Burt Wolf's Menu: Santiago - #117

Santiago, the capital of Chile. The gastronomic center of one of the most interesting parts of South America... where excellent wines are produced in some of the world's most beautiful vineyards... Street foods as varied and interesting as the best of Europe. And just down the road you'll find Chile's own Riviera. And the entire area is packed with excellent restaurants.  So join me in Santiago for BURT WOLF’S MENU.

Santiago is a major city with some five million people living and working in the metropolitan area. Many of its inhabitants have parents, grand-parents or great-grand-parents who immigrated here from Spain, Italy, France, Germany or England.  And much of Santiago has a very European feeling.

In the center of town is a plaza, which is the resting place of Bernardo O'Higgins. O'Higgins, the son of an Irishman, became a major Chilean military figure during the early 1800's and a leader in the wars that led to Chile's independence.

The Plaza de Armas is the city's historic center.  It was actually laid out by Pedro de Valdivia when he founded the city in 1541, only 49 years after Columbus's first voyage.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Every Sunday morning and Thursday afternoon there’s a wonderful concert here in the bandstand, except during the month of February.  It’s Sunday morning, and you can probably guess what month it is.  But all is not lost -- my gaffer Igor, who lives in Santiago, made a tape of the music last week, and we’ll play it for you while we take a tour of the plaza.

Santiago's railway station is the Estacion Central. All the trains that connect southern Chile with Santiago depart and arrive from this imposing building. It was actually designed by Eiffel who designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Eiffel did a number of projects in South America during the first part of his career. But when he got the big spire job in Paris, he decided to stay home next to his "tower of power". Poor guy began to believe  his own press. Always a danger.

Santiago has a mild Mediterranean climate. The median temperature in the winter months is in the fifties. And though the summer days can get into the eighties, lack of humidity makes it quite comfortable.

There are a number of excellent examples of South American colonial architecture, some beautiful parks, and as a permanent backdrop, to make sure you don't forget that you are in Chile, there are the Andes Mountains with peaks that go up some 23,000 feet.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Some towns have street food and some towns don't. It's usually a function of how the people of the city feel about food in general, and that city’s particular history. A city like London has almost no street food at all.  And that seems to be true for places like Sydney, Australia or Montreal, Canada. Other towns like New York, Amsterdam and Rome seem to be lined with streets of eats.

And that’s also the case for Chile's capital city of Santiago. The town is perfect for a street food lover, but the trick to getting the most pleasure for the calories is to have a guide. Someone who really knows what's good and even more important, where to get the best of it.

My tutor for taste is a young Chilean named Mario Artaza.  He’s followed his father's footsteps into the Chilean Foreign Service and I am following his footsteps into the street food shops of Santiago.

MARIO ARTAZA:  We’re in Domino’s.  Domino’s has been open since 1952, and they’ve kept the same recipes for all their sandwiches since then.  As you can see, we have barros jarpa and barros luco, two sandwiches named for two famous Chilean politicians of the last century.  Barros jarpa is hot ham, hot cheese.  And barros luco is hot cheese and hot meat.  Now, you can also have venesa sola and venesa completa.  Venesa sola is just, just a hot dog, all by itself with the bread.  Venesa completa is what Domino’s is famous for.  Comes with avocado, tomato, and mayonnaise -- like the Italian flag?  The red, the white and the green.

BURT WOLF:   Let’s eat!

MARIO ARTAZA:  All right -- this is the Italiana.  See, it has the tomato... watch out.  Gotta have a lot of these.  Part of the art of eating the completa is getting your hands dirty.  If you don’t get your hands dirty when eating a completa, it’s not a good completa at all.

BURT WOLF:   On my shirt, on my pants, on my shoes --

MARIO ARTAZA:  The whole deal, Burt.

BURT WOLF:   People have got to see you when you come out of here and know that you’ve eaten a completa.

MARIO ARTAZA:  And you’ve stayed away from work, too.

BURT WOLF:   (Laughs with mouth full)

MARIO ARTAZA:  After the completa it’s always good to have a mid-day coffee.  We’re going to the Cafe Haiti, famous for its Brazilian ground coffees.  It’s where all the businessmen here in Santiago hang out mid-day.

BURT WOLF:   Is that true for women also?

MARIO ARTAZA:  Well... you see sometimes you see some women in the Cafe Haiti, but mostly businessmen.

BURT WOLF:   It’s good coffee!

MARIO ARTAZA:  Straight from Brazil.  It’s the only place that imports Brazilian coffee in Chile.  They own the whole share of selling Brazilian coffee in this country. 

BURT WOLF:   The idea of serving water with coffee is quite traditional.  The Austrians were the first people to have coffee houses in Vienna, and they always served water with the coffee because they thought that coffee was too strong for your stomach, too acidic, and you have some water with it, it cuts down the acid.  It’s a good idea.  What are we eating next?

MARIO ARTAZA:  Well, from the Spaniards and the Italians we inherited our love for bread.  And in Chile, people eat a lot of bread.  These are coliza.  Some families buy one of these for a whole weekend, so when it’s dinner or lunchtime you part it out.  And it’s like a family bread.

BURT WOLF:   And you can see the pattern of the wheat that the baker has pressed into it.  That’s very nice.

MARIO ARTAZA:  Ayulla... whole wheat integral...

BURT WOLF:   Ayulla is also used for sandwiches.

MARIO ARTAZA:  That’s right.

BURT WOLF:   We had one of those before, okay.

MARIO ARTAZA:  That’s right.  And cachito.  Cachito, like the bull? 

BURT WOLF:   Ahhh!

MARIO ARTAZA:  The horns.

BURT WOLF:   And there’s the baker.

MARIO ARTAZA:  And the baker’s located down there. ... Here we have a whole variety of pizzas that Chileans love to eat.  We have pizza completa --

BURT WOLF:   Ah, that’s like the completa which we saw as a frankfurter.

MARIO ARTAZA:  That’s right.

BURT WOLF:   Okay...

MARIO ARTAZA:  A meat pizza, but here you have the whole piece of meat.


MARIO ARTAZA:  With shrimp...

BURT WOLF:   Right...

MARIO ARTAZA:  ...with pork loin, and with mushroom.

BURT WOLF:   And that’s a sandwich I never saw before.

MARIO ARTAZA:  Oh, that’s a chacarero.  “From the farm.”  Has meat, tomatoes and green beans.

BURT WOLF:   Nice.  It’s a meal really put together.

And those are just some of the street foods of Santiago.

Santiago is divided into very distinct neighborhoods, each with its very own character.  Providencia is a neighborhood that is associated with excellent residential areas, both in private homes and apartment buildings.  It also has some fabulous shopping.  Providencia is also known as the home of Santiago's most elegant hotel, the Park Plaza.  It only has about a hundred rooms, which makes it small enough for the staff to really give very special service to the guests.  It's nice to get to know the people here, and to get the feeling of home.  The hotel has also gone to great lengths to detail the entire building in a way that reinforces the feeling of quality.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  During the 1800s, and the first decades of the 1900s, hotels were famous for the high quality of their cooking.  But by the 1950s, they were equally famous for the low quality of their cooking.  Fortunately that has begun to change.  It’s particularly true here in Santiago, and very true at the Hotel Park Plaza.  They have a restaurant that is so good that it is constantly packed with locals.

The chef, Joel Solorza, is one of the city's most respected professionals.  The first dish that Joel is preparing is a very traditional homestyle beef stew that comes from the south of Chile. He starts by heating a little oil in a sauté pan. Then in goes a pound of beef cut into bite-sized strips. Two cloves of garlic go in, a dried red pepper... hot stuff. Instead of the whole red pepper you can also use dried red pepper flakes.  Those ingredients cook together for a few moments.  Then in goes some oregano... salt... a cup of sliced onion. Five more minutes of sautéing.  A sliced potato.  A half cup of white wine.  As soon as the wine has cooked off and the beef is beginning to look dry on the surface, everything is transferred to a deep-sided pan. Four cups of beef stock are added and the soup simmers for 20 minutes. At the end of the simmering time, four egg whites are whisked in. Then the soup is ladled into serving bowls and just before the soup goes to the table a half of an egg yolk is stirred in and topped with a pinch of oregano and some fresh parsley. As I was writing down the last part of this recipe my producer commented that she could just hear me saying "the egg yolk is optional." So I'm not going to say it.  But I'm thinking it.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   In 1535, a Spanish expedition headed south from Peru in the hopes of finding a civilization similar to the Incas. The Spanish had just discovered the Incas, and that was thrilling. Thrilling for the Spanish, that is. The Incas were into gold and so were the Spanish. As a matter of fact, the Spanish were into the Incas' gold. Anyway, the expedition came up empty-handed, and frustrated and exhausted, they headed for the coast to meet up with a group of Spanish ships. As the young, homesick lieutenant broke through the woods at the top of these hills and saw the magnificent bay below, it reminded him of his hometown in Spain.  And named the area after that town, Valparaiso.

Valparaiso was the first Spanish coastal settlement in what was to become Chile. It also became the country's most important port. The original town was built around the central dock area and for many years was greatly influenced by big English corporations who settled into Valparaiso as Great Britain became Chile's largest trading partner. The old Grace shipping building and the Queen Victoria Hotel are reminders of the period. And so is the downtown commercial area, which was built under the influence of British merchants to look like London. They even installed Turri Clock, their own version of Big Ben. As the town grew, it was forced to move up the surrounding hills. The result is a very unusual city with a population that moves up and down a series of very steep elevations. The residents make the trip many times throughout the day, and often the journey is made in cable cars.

Valparaiso's central market hasn't changed in over a hundred years, and its energy is still at an extraordinary level.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Because Valparaiso has such a long history, it holds the record for a number of Chilean firsts. It had the first gaslight, the first telephone, the first firehouse, and it holds the record for the oldest continually-published Spanish language newspaper in the world; it is called El Mercurio, it started in 1827, it is still published everyday, it’s as influential as ever, but I cannot find the comics.

Valparaiso is also the seat of the national government. That's the new Congress Building, the symbolic home of Chile's new democracy. A democracy, by the way, with a voter turnout of over 90 percent. Democracy may feed the soul, but across the street is a man who for over forty years has fed the body. The Mani Tostado shop toasts and sugar-coats nuts. They are the national snack of Chile and when you buy them here they are still hot from the roaster.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Gracias.  The owner wanted to know whether I thought a shop like his would do well in North America. I told him I thought it would. North Americans love sugar-coated nuts... just look at some of the politicians we elect.

Just down the street from Valparaiso is the luxury resort town of Viña del Mar. Viña del Mar is to Chile what Monaco is to the south of France. Long wide streets lined with palm trees... Long wide beaches lined with señoritas... And long wide casinos lined with money. Viña del Mar has a great deal of charm. The people are very pleasant. There are dozens of restaurants with excellent food and the whole place is designed for having a good time.

Sergio Lopez-Pugh was my guide.

SERGIO LOPEZ-PUGH:  We're in a rather new part of Viña del Mar.  The actual city was developed in the land which is that way, along the hills in the back.  This part, and the whole city, actually, was mostly farmland.

BURT WOLF:   Farms.

SERGIO LOPEZ-PUGH:  Yeah, and they belonged to a single family.

BURT WOLF:   One family owned all the land.

SERGIO LOPEZ-PUGH:   The whole place.  And the land was inherited by this family, and in the early 1800s, around 1830, 1840, a member of this family decided that it would be just a shame to waste this beautiful sun and the weather and the water and everything else, so they decided to build a city.  And they used to have a vineyard.  And since the vineyard was close to the ocean, they called the city Viña del Mar --

BURT WOLF:   "Vineyard Near The Sea"

SERGIO LOPEZ-PUGH:  -- meaning "the Vineyard Of The Ocean." yes. 

BURT WOLF:   Okay.

SERGIO LOPEZ-PUGH:  Now, if you look at that pier to our left, the story of that pier is quite interesting.  They used to, when they built it, they used it to load minerals from ships.  And so the only things you had were the railroad tracks that went all the way to the end of the pier, and the track ties.  And I recall that when I was about twelve years old, we used to come fishing here.  And the fishing was great, I'll tell you.  But the thing is, you would have to go jumping from one tie to the next, and underneath there was nothing, just the ocean.  So you'd have to be very careful and balance yourself with all the fishing gear in one hand and the pole in the other one, walking along these railroad tracks and hoping they wouldn't return home all wet.

BURT WOLF:   Ah, the things you do when you're a kid.

SERGIO LOPEZ-PUGH:  I know, if my mom found out, she probably wouldn't have liked it.

Chef Joel Solorza at the Park Plaza Hotel has a home near Viña del Mar, and has mastered many of the local seafood recipes.  This fish soup is a perfect example.

The recipe starts with 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 cloves of garlic going into a hot sauté pan, plus a dried chili, or if it’s easier, some dried chili flakes. Next a cup of sliced onion... a large tomato, sliced... a clove of sliced garlic... some paprika... oregano... chives... bite-sized cubes of fish... about a cup's worth... a cup of shrimp... some with heads on, some without... the shrimp heads, of course, are optional. Then a cup of baby shrimp and a half cup of oysters. Those ingredients cook for a few moments and in goes a cup of white wine. A little salt and white pepper. Three cups of fish stock or clam broth or chicken stock are added. Ten minutes of simmering and the soup goes into serving bowls. Just before it goes to the table a tablespoon of cream is spooned on top, along with some chopped chives.

Roast pork ribs with spicy mashed potatoes is often prepared for a family gathering. Having tasted it a number of times on my visit to Chile I decided to join a family just for the food of it.

The preparation starts with a slab of pork ribs. The size and number of slabs depends on the number of guests at the meal. A general rule of thumb is one pound per person. A little oil that has been sitting together with a few garlic cloves gets rubbed onto the meat. Next comes a light coating of chopped garlic, followed by a slathering of a sauce that's made from one cup of ketchup mixed with 4 tablespoons of hot Chinese style chili paste. While that's going on I should point out that chili peppers got started here in South America and were taken to China by European explorers. Next some oregano goes on, salt, white pepper, and a few dried chili flakes. Then the meat goes into a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. When it comes out, the ribs are sliced into serving portions and come to the table along with some spicy mashed potatoes.  And here's how those potatoes are made.

Potatoes are peeled and boiled for 20 minutes or until they are tender. Then they go through a potato ricer that breaks them into tiny pieces that look very much like rice. It's a nice gadget for mashed potato lovers, but you can mash the potatoes with a fork and end up in just about the same place.  Whatever you use, don't use a food processor; they can easily turn potatoes into glue.

Once the potatoes are mashed, Joel adds a half cup of milk for every 6 potatoes plus a tablespoon of butter... a little salt... and a heaping spoonful of chili paste. Being the artist that he is, he then puts them into a pastry bag and pipes them onto the dish.  Pork ribs with spicy mashed potatoes -- ¡Muy bueno!

The missionaries who travelled with the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s planted the first grape vines in Chile. The wines that were made from those grapes were used as altar wines in the services of the church.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  And that was pretty much the story of Chilean wine for over 100 years. But then in 1851, a man named Silvestre Ochagavia realized that Chile had the perfect soil and climate to be a major wine-producing nation.  And so he set about importing both vines and wine makers from France, and building some vineyards. Well, his experiments were quite successful and he soon became known as the "Father of Chilean Wine."  Which really annoyed his children, but hey, that's life.

Today many international experts feel that Chile is becoming a very important wine producer, with the government playing a major role in encouraging quality.  The most successful wine-growing areas are just outside Santiago. Three of the most famous Chilean producers are Undurraga, who holds the distinction of being the first Chilean to export wine to the United States; The date was 1912.  Then there is Concha y Toro, which is the largest and probably the best-known in North America.  And finally Santa Rita, who makes excellent wine in one of the most beautiful estates I have ever seen.  Roberto Rivas is giving us the grand tour.

ROBERTO RIVAS:  ...like for example the araucaria, which -- they are a very unusual tree.  Here is the, the new generation.

BURT WOLF:   Oh, it has these daggers that come out; I read about this.  The daggers come when they’re young so no animals can get on it, including people, and when the tree gets big and strong it loses the daggers.  It’s a natural protective system; very clever.

ROBERTO RIVAS:  Well, this tree is very useful in the southern part of Chile, because from the seeds it will become the bread for the Arucanians.

BURT WOLF:   Oh, they make bread from the seeds of the tree.


BURT WOLF:   No wonder it’s the national tree.  What’s that?

ROBERTO RIVAS:  That is a Romanic swimming pool.  Swimming bath.  It’s a very small swimming pool, and it’s everything covered by the walls.  And the main idea was to make this for the females swimming at different times than the males, so they won’t see each other in swimming costumes.  And the other thing is they won’t see each other’s, their pirellis.

BURT WOLF:   Oh, Pirelli, the tire manufacturers -- oh, in English we say “you won’t see my spare tire. 

ROBERTO RIVAS:  Spare tire.

BURT WOLF:   Ohh, pirelli.  What a great word.  Of course, they could have had an exercise and diet program, saved all than money on the building.

ROBERTO RIVAS:  Yeah, but at that time, you know how they used to be -- sitting and relaxing, enjoying themselves. ... This church, it was a wedding present for the daughter of the founder of the winery.  And it was done by a very famous French architect.

BURT WOLF:   It was a wedding present?


BURT WOLF:   Difficult to wrap.

ROBERTO RIVAS:  Yeah, well, they worked very hard at it.  And inside the chapel, you can see a part especially for the family, and the other part is for the rest of the people.  As you can see that we’re restoring everything back again.  It’s beautiful. ... Well, here, we will open this Medalla Real cabernet --

BURT WOLF:   Mmmmm.

ROBERTO RIVAS:  -- which is coming from the grapes we have here in the background, means it’s a cabernet sauvignon variety.  So I hope you like it.  This wine has been aging in a barrel like this one for a period of time of three hundred days.  Cheers.  It’s very round.  Very fine.  Doesn’t stick out.

BURT WOLF:   I won’t be talking for awhile; I’m just going to be drinking.

ROBERTO RIVAS:  (Laughing)  Enjoy, then.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   I once heard Chile described as a long, thin country, similar to the west coast of North America, running from the very top of Alaska to the bottom of California, only flipped over into the southern hemisphere. One of the results of that flip is the North American winter is the South American summer. Another result is a reversal of harvest seasons for many fruits.

Somewhere along the line, someone in Chile realized that New York was directly north of Chile's major farmlands and that their summer harvest was perfectly timed for North America's winter. Nice deal for everyone. Chile is now a major exporter of amazing apples... precious peaches... perfect pears... plump plums... great grapes... and kiwis, for which I could not figure out an acceptable alliteration. Anyway, from December through April, the United States and Canada are the importers.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Of all the information that has come in in recent years about the relationship of food to good health, I think my favorite is the material on fresh fruits. It appears that a diet that is high in fresh fruit is very good for us. As a matter of fact, just a single portion a day can make a difference in terms of your heart. I really like it when we find out that something that is healthy is also easy and tastes good.  Well, that’s our tour through Santiago, Chile.  Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for good things to eat, and the reasons why people eat them.  I'm Burt Wolf.