You can’t start an adventure without having the proper gear. Just so, if you want to be able to cook in the chilean kitchen, you’ve got to get to know your basics. These are the ingredients that are a must-have in the pantry of every kitchen:
Vegetable Oil — Aceite Vegetal
Vegetable oil is used more prolifically here than in the United States. A liter of vegetable oil is usually gone within two weeks in our household. Olive oil is an alternative, but it is much higher priced, around $5 for a 500 cc bottle compared with $3 for an entire liter for vegetable oil. It’s a pretty big price difference, especially when you are using it in such a large quantity. Personally, I was shocked when I first got here to see how much oil people use here. I almost never put oil on or in my food. If I do, I am making fried chicken or I use olive oil. The food is tasty though, so I don’t judge too harshly.
Bread — Pan
If you like bread, you are in luck in Chile. It is in second place for the country that eats the most bread in the world, right behind Germany. I personally have always been a fan of bread, and here we get to buy fresh bread every day for around $1 per kilo. The only thing is wheat bread and flavored breads are not common. When I make banana bread, my in-laws call it a cake because bread here doesn’t have flavor. What we usually buy is more like what most people would call artisan bread in the states: little loaves of white bread of various forms. I think it is fabulous, but some gringos who come here complain that there are too many carbs. I say get over it. How often do you get fresh baked bread in the States? Yeah, and Subway doesn’t count.
Salt — Sal
This one is the ingredient I have the most problem with here. I hardly ever use salt. If I do eat it, it is on french fries or in the form of Johnny’s Seasoning Salt for some chicken or pork. I have more of a sweet tooth than anything else. However, the people here love their salt. On everything. In large quantities. We buy salt by the kilo-sized bag at least once every month or so. I have convinced the family that we can leave most of the salt off of things and add it to each’s preference later. Let me tell you though, for the older folks, that is a battle not easily won. Their taste buds are gone and they tend to think that the salt isn’t “salty enough” and pile it on. Blehhhh.
Mayonnaise — Mayonesa
Ah, the condiment of choice. When I first arrived here as a student, I thought it was really weird that people used mayonnaise. I couldn’t even remember the last time I used it. That all changed. People put mayo on everything. Potatoes, rice, hotdogs, chips, crackers, hamburgers…and not just for a condiment. It is an essential part of many dishes. One of the first impressions I had of my husband was of him pouring mayo on everything on his plate and mixing it all together to eat it. Yeah. I thought it was pretty gross. Living here has changed me though. I now eat mayo on a regular basis. Not as much as the chileans, but I am not a stranger to it anymore. We even make homemade mayo every once in a while, which is way better than what you buy in the store.
Lemon — Limón
Lemon here is used quite a bit. I won’t lie, there are many days that I can’t eat the salad that is served because it tastes like a lemony salt lick. However, due to the amount of lemon that is used on a daily basis, lemons are cheap and there are a lot of delicious recipes that include lemon in a flavorful, non-taste bud gagging way. We always buy them fresh and juice them. I recommend lemon used along with some chicken, a little rosemary, and garlic.
Avocado — Palta
The amount of avocado that is eaten here amazes me, and it is very fortunate because it is one of my all time favorite foods. I am actually allergic to the ones that are available to buy in the US for some reason, but I have no reaction to the ones here. I think it is because they don’t use nearly as many pesticides on the produce. The avocados are a different texture here as well: they are creamier with less water, meaning you get more flavor for your money. A kilo of avocado here only costs around $3. Compare that to the US where I was paying around $2 per avocado, and it is an immense bargain. We put it on hot dogs, hamburgers, salads, plain bread, and make fresh guacamole on a regular basis. Qué rico!
Sugar — Azúcar
Here, dessert is a big deal. Usually, there is dessert after lunch, which for us has lately been fruit because it is a little healthier, but if there is a special occasion, you can bet there is going to be lots of sweets. Cakes, pies, pastries, ice cream, the works. I have a big sweet tooth and love the desserts here, but sometimes they go a little too excess on the sugar. Toothache sweet, if you will. The regular use of sugar for sugary treats has made me happy. I love baking. In the States, however, if I made something, I knew that no one would eat it. Too many people are on a health kick anymore and it made me a little sad. You can be healthy and have dessert every once in a while, people! Here, I know anything I bake will be gone within 3 hours of it coming out of the oven. Luckily all of the ingredients for baking are pretty cheap, so making bulk desserts is not a problem.
I sense that after reading this list, there are some health nuts out there having a mini heart attack. Yes, people really eat all of this all the time. Heart disease is a major issue here in Chile. It is the number one killer. The culture doesn’t really support much change though. People can try and cook as healthy as they want, but when you go to social gatherings or family events (which is practically everyday in this household) you don’t get much choice. One thing that is not a problem that I have seen in chile, however, is obesity. I have met people who may be out of shape or a little overweight, but I have never seen someone who is truly an obese person. I think it makes a huge difference that the food is fresher here. Even in the restaurants they use fresh and not packaged ingredients for the most part. People are generally more active here as well which makes a big difference.
Friday I’ll talk a little more about the culture of food in Chile and next week I am going to spotlight a couple of dishes that I think deserve their own post. If you would like to read the introduction to this series, click here. Also, if you have questions or comments, I would love to hear them! What do you think about the chilean diet so far?
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