Out of Office: Authentic Chile

Traveler staffer Giovanna Palatucci writes about her trip to Chile, where she quickly discovered there’s more to this South American country than the dry Atacama Desert to the north and the snowy peaks of Patagonia to the south. This is the first post about her trip.

When I stepped off the plane in Santiago, not only was I stepping foot in Chile for the first time, but in South America as well. My general knowledge of Chile extended little past the northern Atacama Desert, snowy southern Patagonia, and the mysterious Easter Island. However, I was here to explore its heartland and to try and get a bead on the culture.

I traveled to several of Chile’s wine regions, each characterized by rolling valleys covered by miles and miles of grapevines. The Colchagua, Maule, and Curicó valleys are three of 14 wine regions in Chile, and each one showcases the best of Chilean culture. In search of authentic Chile? Here’s what to eat, drink, hear, and see on your next trip.

The one dish I ate maybe three or four times during my trip is called pastel de choclo. It is a very popular and traditional Chilean dish made with mashed corn and meat (often beef), baked together in a ceramic pot. Although there are many variations, it typically will include a hard boiled egg and onions baked inside with a sweet layer of sugar caramelized on top. The dish is warm, hearty, and delicious. Another typical food to sample in Chile is pebre, a type of salsa made of freshly chopped tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and jalapeno.

After 50 years of strict regulations and high taxes placed on wine production and consumption, in the 1980s Chile relaxed its grip on the wine industry giving way to a vintners’ renaissance. Leading the charge in Chile’s wine resurgence is Carmenere, a rare red grape varietal that flourishes in the country’s perfect soil and climate conditions. Carmenere is bold and spicy and will compliment your pastel del choclo.

Music and Dance
Esquinazo is the name for a Chilean folk group that performs traditional songs and dances like the cueca, Chile’s national dance. Performed in pairs, the footwork and movements of the cueca tell the story of a rooster chasing a hen. The dance is flirtatious, loving, and energetic. Although today the cueca is more folk tradition then popular dance move, children continue to learn it in school and it is danced on Chile’s National Day. 
Rari is the traditional art of knitting dyed horsehair. Don’t just purchase these intricate crafts, rather watch weavers create beautiful designs and jewelery in mere minutes.
Photo: Three generations of rari weavers. Video: Chilean folk dancers perform the cueca. By Giovanna Palatucci