I’m never going to eat again. Ok, that’s a lie, I’m probably going to do much the same thing today as I did yesterday, but it feels like I ate more seafood than is entirely reasonable. But let’s backtrack a little. Yesterday morning we arrived in Puerto Varas after a twelve-hour bus journey south from Santiago. It sounds arduous but was actually very civilized – comfy seats that recline into beds, blankets, pillows and attentive staff made it feel more like a train than a bus.
Puerto Varas is a sleepy town on lake Llanquihue, with what is often an astonishing view of Volcan Osorno. Often, but not yesterday, as heavy clouds obscured the volcano for the entire day. Boo! Still, the town is pretty with colorful Germanic wooden houses and a lovely black sand beach on the lakeside. We spent the day tooling around the lakeside and exploring the national park that Osorno is in, which includes spectacular waterfalls and lakes of bright turquoise water. Up close, the volcano emerges from the clouds along with misty wooded peaks fit for a German Romantic painting. It was all suitably dramatic and of course helped us work up an appetite for the region’s other main attraction…
For dinner, we went to La Olla, which had been recommended by several sources including the nice lady in the hotel and Chowhound. We knew immediately we were in good hands as the parking lot smelled overwhelmingly of fresh seafood and garlic. The interior was what I’d characterize as rural fancy: yellow tablecloths, dessert display and a laid back atmosphere. We ordered what we thought was a regular amount of food – appetizers to share and two hot seafood platters among three for entrees. The prices suggested that this was fairly normal with mains costing under 10 GBP or $15 each.
And thus began the seafood-palooza. First up, the appetizers. A Caribbean ceviche arrived in a large soup bowl full of shredded conger eel, salmon and shrimp with a light mix of aji, cilantro and lime. The eel was unimaginable delicious and the whole thing was fresh and tasty. It was also kind of a bucket of ceviche.
Next came octopus in garlic sauce, which was warm and full of buttery, garlicky goodness. Also generously proportioned.
And just because you can’t be in Chile and not have empanadas at every opportunity, we had fried shrimp and cheese empanadas. (Chileans do not abide by the Italian rule of not having cheese with seafood, in fact they combine the two whenever possible.)
So, after all that, we were kind of full but we had no idea of the onslaught to come. Finally came the picada caliente x2. Now picada doesn’t sound like a lot of food but just look at what came to our groaning table!
We had machas with parmesan, clams in their shells, whole crab claws, squid, shrimp, crab meat au gratin, crab meat in little mini shepherd’s pies, abalone, octopus, crab claw pieces in butter, mussels, and a big pile of some kind of clam I didn’t recognize but which was deeply savoury and good. The whole thing was monstrous, decadent, and very very good. We didn’t come close to finishing it, which was tragic really, but now we come prepared. Next time, no lunch, no appetizers, just us against the seafood.