This blog post is about probably the most important topic there is: food. Chilean food is not well-known in the United States, and there are many that would say that is for good reason. Chilean food is largely light on spice, heavy on salt, and if you aren’t eating bread are you really even eating? Chilean salad is literally just tomato, onion, and olive oil (and salt, of course). Although the mix can be tasty, it would hardly pass for a salad at home. Fortunately, I have been spoiled by my host family’s cooking so far:
But I think there is one major aspect of Chilean food that we can all appreciate: asado. Asado is Chilean barbeque, and here I am referring to the sacred act of grilling meats (and other things) over an open flame and not the glorious sauce. That is a totally different discussion. For both Americans and Chileans barbeque is more than food – it’s a hobby, it’s a way of life, and it’s as much about the people you are eating with as it is about the meat itself. There are some key differences though.
Americans tend to grill during the day. The classic summer backyard barbeque is often an afternoon event, perhaps on Memorial Day or Independence Day. Or dad might slap some burgers and dogs on the grill for dinner. Chileans asadar at night. The earliest one I have been to started at 8, but they can start at 9 or 10. They tend to last until 2 or 3… or 5 in the morning.
In the United States, we might throw some veggie kebabs or some fruit like pineapple or peaches on the grill. A classic barbeque might also include a salad, baked beans, pasta salad, and some kind of dessert like cookies or brownies. Chileans seem to grill meat, and meat, and more meat. Each asado invariably includes steak, ribs, chicken, and sausages all on the grill at the same time. When it is time to eat, a mountain of meat awaits you.
Of course, a pile of meat would feel too lonely without bread. Enter choripan, which is chorizo in bread (a.k.a. better hotdog), and churrascas which is a kind of grilled biscuit. There is nary a vegetable or fruit to be seen, unless you count the glass of wine or pisco as fruit.
I have been lucky to be invited to a few asados so far, and I hope I get to go to many more in my remaining time here. Both cultures have great barbecues because ultimately it isn’t about the food – it is about the company. For me an asado has been more than about eating a fabulous meal. It has been about being invited into a culture and feeling just a little bit more at home here.