Nichol and Matt go to Chile!

Archive for providencia

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 🙂


Lazy Sunday

Hi All,

We thought we’d do a small update to post a few pictures that we took on our afternoon stroll around the neighbourhood. We found a small ‘Emporio la Rosa’ outlet in a little mall just a few blocks from our apartment; this could prove dangerous… Apart from the ice-cream counter, the mall  has a few bistro-like establishments which were closed today, but looked quite promising. We’re coming to learn that the term ‘lazy Sunday’ truly applies to Chilenos, as Sunday afternoons are almost the only time that we can walk unimpeded down the sidewalks. We’re not sure exactly where they retreat to, but it proved to be an good time for us to grab an  ice cream before enjoying the ever-present sunshine during our second visit to the sculpture park. The ice cream, as expected, was delicious. A cone will challenge even the fastest of ice cream eaters in this heat, so we wisely went cone-less and opted for cups.

Speaking of the heat, apparently this has been the hottest 1st week of March in 10 years! Since arriving, the temperature has never failed to reach a daily high below 30C, with many days reaching the mid-30s. The heat is only expected to continue for at least the next week, but hopefully the recent humidity will go away as the smog has been quite bad in the last two days. Oh well, we’re sure that we won’t get much sympathy from those back home. 😉

Anyway, take a gander at the Pictures pages, freshly updated with a few of the shots that we took earlier.



In search of bagels.

We ventured out to the edge of Providencia today, where it meets with the more residential Nunoa district. Unfortunately our trip up Cerro San Cristobal had to be postponed due to an unexpected stomach ailment that struck Nichol yesterday. Nothing serious, but it meant that we took yesterday pretty easy, with a stroll through a really lovely ‘sculpture park’ across the bridge a few blocks away replacing our planned hike up the hill.

The park, ‘Parque de Esculturas’, is beautiful. Heck, Providencia itself is beautiful! As much as we love BC, we can honestly say that Providencia’s wide sidewalks, lined with vibrant green trees, ever-present benches (perfect for people-watching) and sun-drenched plazas easily matches the nicest of BC’s neighbourhoods. Every corner turned brings into view at least one open greenspace dotted with happy (and remarkably affectionate) couples enjoying the incredible weather. One thing is for sure, Chilenos in love are not shy! The park itself runs between a major avenue and the disappointingly brown Rio Mapocho and contains about 30 abstract sculptures created by a number of different Chilean and European artists; some are a little too abstract (for Matt’s tastes anyway), and some quite striking. We’re sure that it won’t be our last stroll through the sculptures.

Our trip this afternoon was inspired by Nichol’s discovery of a business at the edge of Nunoa called, of all things, ‘Montreal Bagels’, apparently one of the only places in town where you can find bagels. So off we went down Ave. Pedro de Valdivia with the sun at our backs (as Nichol’s currently red shoulders can attest) in search of tasty bagels. We were stunned by how nice this street is, especially considering that it is a major artery between Nunoa and Providencia! We passed several schools (including at least one English speaking), local bistros and many Chilenos walking at their (sometimes frustrating!) ‘relaxed’ pace. After about 2 km we finally found ourselves at our target…only to find that it was closed. C’est la vie. They will tell you that they don’t take siesta; we’re beginning to wonder if this is really true. So back up Pedro de Valdivia we went with the sun at our fronts (as Matt’s red nose can attest).

Having been here for a week, we’ve observed some ‘different’ aspects of Chilean culture. For starters, the 80’s called and they want their mullets and fanny packs back. Not that we’re really the ones to be judging here, but some things are just not meant to be revived. They’re everywhere. On a slightly more disturbing note, the addiction to plastic bags and the unawareness of recycling here is downright depressing. We’ve already garnered more plastic bags in one week than we typically would in about about 3 months in Victoria! Bottles have ‘not returnable’ (in Spanish) written on the as often as not, and even then there seems to be very few options for returning them anyway. But it is what it is, and we’ll just have to do the best we can with what services there are. With all that said, their sidewalks are immaculately clean!

Tomorrow we’re going to go on a 4 hour walking tour of Santiago Central with a local troupe that operates based on tips. Online reviews of the tour are fantastic, and the trip conveniently goes up Cerro San Cristobal in addition to some of the more historic and culturally significant sights. We probably won’t lug our DSLR around the whole time, but we’ll try to snap a few photos with our iPods and return to some of the more photographic spots another time.

Next up: Chile’s urban mutts, including our block’s 3 perros whom we’ve dubbed ‘Blacky’, ‘Willie’ and ‘Chuck’. Until then!


PS We found bacon. And it was good.