Chile is happening.
Of all the places I have visited so far this year, Chile is my favorite. You are always only an hour away from snow capped mountains or stunning beach-scapes. The wine scene here is second to none and is easy to plug into, much different than in the USA or in Europe. The countryside is rustic, with teeny beach towns that remind me of the way Malibu must have looked 100 years ago. The people are friendly, the weather is perfect and the food is fantastic. I could live in Chile!Santiago is an amazing city, great theater, great landmarks, superb restaurants, and a buzzing vibe is in the air, everyone here senses that Santiago is ready for it’s moment. Yet the rustic charms are still easy to find, check out the neighborhood Feast Day fest I participated in if you doubt it. Seafood is everywhere, and the meal I had at Ana Maria or the day I spent at Mercado Central stuffing my face with oceanic oddities is all the proof you need that is truly a seafood lovers paradise. I even found an edible invertebrate called a piure that I had never even heard of, let alone ever saw. The scene that made it into the show is extraordinary. Truly the most bizarre food we have ever encountered. But the parrillada restaurants that specialize in grilling and roasting all cuts of beef are everywhere, and believe me after a few days of eating barnacles, mussels, congrejo, oysters, seaweed and abalone I was ready for some red meat.
I ate my fill on the last day in town, even eating grilled cow udders, a very tasty treat, but the real meat eating lay a few hundred miles inland. So I took off for Fondo Collanco, a 10,000 acre spread a few hours outside of Temuco.
Fondo Colanco is a private ranch that I visited on the day of the Spring castration. We watched about 30 bulls get snipped and then retired to a barn for the day. We stripped the balls from the scrota, taking them to a giant plow set over an open wood fire for searing in oil, garlic, and chiles before parking them between two homemade rolls for hand sandwiches. The scrota were sauteed with onions, tomatoes and wine into a capullo, or sac-stew! After braising for 3 hours they melted into your mouth, heavenly. But the real treat was yet to come. The Mapuche Indians who work the ranch have been there for generations, working for the owners family for hundreds of years, a true feudal system. When they castrate the bulls, they make a sacrifice of 2 lambs. They string them up by their feet, put a knife behind their tracheas and bleed them into a pan. The blood is seasoned with onion, cilantro and lemon and it sets, into an instant pudding. You eat it before the blood even has a chance to cool. While we were eating this dish, called a niachi by the locals, the lambs were skinned and seasoned, put on a rotisserie and hand turned for 2 hours while we ate the ball sandwiches and the capullo cooked. Several salads of tomatoes and avocados were made and then we all sat down, lord and serf, guests and family friends to a feast that ranks as one of my all time faves. Moises and Christina, our hosts, were the kindest, most wonderful people I have met in years, and their willingness to invite me to share not only in the meal, but to see a ceremony that no one ever experiences outside of a handful of Mapuche, was the icing on the cake.
Anyone thinking of taking a break in a beautiful country, steeped in history, with vibrant cities and rolling country side, cool mountains and warm sea ports would be silly to ignore Chile, my new destination of choice in South America.