Remote Year Month Nine Chile: The United States is More Like and Part of Latin American Than It Thinks

The United States has more in common with Latin American than most people in North America think or know about. That is what I learned in Chile. Many Americans look at Europe as its kin, but after my first few weeks in Latin America with shared immigrant heritage as settler nations, with the same unresolved issues of massive inequity, latent authoritarian tendencies, non compassionate capitalism, and endemic violent religious/race/class conflict that come with that.

This has really come to roost in the last few months. Seeing police attacking journalists and thinking they can get away with it and wanna-be secret police feels almost karmic in some ways.

Latin American of course, has key differences, the Spanish language heritage as well as societies based more on casta and class. Race is different here, and I don’t want to use North American assumptions as a framework. However, it can’t be denied are the similar dynamics of waves of White settlers, subjugation of indigenous people, slavery, and histories of immigration. Although assimilation and cultural constructions ultimately differ, the lighter the skin spectrum, the better your life outcomes are in South America as it is in North America. Unresolved roles around the church and state and  conservative elites willing to bend to authoritarianism for commerce and security exist as well, which is endemic globally. I think specifically about how elite Chileans and Portuguese supported their capitalistic and in case of Chile, explicitly neoliberal dictatorships and the effect neoliberal policies have had in the US. 

The connection to the US of course is that a lot of the suffering and torment from Latin American dictatorships came directly at the hands of men like Nixon and Kissinger, hungry to protect capitalism and influence in their backyards. American prosperity is directly and intimately connected to the political and personal lives of our American neighbors, for in the Americas we are connected by our settler births. 

A Brazilian friend once told a lot of things turned out differently in the US and Canada was that people came to settle versus people coming to exploit in Latin America. Some of the first Europeans to arrive and settle for reasons of religiosity are something we’re still grappling with today, but I’m not sure it was so different for the Spanish and Portuguese either. 

Disturbingly, what I did also take away which might be good for me or maybe not, is that a privileged class will be okay, although living in a perpetual uneasy fear of violence, even as the governments fall apart in the Americas. It’s the case everywhere but perhaps even more pronounced in deeply unequal societies like Chile, Brazil, the United States, South Africa with histories of brutalization, exploitation, and a wide spectrum of skin tones and ethnicities. Indeed, how much COVID-19 seems to be ravaging the Americas uniquely and South Africa might have a direct connection to that past.

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So what I learned that month is that the United States of America, really belongs to the Americas for better or worse. The original sins: the subjugations of indigenous people, slavery, and now a caste-like societies we live in are something we have to answer for and atone for if we want to move forward. It ties us to the rest of las Americas. 

Chilean Sandwiches: I’ve Never Loved Tomato, Mayo, and Avocado with Meat So Much

Seriously. The food I miss the most from Santiago are the sandwiches. I had the fancy stuff, the delicious wine, and the upscale experiences, but sometimes the food I appreciate the most are the greasy pleasures after work with a beer.

First of all, I have to thank my from Maria from Santiago for recommending these delights to me and giving me some background. Chile, like the rest of Latin America and the Americas in general received immigrants from all over, including many Germans and Italians. At some point techniques and food culture combined with local ingredients transformed and created new dishes like Chilean sandwiches.

My must recommend for Chilean sandwiches is Fuente Alemana, styled like old school German diner with vague feelings of when I visited Bavaria, only in Spanish and a world removed. It was literally one of the first places I went to and one of the last places (both locations above) I went to in my time in Santiago with multiple visits in between.

Upon Maria’s advice, I ordered a Lomito Italiano that tasted like a melange of Chilean, Italian, and German with sliced cuts of pork, sauerkraut, tomatoes, and a generous heaping of homemade mayo that I realized is a signature joy in Chile. No Best Foods trash here; It tastes way more creamy, flavorful, and possibly more fatty yet doesn’t leave you with the feeling of self-hatred and disappointment when you squeeze it out of a bottle of artificial mass-produced Kraft goop.

I loved Lomito with the draft beer on top. Then I quickly discovered that one of Chile’s best crops and what people brag about are the tomatoes, the best and juiciest I had in the South America by far at these sandwiches, and avocado, called palta and this part of Latin America. The food is about the ingredients, and the avocado here tastes extra buttery and rich.

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I became obsessed with the simple combo found all over Chile of tomato, avocado, and mayo. It sounds so basic bitch, but every ingredient is so of top quality, especially paired with churrasco beef, which I personally liked more than the lomo, and the fica buns that vaguely remind me of a cross of NYC kaiser rolls and Italian ciabatta, again, the combination of the history of Chile here in my interpretation.

I think multiple orders of this the month I was in Chile singlehanded raised my cholesterol level for the year. Worth it.

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Of course, the classic that Chileans’ talk about and is available everywhere is the Completo, a hot dog with, you guessed it, tomato, mayo, and avocado. Fuente Alemana has a high-end version of it and was so loaded the waitress held it in place because it plopped over from the weight of all toppings as soon as I put it down after a first bite.

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While I loved just hopping over to the Fuente Alemana locations whenver possible, I have to give an honorable mention and strong recommendation when visiting La Vega, a must do in Santiago. La Vega is one of the biggest local markets for everything with a storied history and significance to the city, and I have to recommend Donde El Nano for their version of the Chacarero sandwich (who knew sliced green beans could taste so good and fresh with so much grease?), which they called the Veronica. I asked for lengua meat, which they made for me special along with the delicious broth with a generous heaping of cilantro. I can’t describe how satisfying this was.

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The owner is also such a jovial and friendly dude and really goes out of the way and clearly wants everyone visiting to have a good time versus the Fuente Alemana experience, while it might feel more authentic, feels authentically like a place people are popping in after work for comfort food and expected to tip and bounce ASAP.

Either way, the sandwiches are the must for me in Chile beyond any of the really nice fine dining with wine places I went to because I really felt like I was tasting local comfort food with history.

Learn more about Chile’s sandwiches. Don’t believe? Anthony Bourdain agrees.

Fuente Alemana

  • Website
  • Bourdain went to this one near Plaza Italia: Av Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins 58, Santiago, Región Metropolitana, Chile
  • Close to Sky Costanera: Av. Pedro de Valdivia 210, Providencia, Región Metropolitana, Chile
  • $5-10 USD 

Donde El Nano

  • Website
  • Inside La Vega: local 235, Antonia López de Bello 743, Recoleta, Región Metropolitana, Chile
  • $5-10 USD 

Peumayan’s Door to the Indigenous and Ancestral

I’ve had the pleasure of eating a lot of delicious food around the world this year, but this place struck me as so special because of uniqueness of the food, celebration of heritage, and the fact that if this restaurant were somewhere like LA or NY, the chef could charge 3x as much and be the toast of the town for innovation.

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A badass female chef took us through Peumayan Ancestral Food menu on lovely Sunday. The restaurant concept takes indigenous ingredients and cooking methods from groups like the Mapuche, Rapa Nui, and other indigenous groups in South America and builds a multi-course tasting meal with all those elements, with bonuses.

 

Normally, I loath the concept of elevating “ethnic food.” For an Asian person, that often comes with the baggage and implication that waters down food and plates it in a fancy way to make it more palatable to White people, when 1) the food is good as it is 2) high-end Asian cuisine already exists that isn’t geared toward White audiences.

On the flip side of those politics, why can’t “ethnic food” be just as finely enjoyed as French Food and Italian food, with the same pomp and ritual? Especially when food with seasoning just tastes better? (Haha.)

I don’t think that latter stance was fully clarified for me until going to Peumayan.

An explanatory comma first, traveling to Santiago was my first time truly traveling in Latin America. My stereotypes about Chile mostly came whatever content I absorbed on the internet through time talking about how the southern cone of Latin America is so “European.” Luckily my friend Maria from Santiago complicated those notions and told me the history of her country. Still, I knew so little about complexity of the indigenous history in Chile, and how the Mapuche were the one indigenous group to successfully resist the Spanish conquest.

Peumayan takes the richness of that history and creates a high-end dining experience celebrating the ingredients and cooking of pre-Colombian food, and does so exceptionally well. I’m mad that the dining and food culture locally and globally doesn’t seem to have that on the radar at all.

Most of my travels through Chile and Latin America weeks later all have the same sad undercurrent as the indigenous culture as among the least celebrated heritages in these countries. Although there are exceptions, especially in Peru and I’m assuming Boliva and Paraguay, the present-day living culture, and food culture in particular case of Chile, it isn’t something that seems to pique curiosity, let alone as a part of the rich heritage of the country to cherish and value.

I hope Peumayan and what the chefs are trying to do here gets a lot more famous. A tasting menu for food this quality would easily be triple the price in LA or NY. I put this at the top of the list for a restaurant recommendation in Santiago.

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Exceptional flavors from sweet to savory that I’ve never quite experienced. Everything tasted so earthy yet refined.

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The above is the bread platter and amuse bouche for the first round.

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Main courses.

 

Desert, with a lot of flavors of local Chilean wine.

 

More about the food.

More about Peumayan:

  • Website
  • Providencia Constitución 136 Santiago, Providencia, Región Metropolitana, Chile
  • ~$50-70 USD tasting menu plus drinks