One of the most important things I took away from my study abroad in Santiago, Chile was an improved set of cooking skills! My host mother was an amazing cook, and I couldn’t help but linger in the kitchen every time she prepared my meals in hopes she’d need an impromptu taste tester.
Most of the food in Chile was pretty similar to that of the U.S., but I definitely would have benefited from doing some research beforehand. For example, bread is an extremely important part of Chilean cuisine. Most Chileans eat bread with breakfast, dinner, and once (tea time) in large portions. Another important staple of Chilean diet is chorizo sausage. It is extremely popular in barbeques for “choripan” which is essentially a sausage on bread.
Before studying abroad, I had vowed against eating pork and didn’t eat much bread. You can imagine my surprise when one or both were present in nearly every meal!
Though I missed food from home sometimes, I tried to remember that part of experiencing a new place includes participating in local customs. You can find out quite a lot about a place through their food.
That being said, it’s important to remember that there are some foods that you simply cannot go without that sometimes are not sold abroad. That food, for me, was Aunt Jemima pancakes. After 3 weeks abroad, I caved and asked my mom to send me some pancake mix and syrup via mail.
The first time I made pancakes in my host mother’s kitchen (yes, her kitchen, not ours or mine) she was very watchful of me to say the least. I think she may have thought I was going to burn the house down! However, after her silent resignation that signaled my first batch looked safe, I offered her some.
She said she didn’t like it. Chileans eat a version of a crepe called panqueques, which, as you may know are much less fluffy and pancake-like than American pancakes.
Not-so-coincidentally, the following week when I made pancakes, my host mother asked me how I made them. I knew I’d gotten her hooked. That night we made a batch of pancakes together and were able to bond over a documentary on Pope Francis.
After my experience in Mama Angela’s kitchen I’ve learned a few things I think valuable enough to share that may help you savor your eating experience abroad just a little bit more:
1. Don’t be afraid to ask what’s in the dish you’re about to eat: Some people advise against this, but as long as you’re polite, you shouldn’t run into any issues. The only caveat is that you may not want to eat the dish after you know what’s in it. That, on the other hand, could be rude.
2. KNOW HOW TO WORK THE APPLIANCES: You will save yourself and your host family so much grief if you know what you’re doing when you step into the kitchen.
3. Be sure of yourself: If you know what you’re doing, do it. Sometimes I’d hesitate and my host mother would try to rescue me in the kitchen, which can come off as frustrating or overbearing.
4. Lastly, add some of your favorite ingredients to your host mother’s meals to make them more to your liking. For example, my host mother did not like rice and beans together in the same dish. She cooked a rice dish and a bean dish but never together. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE RICE AND BEANS. So, I decided to save some of the rice from a rice dish or beans from a beans dish and combine the two for lunch. As you learn about the dishes from abroad, use it as an opportunity to teach your host family more about American culture. I guarantee you it will be a more fulfilling experience for you and they alike.