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Eating out in Santiago: Wholesome Chilean food

Back in Santiago, I had to eat and be back on the subway before 10:30 when the last train ran back to Escuela Militaire, halfway from downtown to my hotel. This would be my routine almost every night after working all day in Santiago. On working days, I would be in town making presentations or preparing for them, running between Burford House in Providencia and the Institute where the conference was in La Modeda. And after work, I would have to eat and be on my way before the subway closure (or take a cab, about $10 for that distance; vs. $1 for the metro and bus, which was faster, since the metro avoided traffic). I liked Chilean food. It was honest, basic, mostly healthy food, a chunk of succulent meat and a vegetable concoction, which went well with Chilean vino tinto.

At one restaurant right by the metro stop at Universite de Chile, I ate a huge chunk of cerdo, or steak, plus salad a la Chileno (tomatoes and onion) in a smoke filled room noisy with the click of dominoes. One old man took a liking to a German lady at one of the tables. She didn't seem to mind, but his compadres and all the waiters became involved in trying to distract him from making a nuisance of himself, and he was too drunk to have the sense not to resist, and in the scrap that ensued, none of the participants had the sense to desist and let well enough alone, so the result was entertaining. I watched it with much curiosity over the dregs of my half bottle of wine.

Eating was nice in Santiago. On one occasion I made a run into the mountains from my hotel and in the process found a river with several small restaurants along its banks, so I went back there on the bus after getting cleaned up. There was a Chileano restaurant called Dona Tina serving meals on a darkened veranda. I was the only customer there save a couple in a corner. Lack of diners usually causes me to find somewhere else to eat, but the other restaurants either looked twice as expensive or even worse, so I sat down and ordered a beer. Ordering in restaurants is one of the most challenging of all daily uses of a foreign language, but the waiter recommended something "mas tipico" than what I came up with, so I accepted his suggestion on both the food and a suitable wine, and ended up dining on a piece of roast with an exquisite sauce and a soup of yellow beans which again was heartily prepared and very satisfying after a run and a hard day "at the office" in Santiago. I decided then that Chilean food had a lot in common with French, in that both seem to rely on healthy ingredients plus a method of preparation that adds quality subtly enough to matter. Meanwhile, more people had arrived at the restaurant, confirming my opinion that it was worthy of the attention of others.

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Last updated: November 12, 1997