CHILE: Merquén / Puré Picante

Merquén (also spelled Merken) is a condiment frequently used in Mapuche cuisine. It’s smoked cacho de cabra (goat’s horn) pepper mixed with salt and ground coriander. I was able to find some online from Montreal’s Épices de Cru / Spice Trekkers, they also sell the whole dried pepper. I’m going to first try the merquén out on something plain so I can get a sense of it alone, then I’m going to use it to make puré picante – Chilean spicy mashed potatoes.

I used the merquén as a dry rub on some chicken breast – it’s got moderate heat and a beautiful smokey aftertaste. It’s really nice and complex – I’m going to use this next time I make that Mozambican piri piri sauce again; it’ll be out of this world paired with all that lemon.

For the puré picante, I’m following the recipe on the Chilean cooking site Abre Tu Boca – I put it through a translator, but thankfully it’s pretty straightforward – basic mashed potatoes, plus a bit of nutmeg, merquén, and chili sauce. Like in the pebre recipe, I’ll follow the suggestion of Chilean ex-pats and use sriracha as a substitute for Chilean chili sauce.

I cut the recipe down in size and I’m leaving the peels on the potatoes – get that fibre! The recipe doesn’t give amounts for some of the spices, so I’ll follow my heart (my heart says more merquén). The amount given for the chili sauce charmingly translates to “this may vary depending on our courage”.

The nutmeg really pairs well with the two types of chili – it complements the smokiness of the merquén, and the sriracha follows up with some nice heat. This is really good – I’m totally sold on merquén – the jar of it is getting pride of place in my kitchen!

CHILE: Inti-Illimani – El Pueblo Unido

Inti-Illimani jokingly claims the record for the “longest tour in history” – the band came out of revolutionary student movements, and were touring Europe when the Pinochet’s coup took place. They took up residence in Italy and were only allowed back into Chile after the end of the Pinochet regime.

This song “The People United” has been translated, adapted, and used outside of its Chilean Marxist origins for protests all around the world over the past half century, including as recently as 2019 by Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.

CHILE: Luanko – Witrapaiñ

Chile’s largest Indigenous people, the Mapuche, successfully resisted the Spanish and autonomously held their lands in the south until invasion by Chilean forces in the late 19th century. There has continued to be a strong (and at times violent) Mapuche resistance movement in Chile to regain land, protect culture, and fix income inequality.

There’s a really valuable summary of Mapuche history here including modern efforts to revitalize culture and langauge – such as by Mapuche rapper Luanko (paired with activist rapper Portavoz, above). Here’s also an interesting profile on Luanko and on rapping in Mapuzugun below.

CHILE: More snacks

Here’s the second half of my order of Chilean snacks from ChinChile!

Costa Tuyo -Tuyo is a half-and-half chocolate bar, with the top dipped in while chocolate and the bottom in milk chocolate. There’s layers of wafers and a bit of peanut butter on the inside, but it’s not heavy. This is pretty tasty! The same compay also makes a Tuyo bar in Peru that’s packaged the same but in blue and yellow – and from what I can tell it may be a totally different chocolate bar.

Livean instant juice – Packets of instant juice powder, sweetened with aspartame. Each pack makes a litre of juice. It’s advertised as a zero carbon footprint product, although that’s before it’s shipped first to the States, then airmailed to Canada! There were many flavours available, so I picked two at random – Melón tuna and Huesillo.

  • Melón tuna has nothing to do with fish, it means “prickly pear melon” and is the Chilean name for honeydew. The juice is bright green and smells very much like melon. It’s a good but artificial flavour, I can tell it’s aspartame.
  • Huesillo is a kind of dried peach used for mote con huesillo, a Chilean summer drink. The juice was brown and frothy, it looked more like a beer! It’s very sweet, but the peach flavour is distinctly different from peach drinks we get in Canada – it’s kind of a deeper flavour, a bit like brown sugar.

Ambrosoli Guagüitas – Baby-shaped fruit marshmallows with a slightly powdery coating – it’s a very different texture from regular marshmallows, more like a midway between marshmallows and jelly babies. Mixed fruit flavours – the yellow ones have a strong banana taste. Genuinely not what I was expecting, I was thinking it would be more like those Finnish marshmallows. I really like the texture of these!

CHILE: Chacarero

I went back to Vancouver’s Puro Chile for dinner last night. Last week I tried a completo with a glass of jote, today I stopped back for a chacarero sandwich with a frosty pisco sour on the side.

A chacarero is steak sandwich topped with cooked green beans. I’ve never tried green beans before on a sandwich, but it was delicious! This one was warm shredded grilled steak, with al dente green beans, tomato, onions, jalapeno, and spicy mayo all on a focaccia-style loaf. Absolutely wonderful – sadly this specific sandwich is weekends-only but my god it was good.

I had it with a nice pisco sour – this was more Peruvian-style with egg whites (more details on Chilean vs. Peruvian pisco and my own attempt at one here) and was nicely tart with lots of lime.

CHILE: History of Rapa Nui / Easter Island

I grew up only knowing vague stereotypes about Easter Island – I never believed in that silly alien stuff, but I definitely had the narrative of “the people of this island vanished mysteriously and only left giant statues” in my head. However, there’s a lot less mystery and a lot more actual history around Rapa Nui / Easter Island. I’d recommend the above video on the decline of Rapa Nui, or the Our Fake History podcast on Easter Island I mentioned at the start of the month.

If the video is tl;dr, the actual answers to the “mysteries of Easter Island” tend to involve Occam’s Razor:

What happened to the people of Easter Island? They’re still there, there’s still indigenous Rapa Nui people living on the island, despite displacements, colonialism, and a loss of control over the land.

What caused the decline of Rapa Nui? While there were internal struggles before European contact, it was largely the same mix of colonization, disease, slave trading, and exploitation that affected many societies all over the world (and still affect them today).

Who built the moai? The people of Rapa Nui!

But how did they build them and move them? They carved most of the statue in the quarry, propped it upright, finished the rest, and then “walked” them to where they needed to go by rocking them back and forth with ropes. They’re recreated it in the modern era and it only takes a few dozen people, some ropes, and some teamwork.

So no aliens? Nope!

CHILE: Chilean Salad

I love tomato salads, I’ll have one almost every day, so very happy to try a Chilean take on tomato salad. This has a very similar flavour profile to pebre – makes it good way to use up ingredients!

There’s a huge amount of variation in recipes, but they all have two things in common: tomatoes (naturally!) and thin-sliced raw onion that’s been tempered in some way – there’s recipes that call for a soak in cold water, a quick blanch, or to marinate it in red wine vinegar. I went with the the last one. I used this recipe from Food&Wine and halved it for a single portion.

The onion still has lots of crunch but the flavour is much milder and blended into the red wine vinegar – they take each others’ sharpness away. It’s a nice taste, I might try to crush in some garlic or add some lemon juice next time, play with the variations a bit. The marinated onions would also be a great addition to a bocconcini salad.

CHILE: Snacks

I snooped around a few Latin groceries in town, and while I found snacks from almost every other country, nothing came up from Chile! (This seems to be a pattern, there’s never snacks from the country I’m looking for.) Fortunately, ChinChile, a US-based online Chilean food store, ships to Canada – and quickly too!

Nestle Almond Capri – Capri is a cream-filled chocolate bar that comes with different fillings – truffle, cherry, and strawberry were also available. It’s a sweeter chocolate with a filling that’s very much like marzipan. Not bad but very, very sweet – it makes my teeth sing!

Merello Eucalyptus Jelly Gums – These are soft gummy candies that are packed with eucalyptus – these seem to be sold more as a candy/breath freshener than as a herbal medicine, which is what eucalyptus is normally sold as in Canada. They’re tasty if you like eucalyptus (I do!) – but they look exactly like the green spearmint gummies that we get around Christmas here, so I keep on expecting a totally different flavour when I eat these.

Kem – Pineapple flavoured pop. Tastes a lot like pineapple candy, but in a really bold way – almost if you melted down pineapple popsicles and carbonated them.

McKay Orange Triton – Triton is a Chilean Oreo-style cookie that comes in a whole bunch of different flavours. There’s vanilla, lemon, dark chocolate, cappuccino – I snagged the orange-flavoured kind. It’s chocolate cookie (kind of the same biscuit as Fudgeeos rather than Oreos) with orange cream. These are definitely my favourite – it’s a similar taste to a Terry’s Chocolate Orange but in cookie format.

CHILE: Prussian military

A lot of military dress uniforms are 19th century throwbacks – the stereotypical Mountie uniform here in Canada developed out of British redcoats. But Chile’s dress uniforms hearken to a completely different country’s history … Prussia’s.

The above video gives an interesting explanation why the Kaiser’s troops still march in Santiago, but what’s less understandable is the more, uh, “20th century” German uniforms on some current Chilean troops.