Where: Santiago, Chile
Plate of food: Shrimp! With enormous amounts of garlic! And butter! This dish was not subtle in any regard except for the nondescript cast iron pan in which it arrived. The shrimp were swimming (no pun intended) in melted butter, and the chopped garlic settled onto the bottom of the pan in a thick layer. It may sound as though it was too much of everything, but I can assure you that the shrimp took on just the right amount of sweet garlic and smooth butter flavours. I can also assure you that the garlic butter sauce was perfect for dipping fresh, crusty bread or fries or ANYTHING into.
I must admit that I was well into my adulthood before I could eat shrimp. I hated the texture most of all. I avoided them at all costs and could not comprehend anyone who ordered platefuls of shrimp. This aversion was probably wise in my early years as I grew up about as far away from an ocean as you can get. Beef was a better, local option.
Thank goodness I came to my senses about shrimp well before this trip to Santiago. Shame I realized too late that I did not have a breath mint to combat all that garlic….
I ate these shrimp at The Central Market in Santiago. This fish market first opened in 1872. Today it is a bustling venue with fish mongers and restaurants sharing the space. We were squeezed in amongst many other tables in the middle of the market, but the atmosphere was incredible: noisy, friendly, energetic. Musicians played Chilean folk songs as they wandered between tables. People were tucking into plates piled with fish, crabs, squid, and octopus. High above us, sunlight shone in through windows and intricate metal arches stretched gracefully over the crowds. The food was simple and delicious. The beer was cold. I couldn’t help but grin between mouthfuls – this is how I love to eat!
The Best: An afternoon spent at Casas Del Bosque vineyard. We drove 45 minutes west from Santiago through dry, scrubby hills until we arrived in Casablanca Valley: a mirage of verdant green vineyards. Casas Del Bosque is one of these vineyards. We enjoyed a short, but impressive tour of the facilities, and then proceeded to a wine tasting. We sat back and tasted 4 amazing wines while the kids munched on the root vegetable chips provided alongside. Hey, everyone’s happy.
The restaurant, Tanino, located on site was a lovely spot to enjoy great food and more great wine. We sat outside on the beautiful patio, overlooking rose bushes, vines, and the distant Andes while munching on sweet potato sopaipilla (a small disc of fried dough)and fresh tomato salsa. I will be forever grateful to Casas Del Bosque for providing colouring books to my children at lunch and for putting a small playground next to the grapevines and alongside glorious sunloungers. Thank you. No, really.
These few hours spent at Casas Del Bosque were The Best because they transported me to a place of sun and vines, and surrounded me with beauty. I love the care, thought, precision and style with which the winery has been created. It is a vision of perfection at which to arrive in the valley. And once there, the wine and the food and those sunloungers will make you never want to leave.
Story that needs to be told: A few snippets…
- We stayed in a ridiculously posh hotel room thanks to some loyalty points we accrued while we lived in a hotel for, um, nearly 4 months. I am still a sucker for tiny bottles of hand cream and neatly boxed sewing kits, but this was taking it to a whole new level. I’m talking about free bottles of wine, platters of fruit and cheese, artisan chocolates, a DINING ROOM in our suite, thick fluffy robes, and our very own butler. You guys. C’mon. And, yes, you know that I was completely composed as our personal butler delivered bowls of water with rose petals floating in them (really??), but as soon as he left I did the only sensible thing which was to exclaim loudly, take photos, and scan the room yet again for things that I could legitimately stuff in my bag to take home.
- Our wedding anniversary fell on our final day in Chile. We didn’t plan anything special, but serendipity stepped in. As we finished dinner, a lounge singer started her evening set. Her second song of the night was one of the songs performed at our wedding ceremony. As I listened and watched our daughter perform what can only be described as an interpretive dance, I felt a bit teary that somehow that song had found us all these miles away, all these years later, in the middle of stunning Santiago. (The song is “Annie’s Song”. I would be wondering the same thing.)
We then went up to our room, only to discover our butler delivering champagne to our room. It was just exceptional hospitality, not anything to do with our anniversary. Despite being in a suite for the whole week, we were in a standard room for our final night. So we had no choice but to put the kids to bed and then retire to the spacious bathroom to enjoy our champagne. It felt like an appropriate celebration for a relationship that has grown and deepened whilst exploring many countries and staying in innumerable hotel rooms. Not so sure about the whole champagne-in-the-bathroom thing, but we toasted our travels, our marriage, and those kidlets who hijacked our hotel room.
- While driving in Santiago (which is not to be taken lightly – we got so horribly lost that we nearly did not make it to our wedding anniversary), we stopped at a red light in a residential area. A young man, down on his luck, approached our car. As we watched, wondering what is small change in Chile – $1,000? $5, 000? Crazy currency!! – he stooped over and breathed out ever so slightly onto our driver’s side mirror to fog it up. Then he yanked his sleeve down and rubbed the mirror clear in small, deliberate circles. This bizarre process completed, he stood up and looked at us through the window. We were dumbstruck. We have never had our mirror cleaned. In that manner. Ever.
After only a week in Chile, I can say that we are not done with this country; we are left merely begging for more.
“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.” Frank Herbert