Nichol and Matt go to Chile!

Archive for lider

Musings from the Supermercado

It’s been two days since the earthquake, and things are feeling a little more stable. Stable enough in fact, that we thought we’d write a little something about groceries. Specifically, some of the more…different…aspects of grocery shopping here, compared to back home.

First off, in such a beautiful, farm-rich country, it seems odd that the ‘supermercados’ seem to have very little selection (and spotty availability) when it comes to produce. The best selection that we’ve come across has been at the Lider about a 5 minute walk away (or 10, if the Chilenos are out, they only seem to be in a hurry if there’s a train to catch, and then they’re ruthless…but that will be for another time). In the produce department, we’ve learned that just because we see something one day, there are no guarantees that it will be there 24 hours later. This rule even seems to apply to the most ‘basic’ of ingredients like tomatoes, lemons, apples, even broccoli and bananas! The only produce that they never seem to run out of (lucky for Nichol) is avocados, and (lucky for nobody) bagged lettuce (which proceeds to go bad overnight in our fridge).

When we are lucky enough to find what we’re looking for, the process of buying said ingredients is slightly different than what we’re used to. It seems as though Chilenos love to make everything into a process, even when not dealing with bureaucracy. Case in point, one does not simply put their produce into a bag and bring it to the till to be weighed upon check-out. No, you place the produce (and baked goods, if you’re in the bakery) into the appropriate plastic bag (making sure to triple knot it…or else they’ll glare whilst doing it for you) and proceed to take it to the nearest available scale, where, eventually a disgruntled employee will weigh each bag, print out a bar-coded tag and stick it to the sack. Oh, and don’t even think about not bagging something (even a single piece of fruit), that will only earn you sincere exasperation as they proceed to do it for you.

Now for the deli. Remember in 1989 when you took a number to get your sliced ham? Well those days are back! Except this time, there are six employees having a good ‘ol time chit-chatting behind the counter, and don’t even think about approaching until you’ve taken a number (even if there’s no line; see previous post). Thus far the process seems to be worth it if we’re looking for pork products (top-notch) or chicken, but the beef here leaves something to be desired. Enjoy your Alberta beef folks, it’s a treat!

Most of the other aspects of the stores are pretty Westernized, albeit it with understandably far fewer choices for any given product, and the complete lack of fresh milk and quality cheese. Here, milk comes in tetrapacks that take years to expire (and is a pale shade of grey), but oddly there seems to be an entire aisle dedicated to yoghurt (you can even buy it in a 1kg sack!). After the yoghurt, perhaps the best stocked aisle pertains to booze, especially wine and pisco derivatives. We know it’s common outside of Canada, but we still find it strange to have a liquor department in the grocery store (or convenience store for that matter). Oh well, at least we don’t have to make an extra stop. 🙂

With all of the necessities in hand, it’s time to head to the till. Here the process is quick and efficient. Ha, we just got you didn’t we? No, in a similar vein, the cashiers run the items through without too much urgency and usually ask if you want to pay in ‘cuotas’ (installments) if you’re using a credit card. Luckily, a bag-person is present at every till; however, as we recently found out, they are not paid an hourly wage. Instead, they pay the grocery store ~500 CLP a shift (about $1 CAD), and work for tips. We’re not sure what the going rate typically is, but based on what we’ve observed we generally tip about 300 CLP. Unfortunately, even here the addiction to plastic bags is evident (e.g., a double-bagged mango, itself in the produce bag) and the tips do not guarantee effective bagging (evidenced by the bottle of rum on the carton of eggs…double-bagged). Seriously, we’ve gone through more plastic bags since being here than we would have in a year back home!

With authentic tomato sauce!

On a lighter note, there’s all sorts of fun products that we’ve come across. One example is the par-baked pizza crusts, complete with ‘tomato sauce’ (denoted by the still dry, red-tinged area…they’re not big on pizza sauce here…), but it works well enough as a base. Canned fruit in cream is another interesting one…our favourite is “Svelty” (no one is getting svelty with 25% MF cream…). A final example that we came across today is the package of par-cooked chow mein noodles, which were actually quite good for tonight’s stir-fry. The Asian noodles, made in Peru, serve as a great example of cross-cultural confusion as evidenced by the cooking instructions on the back, which we’ll sign off by directly quoting (we’re not making this up):

  1. To place to the fire containing a litre of water, to the boiling of this, to introduce vermicelli in her.
  2. To boil during 5 minutes, to retire of the fire.
  3. To Slip them a atrainer with cold water, being ready so that you prepare it to your pleasure.

Chow mein noodles, producto Peruviano.

Kind of poetic isn’t it? Good night everybody 🙂


Despues dia seis.


We find ourselves at the end of day 6 in Santiago. The past couple of days have been a continuation of our neighbourhood exploration (we’re  currently at a 10 block radius…we’re playing it safe thus far). Santiago (Providencia)  is an interesting place. It seems to be inundated with Americana. There are 2 Starbucks within 4 blocks of our apartment (shamefully, we have been to both… it takes the sting out of the toilet paper incident, “cafe latte” is universal…), KFC, Pizza Hut, multiple McDonalds, Burger King, and various posters for movies (El Kill Bill anyone?). Almost all of our TV channels are dubbed/subtitled American shows (we even get HBO) and it’s mostly American music playing on local speakers; strange since there doesn’t seem to be many Santaguinos that understand more than very basic English. We aren’t complaining about the lack of English, it just gives us more incentive to learn Spanish!

Chilean Walmart, or “Lider” (translates to Leader in English, which seems a little presumptuous) has been more successful than Ekono and we’ve been able to acquire most of our basics (i.e. $8 Coronas and $1.50/kg avocados).  An interesting thing we’ve found is that Lider doesn’t have much in the way of produce. There are a few hole-in-the-wall produce markets, but locating one-stop shopping has been difficult. Luckily we’ve stumbled upon a “Santa Isabel” which is akin to a North American style grocery store (i.e., it has produce, meat, groceries, bakery, etc.), which is conveniently even closer than Lider. Exploring the side-streets has been fun, you never know what you’ll come across and we’ve found that some of the nicest Chilenos are found in the smallest shops.

Breakfast is minimal here. Our next mission is to find bacon (Por favor!). There is a good looking butcher down the street; however, we’re currently a little intimated with our basic Spanish. We’ve read of a place called Cafe Melba, a place that serves “gringo breakfast”. As bacon/brunch deprived Victorians we might check it out in the next few days (no Benny and no hashbrowns make Nichol and Matt go something something…). Speaking of Victoria, we tweeted Victoria’s local modern rock station “The Zone” and got a shout-out on the air (we’ve been streaming it online in the evenings to ease the transition). They even played some Foo Fighters for us! It turns out that the Foo will be headlining Lollapalooza Chile in a month and when our RUTs are secured wethinks we’ll be getting tickets. 🙂

Tomorrow we plan on climbing Cerro san Cristobal, where a gleaming “white chick” (as per Matt’s supervisor, Thomas; actually a statue of the Virgin Mary) overlooks the city amongst what we’ve been told are stunning views of the city. We’ll be sure to bring our camera and will post photos in the next few days!