It wasn’t until last summer while on a trip in Europe that I decided I was indeed a foodie, constantly searching for my next best meal, trying new interesting things, exploring the city in its delicacies and trends. Now as I spend my semester working in Santiago, Chile, I’ve fully embraced this title. Food is my favorite way to travel for many reasons, other than taste. It connects you to a culture that previously you may have felt completely separate from: it’s a universal language when you’re still trying to navigate a world of subjunctives and slang, and it’s a way to understand the people.
Beyond just having fun, exploring, and taking lots of pictures while abroad, you are forced to figure so much out about yourself. For me, it’s been a complete challenge, attempting to master a language that I’ve struggled with for years, getting comfortable with a new country, and of course working for a small startup where each task you’re given actually makes an impact. Not every moment is glamorous or fun; life abroad can be lonely, and working abroad is a balancing act. Yet, somehow behind all that struggle, you manage; that’s where the real flavor comes from. In food you can find innovation, art, and care. See below for a taste of my Chilean adventure, as told by my top three favorite foods!
Chapter 1: Milhojas - where my Chilean love affair began
The glass window was full of sweet treats; cookies with strange fillings, cakes with tempting layers, and mousses of all colors lured us in. I turned to my mom, who was my travel buddy for my first week in Chile, and instantly suggested the smallest thing in the window, still something sweet but perhaps a less guilt-filled option. My mom looked at me with disappointment, rejected my request, and instead pointed to a giant slice of a foreign cake. “That,” she said.
The waitress served the cake, revealing a slice built from layers and layers of pastry with manjar and raspberry preserves oozing out the middle. The finishing touch? A cloud of whipped cream on top. I had to admit, this option did look tastier than the bland mini cupcake I originally suggested. Good choice mom. When I tasted it an instant pop of flavor and texture. It was so wonderful, every element perfectly planned: the manjar salty sweet, the raspberry tart, the pastry plain enough to break up the sweetness but still add the right crunch, and finalized with the soft whipped cream pulling together all the flavors. These milhojas, also known to be Chile’s favorite cake, were absolutely delicious. From that moment I knew I would be fine the rest of my six months in this country, because if anything, Chileans knew how to do cake right. The milhojas were my official initiation into Santiago, Chile; I stopped feeling like I would be a stranger in this land and decided it was time to get comfy and start living.
Chapter 2: Sushi - An old friend gets a new haircut
Before coming to Chile I assumed I’d be saying goodbye to one of my favorite weekly meals: sushi. From all you can eat sushi bars to grocery store sushi packs, I was a little obsessed but was prepared for the withdrawals once abroad. I was surprised to learn that sushi joints are just as common in Chile as Dunkin’ Donuts are in Boston. For this reason, in the first week abroad I decided to reunite with my old friend. Yet, as I entered one of the many “hole-in-the-wall” sushi restaurants, I was greeted with a menu completely unrecognizable. Was it just my poor Spanish that made me misread? I didn’t understand, was there “queso crema” (cream cheese) on everything? Was that really sushi with chicken? And what exactly was “acevichado” style? Overwhelmed, I didn’t know what to do. Sushi was no longer the comfort I thought it would be; this was a whole new breed.
In fact, it was. In Chile, they serve “Nikkei” which is actually a type of sushi that fuses Japanese and Peruvian flavors. At first, I didn’t know what to think; but when that plate of sushi topped with a mouth-watering layer of ceviche came out, I was floored. It was different, but that was okay. This fresh-take on an old classic delighted my senses in so many ways, revamping the way I thought about sushi with new sauces, flavor combinations, and textures. I like to think of this as my entire stay in Chile. From kissing strangers on the cheeks, to exploring Torres del Paine National park in Patagonia, my semester abroad has been a complete surprise. And it’s different, but actually… I like it.
Chapter 3: Empanadas: what’s really in the center?
After a month in Argentina, I was thrilled to return to South America and have the opportunity to indulge in my favorite treat, the empanada. The empanada is almost like a calzone: a savory dough, either fried or baked, with a delicious cheesy center, usually with some extra add-ons like shrimp, mushrooms, or onions and beef. Between the tasty crust and the gooey center, empanadas are South America’s ultimate comfort food.
One night, a friend and I ordered a whole platter of them. We didn’t know what would be inside, which was problematic for my pescatarian self. The next ten minutes turned into the two of us cutting into the eight mini empanadas to find out what was inside. As we cut down the middle of each releasing steam, a delicious aroma from the tasty center greeted us. Don’t be deceived! The outside of an empanada looks pretty, and when you cut in, it’s usually just a mess of oozing cheese and fillings, but that’s the tastiest part.