“The Avocado Republic of Chile, Because it’s too Cold to Grow Bananas” is Chile’s ultimate tour guide. Laugh-out-loud funny and insightful. American writer Walker Rowe sick of the pollution and noise in Santiago moves to the country for peace and quiet. What he did not know is when you move to the country, you exchange one set of problems for another.
27 September 2014.
I went to the market today. In every town in Chile, once or twice a week, and always on Saturday, markets spring up in the street. There you can buy anything: vegetables, clothes, wooden chairs, tools, books, fruit.
I went in search of strawberries (frutillas, They call them fresas in other Spanish-speaking countries.), wire, and some electrical tape. Strawberries are a spring crop, and this is spring. Chileans do not often buy vegetables, cheese, or olives in the grocery store. You get better quality and lower prices in the street market. This time of year in the market there is broccoli, asparagus, potatoes, lettuce, white onions, spring onions (They are actually cebolline, which are larger and milder than spring onions.), goat cheese, fish, clams, olives, ready-to-eat packages of mixed vegetables, like white beans and chopped onions, and pickled olives.
In Chile, there are a great variety of olives: all of them bland. I am used to the American Safeway where you can buy many varieties of olives and cheese from around the world. But in Chile there are only two types of cheese: goat cheese and a bland cheese made with cow’s milk, which in Mexico they would call white cheese (queso blanco), which I call queso blando. In Chile, they farm dozens of varieties of olives, but they all have the same taste: no taste. Chileans do not use salt to pickle them, most of the time. Those are totally devoid of flavor. I buy the salted ones. Those are called armago (bitter). Someone from Europe, the USA, or the Middle East would not understand Chile acetunas (olives) and would wonder why you cannot buy blue, Swiss, cheddar, feta, Roquefort, Camembert, or Gouda cheese here.
At the market, someone was copying keys. Victor, the key man, copied my house keys using a hand-powered key grinder. I told him he made keys quickly; he said it goes faster when he uses electricity.
I asked Victor where I could buy fish. There was one lady selling fish. In an country not suitable to grazing, except in the south, and with not enough flat land nor water to plant corn and a very long coastline, one wonders why so few Chileans eat fish.
In Santiago and on the coast you can buy clams (almejas), salmon, merluza austral, merluza espanol, tuna (atun), albacore, reinata, corbina, stone crabs (jaiba), and congrio. These fish have no equivalent name in English, that I know of. I know fish. I have fished in the Atlantic Ocean since I was a kid and my dad had a shrimp boat and tugboats.
The fish in the warm waters of the Atlantic are entirely different species than those in the freezing cold waters off Chile. For example, there are no blue crabs here, no grouper, flounder, and no shrimp. That is not criticism, it just means what you see here is different from what you see there. The tuna sold here does not come from coastal waters either. Tuna like warm water. They come from Easter Island, which is Chilean territory 3,800 kilometers offshore. The water is sort of warm there, but it is not Polynesian warm. Eastern Island has lobster too, but those are too valuable to be sold in Chile, so 90% of that is exported. We have nothing here called Chilean Sea Bass either, which is sold in restaurants in the USA using that name. I think some chef in New York who knows nothing about fish made up that name to add to its allure and price.
In Chile, you can buy salmon. They are raised by industrial fisheries in offshore pens in Chiloé far south at the northern edge of Patagonia. They raise salmon in the vast fjords there. The water in the fjords is salt water but it does not have the waves that would make farming the open ocean difficult.
Stone crabs are plentiful here. In South Carolina, which is where I am from, when you catch one, the law says you are supposed to break off one claw and through the crab back. The claw will grow back. But in Chile they take the whole crustacean.
Chileans in addition to not eating much fish do not even go sport fishing in salt water. There are literally zero Makos, Boston Whalers, Betrams, and Hatteras boats dropping a line or trolling for fish in the ocean here. Only the commercial fishermen do that. The reason for this is probably crony capitalism. Five families control most of the quota. The small fishermen sell their fish to these five families with their industrial-sized boats. So the five families control all the fish. The small fisherman are constantly protesting over this situation, fighting with the police and burning tires in the street. Such behavior is every day fare in Chile.
The only fish you could characterize as a game fish in central Chile are giant squid, which commercial fisherman catch with handlines. They go at night and lower a glowing stick into the water to attract them. Be careful with those leviathan. They can grow to 8 feet in length. Their pincher can take off a finger and, imagine a scene from a horror movie, wrap you up in their tentacles. No one has been killed so far. Many have lost fingers.
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Thank you, Scott.
I have been living in Santiago for about one year and I can confirm th
This was an enjoyable read. I could easily picture the venue and und
Thank you so much, Melanie. I appreciate your kind words about my stor
What a touching story! Being an English teacher as well as a music ent