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Exploring Chilean Culture Through Food

November 9, 2017

Food is one amazing way to get to know a culture first-hand. As I shifted through multiple different cuisines during my study abroad experience, I managed to learn more about their food customs and how they managed to embed that into the culture. As I got a taste of the fantastic grilled churrasco of Argentina, the spicy ceviche of Peru and the overwhelming curanto of Chile, I started to wonder more about the story and traditions behind that dish.

I've even tasted fruits I've never even heard of this semester and they've all been amazing! From chirimoya to lucuma to granadilla, realizing that these have become staples in these countries and are virtually unknown to me allowed me to dig deeper. Everytime I eat with my host mother here in Chile, I ask her about the influence of the dish. Is this a common dish or one of her own creations? Has she been making it for a long time? I learned that most of them were dishes she was raised on but she also drew inspirations from the places she's traveled to and the people she has met - we've had some interpretations of Colombian and Peruvian dishes for dinner at times and I've been thoroughly impressed.

I was grateful to have the opportunity to take a Chilean Desserts class with IES Abroad, led by one of our host mothers. With a few of my classmates (Tyler and Andrew, pictured in the feature image), we were draped with our Chilean flag aprons and ready to go!

(Here I am, whipping up the lemon filling in my Chilean flag apron that I'll probably never wear again but I'll hold onto for the rest of my life.)

Given the elementary level of our Spanish, we had a hard time fumbling around with the recipe and instructions which were ALL in Spanish, a fact we did not seem to consider when rushing to sign up for one of five spots for the dessert class. However, with the instructor helping us and a plethora of Google Translate fumbles... we managed to get our way through our pie de limon recipe! While other groups worked on traditional Chilean alfajors and sopapillas, we were working to create the crust of the pie, the lemon filling and the meringue. I had never made a meringue in my life and it was a very interesting, yet difficult experience.

When asking the host mother who ran the event about the influence of the desserts, she managed to explain to me that they were recipes of hers that she loved and desserts and foods that were very common in Chile due to the abundance of the fruits and the appreciation of the flavors. We managed to communicate with her very well in the kitchen despite the language barrier, finding a common ground with demonstrations and the waving around of kitchen objects. I even managed to struggle through the explanation of the word can-opener in Spanish (abrelatas if you were wondering), something that I'd now never forget. The word is just so fun to say! 

In the end, we ended up with a finished project that was pretty solid and I was surprised that I helped make that! Although, the host mother had a very large role in it and managed to help us recover after Andrew almost ruined the meringue by adding sugar too early. In all, it was a wonderful learning and glimpse into Chilean culinary culture.

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