Monthly Archives: December 2008

Christmas a la Chilena

Christmas is over, finally… and thankfully. A northern gringa’s admittedly biased account of 15 sweltering Christmases in Chile.

Para Español, usa la herramienta de traducción a la derecha…

Caveat lector: I’m a northern gringa with dreams of a white Christmas who has spent the past 15 holiday seasons deep in the southern hemisphere. I admit it: I long to hear the crunch of the new fallen snow beneath my feet, the whizzing whirling tires of cars stuck in a drift, and the muted muffled hum of traffic on unplowed snow. I miss that oddly bright light that filters through my eyelids as I wake the morning after a heavy midnight

Christmas in Providencia

Christmas in Providencia

snowfall, and I yearn for the dazzling sparkle of snowflakes caught in the glow of the streetlights. I miss frosty toes and heavy boots and hand-knit mittens and the smell of wet wool and the sting of chilly cheeks that burn after coming indoors. I would gladly brush snow from windshields and shovel a (short) driveway to earn the right to smell–and eat–cookies fresh from the oven and sit by the fireplace long into the night with a good book or sharing a rich red wine while engaged in great conversation… but–alas–I digress. Christmas, in Chile, is in summer.

Christmas in Santiago (elf Dad)

Christmas in Santiago (elf Dad)

By now it is clear, you see, that I am certainly not the most objective person in the world to tell about the wonders of Chilean Christmas, but here’s my take on it… as objectively as I am capable.

Chileans celebrate “la Noche Buena” (the Good Night) on the night of the 24th, which is followed by an almost audible sigh of relief on the morning of the 25th once it is finally over. It marks the end of a month of way too many activities all jammed together for anyone to really enjoy any of them.

Christmas crowds, cell phones, traffic & elf hats for sale

Christmas crowds, cell phones, traffic & elf hats for sale

I never used to be a Scrooge, but even after all these years, I just cannot get used to the idea of Christmas at 90º-plus. I want to wear a big heavy coat while Christmas shopping! But sandals and sundresses are all I can bear these days. Poor Santa (Viejo Pascuero) would love to do the same, although he quietly suffers beneath his heavy red suit and big white beard (an image imported from the north, undoubtedly with much influence from Coca Cola). But I must say I did better this year. Last year my husband threatened to deport me to the North Pole, where I’m sure I would have been happier. But somehow I coped better this year: there was no pouting, no tantrums, and, for the first time in my life, no tree. I cut the fuss to a minimum and let the chips fall where they may-a very useful strategy, I might add…
Christmas street shopping

Christmas street shopping

Aside from my own cultural expectations associated with wintertime traditions, it’s also a matter of just too much going on at once. It’s sad to say, but people in the southern hemisphere get ripped off by having most of the year’s major events all jammed together: it’s the end of the school year (along with exams, graduations, college entrance exams, college applications, all at the same time). It’s the end of the working year, and because it’s summer, vacations are just around the corner (most people take 3 weeks in February). It’s also wedding season. Once we get to March, everyone is exhausted and broke and staring at credit card bills, back-to-school expenses, and mandatory March car registrations, and another 9 long months of work and winter til it all starts all over again!
Christmas sales are brisk on the streets of Santiago

Christmas sales are brisk on the streets of Santiago

Yes, it’s the Scrooge in me coming out. And there’s more. I think it would be easier to handle if there were more holiday customs and traditions, but there really aren’t many it seems. Traditionally people set up a nativity scene and today many people also have a table top tree in the house (fresh cut trees are forbidden). Sure, there are lights spiraling up palm trees and draping big leafy trees in some sections of town. Some people seem to like playing Secret Santa (don’t get me going on that one!) and there’s Cola de Mono (yummy milk-based punch with a kick) and Pan de Pascua (Christmas bread), of course, but the overall feeling just seems pretty commercial.

Candy Canes in Santiago

Candy Canes in Santiago

Most people work til midday on the 24th, and then run out to finish their Christmas shopping (see the pictures of Providencia on the afternoon of the 24th). The traffic jams are phenomenal and you can count on a minimum of 45 minutes at any check-out counter in town (the nice thing is that stores wrap presents for you). Then it’s rush home to gather the family and make the mad dash to the extended family dinner and present-opening ceremony at midnight.

But then, as fast as it started, it’s all over. The 25th is the day after, much like New Year’s Day… Everything comes to a screeching halt, everyone kicks back a few notches, and Santiago becomes a wonderful place to be until March. (Note to travelers, early January is a good time to come!)

For a more romanticized version of a Chilean Christmas, check out:

Soon it will be New Year’s Eve, and that’s a whole different story. And even though I want a white Christmas, I really LOVE the green New Year’s… but that’s another tale to tell! (See New Years a la Chilena)


Cola de Mono: Traditional Christmas drink

Cola de mono and Pan de Pascua

Cola de mono and Pan de Pascua

It’s not Christmas in Santiago without a frosty glass of Cola de Mono and a slice of pan de pascua Christmas bread.

Usa la herramienta de traducción para español…

It’s Christmas in Santiago. And even though the Muzak blares “let it snow” at the mall, it’s the height of summer in the southern hemisphere. That means bright sunny skies and 90º-weather. Santa has been known to wear shorts and sandals, and bikinis often appear under the tree. It all leaves this gringa dreaming of a white Christmas and pining for boots and mittens and a roaring fire to come home to and the smell of fresh-baked cookies wafting from the kitchen… But nobody’s got the oven running in this heat!

But not to fret (too much) there are a few culinary traditions that can perk up the spirits and drive the Scrooge out of me, such as the Christmas favorite, Cola de Mono, literally translated as “Monkey’s Tail.” This milk-based punch is made with sugar, spices, coffee, and spiked with a hearty dose of aguardiente (a distilled grape spirit, putting it in the category of brandy). It’s lighter than egg-nog and served cold, but not to be underestimated. It can really pack a wallop, and I’m sure there are plenty of families with stories about the time Tía Lucía got a little too happy after a nip or two beyond her limit of the ole “colemono,” as it is often shortened.

There are a number of theories about the origin of the drink, although I can’t help but find it curious that a milk-based drink would come to be associated with the summer heat of a Chilean Christmas. Could it be in association with the egg nog tradition of the north?

The most commonly cited origin of the name involves a former president and his pistol. I kid you not. The short version goes that President Pedro Montt’s Colt revolver went missing at a fiesta and to calm everyone’s nerves in the meantime, a pitcher of cold café con leche was doctored with spices and booze and named in honor of the missing weapon, “colt de Montt.” The punch gained popularity and the name gradually morphed to the current “cola de mono.”

Commercially made cola de mono is available, but it’s easy to make and the homemade version is so much better that it’s hard to imagine why anyone would bother with inferior store-bought imitations. See Tasting Chile for a recipe.

There are also a few bars around town that are famous for their own homemade colemono’s. Two that come highly recommended are the Bar Nacional, downtown (Bandera 317) and Liguria (there are three in Providencia).

For a most extensive version of the history of this traditional drink (in Spanish), see: El “Cola de Mono”: la tradicional y republicana ambrosía de don Pedro Montt.

The Ant and the Grasshopper, a la Chilena

Many outsiders find the issue of social class to be highly visible–perhaps even palpable–in Chilean culture. Today’s post touches on the often sore subject of class differences.

Para español usa la herramienta de traducción arriba a la derecha. La versión chilena de la historia está reproducido en español en el primer comentario.

Ok, let’s get down to business. Today’s post is more polemical than past entries, and I not only suspect–but I hope–it will generate discussion. A Chilean coworker sent me one of those e-mail “jokes” that was a parody of Aesop’s old fable on the Ant and the Grasshopper . You know the one: the hardworking ant spends the summer preparing for the rough winter ahead while the fun-loving grasshopper lives for the moment and suffers the consequences later on.

Reflected in this version are a host of underlying ideas about the state of Chilean culture. It makes very clear certain perspectives on class division, notions of capitalism vs. socialism, who deserves and who doesn’t, what is fair and what isn’t. Of course the story is pointed and exaggerated, but the raw edges that are very much present in Chilean culture are all there.

Some people find this story hilarious; others find it very sad, and yet others just nod in painful agreement. Where do you stand? Do you prefer Aesop’s version that emphasizes the moral virtues inherent in the work ethic? Or do you side with this version of the battle between the haves and the have nots? Or maybe you have a completely different take on the story? Please let us know!

Aesop Revisited:

The ant works hard all summer under the blazing sun. He builds his house and stocks it with sufficient supplies to last through the winter. The grasshopper, meanwhile, thinks the ant is stupid and spends the summer laughing, playing, and dancing.

Come winter, the ant snuggles in to his cozy house to wait for spring. The grasshopper, on the other hand, organizes a press conference and, shivering with cold, demands to know why the ant has the right to such a nice home and well-stocked pantry when others less fortunate go cold and hungry.

The local TV station broadcasts a live program that shifts cameras back and forth between the cold and miserable grasshopper and the cozy ant sitting at his bountiful table.

The church says that the grasshopper is an example of social inequality. The Chilean people are amazed that in a country as prosperous as theirs that the poor grasshopper is left to suffer while others live with abundance. Human rights and anti-poverty organizations protest in front of the ant’s house. Journalists publish a series of articles that ask how the ant became so rich on the back of the grasshopper and urge the government to increase the ant’s taxes to finance a better life for the grasshopper.

In response to opinion polls, the government drafts a law on economic equality and another retroactive anti-discrimination law. The ant’s taxes keep rising and he receives a fine for not hiring the grasshopper as his assistant over the summer.

The authorities seize the ant’s home because he no longer has enough money to pay the fine and taxes. The ant leaves Chile and moves to Switzerland, where he has a long and prosperous life.

The local TV does a report on the grasshopper, who has since become fat from gorging on all the food left in the house before the spring arrived. The ant’s old house is turned into a refuge for grasshoppers, and it deteriorates because they don’t do anything to keep it up. The government is criticized for not providing the necessary funding. An investigation is commissioned at the tune of $100,000, and in the meantime the grasshopper dies of an overdose .

The media comments on the government’s failure to correct the problem of social inequality. The house is now occupied by a band of immigrant spiders from Perú, and the government congratulates itself on cultural diversity in Chile.

Coré, Coke, Lukas & Pepo: “I demand and explanation!”

Condorito by Pepo

Condorito by Pepo

Pepo’s Condorito, Core’s El Peneca, Lukas’ Bestiario, Coke’s Topaze magazine, and more.
Exijo una Explicación: 200 Years of Graphic Narration in Chile” at Santiago’s Bellas Artes Museum leads Chileans down an illustrated memory lane…

 Usa la herramienta de traducción para leerlo en Español… 

 Expressions such as ¡Plop! and ¡Exijo una explicación! (I demand an explanation!) became part of everyday speech in Chile through the pages of the Condorito comic,
Verdejo, the well known "roto Chileno" character by Coke

Verdejo by "Coke"

the work of artist René Ríos Boettiger, better known as Pepo (1911-2000). Condorito first appeared in 1949 as a response to the 1942 Disney animation “Saludos Amigos” that Pepo felt unfairly represented Chile. The anthropomorphized and very Chilean little condor is still a beloved figure today, and current editions of the comic are available at any newspaper stand.
The Bellas Artes Museum is currently running a large exhibition of the country’s most popular comics that provides an interesting review of two centuries of Chilean politics and  social  commentary. Chileans will enjoy revisiting old memories, and foreigners will appreciate the pointed view of Chile by Chileans themselves.
Topaze magazine featured political satire by illustrator Coke
Political satire by “Coke”
 Jorge Délano, better known as Coke (pronounced “CO-kay”), is remembered for his “Verdejo” (vair-DAY-ho) character that represents the “roto chileno” figure in Chilean literature and culture, as well as for the political satire that he incorporated into the pages of Topaze magazine (pronounced “to- PAH-say”), which began in 1931 and ran through 1970 and later reappeared as a supplement of the La Tercera newspaper from 1989 to 1996. It was known (and loved or hated) for its sharp political satire and came to be known as a “barometer of Chilean politics.” 

The exhibit includes an ample selection of illustrations by 56 artists, including the well known Lustig (Pedro Subercaseaux), author of the Federic Von Pilsener character; Coré (Mario Silva Ossa), who illustrated the El Peneca magazine and the cover of the country’s most popular reader, the Silabario Hispano Americano), Lukas (Renzo Pecchenino), whose many works include his Bestiario and a lifetime of illustrations of Valparaíso, Jimmy Scott (Santiago Scott Reyes), whose has regularly poked jabs at Chilean culture and politics for decades), and many more.

The exhibit will run through January 11, 2009.

Museo Bellas Artes
Parque Forestal s/n, Santiago de Chile
Phone: (56-2) 633-472


Men at Work / Hombres trabajando

There’s nothing particularly unusual about seeing stuff hanging from trees in Santiago. In fact, a jacket, a backpack, and maybe a thermos are a sign that someone’s at work…

  • For Spanish, use the translation tool on the top right of the page…

Santiago is full of informal jobs: car attendants, band-aid vendors,  knife sharpeners, and paper hander-outers, to name just a few. Future posts will cover a host of unusual ways that people make a living here in Chile, but today’s topic refers to an aspect that is so common that most people don’t even see it: personal belongings hanging from a tree mean that someone has staked out that territory and will be working there that day.

Men at work, Santiago Chile

Men at work, Santiago Chile

This picture was taken in a residential-transition-to-commercial sector of Providencia (a Santiago neighborhood).  The man in yellow is a human parking meter, paid by the municipal government to keep track of how long cars are parked there and make sure they pay their due rate. On the tree we see his jacket and thermos, a yellow bag full of who knows what, and just to the right (and above the thermos) a stack of parking slips impaled on a nail. An empty Pepsi can dangles from another nail and will probably be recycled for cash at the end of the day. He spends the entire day there taking care of traffic on that block.

This is actually a fairly new job. Until recently, most parking was technically free, and cars were “cared for” by voluntary attendants who laid claim to certain blocks and “took care of your car” for tips. Some ask for payment up front, especially in areas with a nightlife and the attendants might want to go home before the owners come back. There are plenty of stories about pushy hustlers in Bellavista who demand payment up front and defiant drivers who defend their right to free parking and return to find their car scratched up. Moral of the story: pay up or park somewhere else…

Fewer informal parking attendants are seen in commercial areas these days because the municipalities have caught on to the fact that there’s considerable money to be made… it’s even enough to make you miss the old days when “park for a tip” was the norm!


Chile es sorprendente en muchos aspectos. Y genuino también. Tiene particularidades que le pertecen y lo definen. Pero una de ellas me llamó la atención de inmediato: los sándwiches.

For English use the translator tool at the top right or see the summary below…

Sándwich Barros Luco

Un clásico Barros Luco

Chile es verdaderamente el país del sandwich. No conozco otro lugar similar. Todos los países del mundo tienen, dentro de su gastronomía, ciertos bocadillos (como se les dice en España) más o menos ricos. Pero nadie se ha especializado tanto. Aquí les ponen nombres de ex-Presidentes (Barros Luco: carne + queso; Barros Jarpa: jamón + queso), o a la conjunción de tres ingredientes la denominan de otra forma particular, para abreviarlo: tomate + palta + mayonesa = italiano. Esto proviene de la bandera italiana y los tres colores de los ingredientes, rojo, verde y blanco. Así, tú puedes pedir un lomito o un churrasco italiano sin dar más explicaciones.

Pero muchísimo más importante que la nomenclatura, que no deja de ser una curiosidad, es el contenido. Los sándwiches son muy sabrosos, exquisitos. Realmente. Si vienen a Chile, prueben los sándwiches.



Por otro lado están los panes. En Chile también se hacen panes muy ricos, de muchas variedades, siendo las más comunes las siguientes: frica (tipo hamburguesa, pero más rico), molde (típico), marraqueta (pan batido), hallulla y pan amasado (elaborado con manteca).

Una vez estaba en un Dominó comiéndome una de estas delicias, cuando llegó un extranjero (latinoamericano, hablaba español) a pedir un sándwich. Cuando eligió de entre las múltiples opciones de carne, pollo, cerdo, tomate, palta, pimiento, mayonesa, etc., se dirigió al camarero y pidió. El camarero le contestó:

– ¿Fricamoldemarraqueta?

Churrasco italiano en frica

Churrasco italiano en frica

– ¿Perdón? -respondió el extranjero.

– ¿Fricamoldemarraqueta? -insistió el garçon.

– ¿Cómo? No le entiendo.

– FRI CA MOL DE MA RRA QUE TA -repitió el garçon, tratando de ser claro.

Por esos días yo era ya más que un iniciado en los tipos de panes, y comprendí (como ya comentamos en “El contexto chileno“) que la función comunicativa entre los chilenos no está especialmente enfocada a la aclaración con mayor número de palabras. Además de la tendencia a hablar muy rápido y seguido, juntando las palabras. Cuando uno desconoce el vocabulario en sí mismo, es difícil comprender el mensaje (otro ejemplo: “parchicuritacien-parchicuritacien”, es una frase declamativa que pronuncian constatemente los vendedores ambulantes de “band aids” o “tiritas” a cien pesos y que se llaman “parche-curitas”).

Así es que me acerqué a ayudar al señor que no podía comunicarse con el garçon y le expliqué: “Son tres tipos de panes, usted tiene que elegir uno de ellos”. Claro, él ni siquiera sabía qué era una marraqueta o una frica.

Después de todo, el sándwich le encantó.

Es importante mencionar que de la palabra sandwich derivó el chilenismo: sánguche. Mucho mejor.

¿Han probado los sándwiches chilenos? ¿Conocen alguna especialidad en un local específico?

Chacarero (con porotos -judias- verdes)

Chacarero (con porotos -judías- verdes)

El ave-pimiento con mayonesa del Kali (en Providencia, entre Pedro de Valdivia y Guardia Vieja) es una maravilla. El chacarero (con porotos vedes) de la Fuente Alemana, también es maravilloso.

Si quieres conocer más sobre este tipo de comida rápida, aquí podrás entender por qué un hot dog en Chile no es lo mismo que un hot dog en cualquier otro lugar.

Ver también Anthony Bourdain loves lomitos.

¿Quieres conocer más? Ver lo que dice Carlos Reyes en su blog “Uno Come” sobre “La historia del sandwich en Santiago“.

Si quieres contarnos alguna historia con los sándwiches… déjanos un comentario a continuación:


“Chile, the land of the Sandwich!

I doubt that any country in the world has specialized in sandwiches the way Chile has. Here these “sánguches” bear such illustrious names as those of former presidents: “Barros Luco” is hot beef & cheese; “Barros Jarpa“: hot ham & cheese. And then there’s the combination of 3 ingredients, such as tomato , avocado, mayonnaise simply abbreviated as “italiano,” due to the 3 colors of the Italian flag (red, green and white). Once you know that, you can ask for any kind of sandwich and add “italiano” without any further explanation.

And then there’s the bread. Chile has many kinds of bread, and the most common are “frica” (like a hamburger bun, but better), “molde” (typical slice), “marraqueta” (a crusty roll made with French bread dough, “hallulla” and “pan amasado” (both made with lard).

Once I was eating one of these delights in Dominó when a guy from another Spanish-speaking country came in. When he finally decided from among beef, chicken, pork, tomato, avocado, bell pepper, mayonnaise, etc., the waiter asked:


“Huh?” asked the bewildered foreigner.

“FRI- CA- MOL- DE- MA- RRA- QUE- TA,” repeated the waiter, trying to be clearer.

By that time I was already well initiated in the ways of bread and was able to explain, “There are 3 types of bread, you need to choose one.” How was he supposed to choose when he had never even heard of a marraqueta or frica? But in the end, he loved the sandwich.


The “chicken-red pepper with mayo” at Kali (on Providencia, between Pedro de Valdivia and Guardia Vieja) is incredible, and the chacarero (made with green beans) at the Fuente Alemana is also great.

Related posts:
A Hotdog is not a Completo
Anthony Bourdain loves Lomitos
Ode to the Completo Chileno
Fuente Mardoqueo: Best Sánguches in town!

Do you have a story about Chilean sandwiches? Want to recommend your favorite sandwich shop?

Farkas mania

Farkas presidential candidate

Farkas presidential candidate

Never heard of “Leonardo Farkas”? Then you certainly haven’t been in Chile over the past few months. Rarely a day goes by that he doesn’t make the news. Go ahead, google him; you’ll find 242,000 entries on Farkas for President; Saint Farkas; Farkas the savior of the Teleton, Farkas, man of the people… and most of all, what you’ll find is Chile’s latest personality of the moment.

Para español, usa la herramienta de traducción o lee el resumen de abajo…

Chile seems to go through major personality obsessions about once a year or so. Some are harmless enough, such as Bombalet, the flamboyant sportscaster, or Gonzalo Cáceres, the rather gender-ambiguous showbiz “opinologist.” Others are criminals, such as the aged German cult leader Paul Schaeffer who managed to avoid authorities for years after being accused of sexually abusing children, or pedophile businessman Claudio Spiniak, whose arrest and trial occupied headlines for months. Others are just plain silly, such as the mysteriously elusive “Chupacabra” that had rural folks scratching their heads over animal massacres a few years back.

Farkas Party MST2008

Farkas Party MST2008

Today, the King of the Headlines is Leonardo Farkas, the golden-tressed Chilean who made a name for himself in the Vegas music scene and then came back to take over the family’s mining interests. What’s the big deal? In a country where those who truly have money tend to be reserved about displays of wealth, the man is ostentation personified. He rides around town in a new Rolls Royce. Where others leave a $1 tip, he leaves $100. He offered a poll worker his diamond-studded gold watch when he went to vote. He’s in line to be Chile’s first space tourist. He has (very publicly) donated millions to charity (most recently to the Teleton, Chile’s version of the Jerry Lewis Telethon), and now he apparently has 150,000 people signing a petition asking him to run for president!

Of course his curly golden locks make him very prone to caricature, and his rising popularity among the masses calling for his presidency can make one wonder if democracy is really such a good idea… But the flip side is that all of his very public spending has shamed some of the more traditional pocketbooks into opening more widely, and a more just redistribution of wealth in a country with a pronounced difference between the very wealthy and the very poor is ample can’t be such a bad thing… can it?

What do YOU think?


Si no han oído hablar nunca de Leonardo Farkas, significa que no han estado en Chile en los últimos meses. Se trata de un personaje muy particular que en estos momentos se está convirtiendo en unas de las personalidades más populares del país. Tras mucho tiempo haciendo un trabajo de posicionamiento de su imagen en los medios (con sus peculiares rizos dorados, que lo hacen muy caricaturesco), ahora está consiguiendo 150.000 firmas para presentarse como candidato a la Presidencia de la República. Tiene muchos fans que se lo piden en la calle, que lo consideran como el ídolo salvador de la triste realidad política chilena. Yél no es un político, es un empresario enigmático que se pasea con su Rolls Royce por las calles de Santiago, regalando plata a la gente, ganándose la popularidad en base a sus actos de solidaridad (donó recientemente mil millones de pesos a la Teletón, la versión chilena de Jerry Lewis Telethon: En las elecciones municipales pasadas le ofreció a uno de los vocales de mesa cambiarle el reloj por el suyo, de oro y diamantes. El caballero vocal de mesa no llevaba reloj. Pero estas anécdotas las hace siempre frente a las cámaras y sabe manejar bien su presencia en los medios.

¿Qué les parece el personaje?

farkas-pinera-clinic-200w farkas-farkazo-insulza-clinic-200w