Feliz 18: Empanada and BBQ mania

by Liz Caskey on September 18, 2006


Ahhh, the smell of meat grilling. Santiago has gone up in a big cloud of smoke–from the carbon on the grills that is. Today is Day 4 of the 5-day Independence Day long weekend here in Chile; today being the actual Independence Day, September 18. Festivities commenced at noon on Friday with a mass exodus of residents (only about one million people) towards the coast and countryside. Chileans celebrate the “18”, which coincides usually with the beginning of nicer spring weather (note: out my window  here in Santiago it is cloudy and about 58F) usually in the form of the social ritual known as the asado, or barbeque. Not to be confused with the North American equivalent, here gas grills are not an acceptable form of fuel (only mesquite wood) and no hamburgers or hot dogs are permitted. The fare is strictly meat: steak, chorizo, pork spareribs, meat skewers, and the ubiquitious empanadas de pino (meat), all washed down by cheap wine, beer, or even more traditional, grape cider known as chicha. Salads may make an appearance depending on the venue but vegetables tend to be sidelined this weekend.

If going the private route, with friends or family, asados are a full day drinking and eating engagement starting at lunch and lasting all afternoon (after all, it does take several drinks to get the fire going). Party goers then head for the fondas (nap optional in between), public venus organized with live typical music, folkloric dancing like Cueca and later in the night cumbia, and of course, more food and drink (same asado style, this never changes the whole weekend). The fondas during the day tend to be more family-oriented with rodeos in the rural communities with the Chilean cowboys (huasos), traditional games like kite flying, and more food. The 18 is a time to relax, be with friends and family, and well, stuff yourself. This is by far the busiest  time of the year for empanada bakeries, butcher shops, and artesian chicha producers.

Having just returned from several days in the Colchagua Valley (wine country but also a very traditional rural area) from a tour de force of wine tastings my significant other (who is Chilean) and I decided to pass on the festivities and just chill out and relax these days. Not a bad idea–and according to the nutritionist on the evening news who gave a rough overview of the caloric values of these traditional foods and beverages, we probably saved ourselves easily 20,000 calories, or about 6 pounds. Let me translate that for those of you who are gym goers like myself, roughly 35 hours of rigorouos exercise. Hmmm…

But then again, it is the 18 after all…maybe tomorrow we will give in and have just one homemade empanada. Being patriotic counts for something I suppose!

However you decide to celebrate, Feliz 18!!!

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