was trimmed with a card, prompting us to think of things to be thankful for, of which there are certainly many.

Overall, it was a fabulous, very well-organised evening, with every detail given careful consideration.  Considering that the kitchen had no experience with Thanksgiving dishes, the food was very well prepared, plentiful and delicious.  Most of all, it was lovely to mingle with a diverse and fun group of people, many of whom were also experiencing their first Thanksgiving dinner.

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