Chile: Valparaiso

Lovingly referred to as the “San Francisco of South America” by locals, Valparaiso may actually be more like the hard-edged Bay Area neighbor, Oakland.  Nonetheless, it is a beautiful city filled with street art.

Our first smart decision was to stay at the hostel of the writer/editor of the Footprint Chile travel guide.  The owner understands everything about travel, especially throughout Chile and Argentina.  It was an amazing resource when we found ourselves in a crossroads of where to go with the time we had in Chile and beyond.  He set us up with a pretty sweet itinerary.

Our first non-smart decision was walking from the bus station to our hostel.  Valparaiso sits on 43 hills.  These ARE like San Francisco hills.

They’ve even set up an elevator system as part of their public transportation that can take you up or down the fast way instead of winding and weaving through the unkempt streets.

The city itself is a haven for artists and musicians…there’s trouble around every corner.  So when we returned with my brother (yes, we visited twice), our walk included a small detour to get around a student riot.  It included tear gas, paint bombs and lots of broken glass.

Nothing like a warm welcome to the city!

Our second non-smart decision was taking a recommendation for sushi.  Sometimes, on the road, there are foods you crave.  Flavors you haven’t had (which in Argentina was most of them), textures or types of food that go missing from your diet.  Our last meal in SF was sushi and we haven’t touched it since, so when an American recommended a cheap/great sushi spot in a fish town, we jumped at the chance.  Major bummer.  I probably won’t touch sushi again until Southeast Asia.  I’ve never seen that little amount of fish or that much cream cheese (their favored sushi ingredient) on a roll in my life.  But, our next good decision made up for it.

After walking through the city all day, we stopped for dinner at a small, indie coffee shop/cafe.  We tried a local Chilean dish that I will now fondly think back on as Chilean Nachos.  In most restaurants it consists of fries with steak, onions and a fried egg, but at El Pimenton, it’s an apple wine reduction covered in rosemary potatoes with steak and sausage and a fried egg, gourmet style.  Chorillana is not to be missed!

The winner of the best decision of the whole trip was using the donation my mom and dad sent with my brother to purchase a Chilean Cooking Class for the four of us.  We met Boris, our teacher, at the top of one of the city’s acensors.

The kitchen was set up immaculately when we arrived including a welcome sign, knives, Chilean flag aprons and chef hats for everyone.

With Boris’ help we consulted a few recipe books to design our menu before heading to the market.  It included:

  • pisco sours
  • mango sours
  • pebre (Chilean salsa)
  • cheese empanadas
  • fish sausage served atop avocado, capers and onions
  • pastel de choclo (corn meat pie)
  • pipino (sweet cucumber) with lucuma ice cream

Once we had collected all the ingredients, Boris put us to work.  He had a very specific way in which he wanted everything to be done.  He told my brother to chop onions and a few seconds later we heard, “NO, No, no!”  Apparently, my brother was chopping the wrong way.  Michael’s streaming tears could have reflected how seriously he took the criticism or the fact he had to cut three large red onions…he has always been sensitive…

As soon as everything was cut perfectly, we were excused from knife time which meant we got to start drinking.  We had a fabulous time learning how to make cocktails using pisco, the alcohol of Chile.  As we plated our creations and sat down together for our meal, we began with the first of three bottles of wine.

By the end of the evening, we had enjoyed some of the best recipes in Chile, along with enough booze for a few more guests.  And the results were amazing!

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