When I think about my time in Chile, I think about the people I met, the places I visited, and of course the food I ate. Many students talk about a place’s cuisine when they travel and share their experience abroad, but I’d like to think I’ve got a different perspective. As a self-proclaimed picky eater, or mañosa, I definitely wouldn’t call myself a foodie. However, even I found that food and meals were very important to my life and integration into the Chilean lifestyle.
Bread is definitely a constant in a typical Chilean meal. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or once, the Chilean evening tea-time, one can expect to be offered a piece of bread. Before coming to Chile, I loved bread (who doesn’t?) and I was thrilled by the thought that I’d get to eat it all the time without judgement or worrying about carb consumption, unlike back home. I was immersed in the newness of the city and country, and was excited to get to know more about the way of life, including how Chileans came to form this beautiful obsession with bread, among other things. Pretty soon after, there came a time when I would cringe at the site of bread, and politely decline when it was offered to me. I’d eaten too much, too often, and only realized it after I started getting tired of it. In the same fashion, once the novelty of study abroad started to wear off, and I realized I truly was living in the country, I was better able to observe my surroundings.
Avocado and Tomato
Both avocado and tomato are widely adored foods in Valparaiso. They would make regular appearances during lunch with my host family, and were even popular in street foods, like the completo, a Chilean hot dog. To my taste buds these vegetables are less than stellar. Despite many attempts to understand the sentiment of the majority, they still taste terrible to me. Just like avocado and tomato, I was confronted with aspects of Chilean culture that I didn’t like or didn’t quite understand at first. For example, I was often irritated by the amounts of cigarette smoke that I was forced to inhale, and was shocked by the stories of piropos, or cat-calls, my friends would receive on the streets. But, of course, I learned not to be too upset by aspects of Chilean life that I didn’t like or understand at first, because that meant that I was learning to discern what was truly part of lived Chilean experience, rather than passing through to see the nicest parts the way a tourist might. As students studying abroad, our goal is usually integration – really getting to know a place and becoming a part of it. For me, that meant accepting the general love for tomatoes and having to swallow a few myself.
I would argue that pebre is the mother of all Chilean condiments and easily one of the tastiest foods I ate while there. It’s a simple salsa comprised mostly of onion, cilantro, and peppers, and even tomato, but it can vary greatly depending on who makes it and what they decide to add. As a traditional Chilean food, it’s eaten during the national holiday and even during everyday meals, and although you can eat it with most anything, it’s usually enjoyed on top of a simple piece of bread. When I think of my integration experience I think of pebre. It’s as varied and diverse as the people of Valparaiso, and many parts of Chile. I got to know this on a deeper level than I would have if I only paid attention to what seemed appealing. The biggest reward in my study abroad came in feeling like I truly understood the people around me and how they lived on their own terms, and that they had an opportunity to get to know me as well. By the end of my semester I was able to take the complex, sometimes conflicting ingredients that made up Chilean life and my own experiences to make a unique recipe that I’ll have to chew on, encouraging me to give other flavor combinations or cultures a try.
Shardae White is a student at Austin College and studied abroad on IFSA-Butler’s Chilean Universities Program in Valparaiso, Chile.