Last night, I went out to dinner in an area of Santiago that is described as bohemian. A place where tourists often visit and a place where backpackers live or stay temporarily before they head into the mountains. I was fortunate to have a work friend take me out to enjoy a Peruvian meal in this area, Bella Vista. We drove in a car. We zigged zagged between traffic. If you think drivers are bold in places in the US, they are very bold here! There are lots of cars in Santiago, as is evident by the smog that surrounds the city. A lot of people take public transportation, the metro and buses are packed full of people. I will never complain again about my bus being full. But a lot of people also drive. There are about 6 million people that live in metropolitan Santiago.
Getting around by car is almost impossible until after 8 pm. One of the reasons many people eat so late I'm sure. They also work late. The typical hours spent at work are from 9 am to 6 pm. Most people in the office I am in are at work until 7 pm or sometimes later. I feel totally spoiled leaving work back home at 5 pm now. I want to work the normal Chilean hours while I am here.
Back to Bella Vista. The shopping and restaurants there are very chic. Restaurants of all kinds with colorful chairs and lights and seating outside, even in winter. Heat lamps were scattered about to keep visitors warm. Little craft stores sold gifts that are common from Chile like copper, lapis lazuli jewelery, and wool scarves. We were hungry so we didn't wander much. I would like to make it back there this weekend if I can.
We ordered a fried shrimp appetizer and pisco sours, the national Chilean and Peruvian drink, to start the meal. There is a bit of a tug o' war between Chile and Peru to claim this national drink. It is made of pisco (grape brandy), sugar, and lemon or lime juice, and egg whites (for a frothy top). It is very tart and carries a punch. It is a swinging punch, the kind that takes you by surprise, so watch out!
For my main course, I ordered sea bass. I was a bit hesitant because I know Chilean sea bass, as marketed in the states, is a fish I try to avoid because it isn't fished sustainably. I ordered the seas bass on the menu anyway, covina in Spanish, because I felt if I was in Chile I should at least try it. But I was still thinking about it this morning, so I asked a colleague in the office. As it turns out there are several varieties of sea bass that fall under the Spanish name covina. If it is marketed as "Chilean Sea Bass" it will say so. The true name for the marketed term for Chilean sea bass is Patagonian Toothfish. This fish lives in very deep Pacific Coast waters and takes almost ten years before it matures. That is why it is so important that it isn't over harvested before it has time to grow and reproduce. I will continue to avoid consuming Chilean sea bass for this reason and stick to fish varieties that are more sustainable.
Pisco Sour, photo credit