I’m starting to feel a bit guilty that I’m not posting any recipes. New readers might imagine I spend my life swanning about the world eating in restaurants. I promise I’ll get back to cooking when I go home next week, but for now, it is all about the eating. And, at the risk of repetition, I have to say the eating is fabulous.
On our last night in Chiloé we wanted to have curanto, the regional specialty. Curanto properly made is a bit like a New England clam bake: shellfish, meat, potatoes and vegetables buried underground, lined in leaves, and cooked under hot stones. All over the island you see signs for “Curanto in hoyo”. We had seen signs for curanto in the restaurants behind the fish market and this seemed like an excellent bet for the evening. However, when we went back at night the whole area was deserted and frankly a bit sketchy looking, and the restaurants were all closed. Clearly, they catered to the market workers and closed after lunch.
Feeling a bit despondent, we made our way to the place the man in the hotel had suggested. We weren’t too optimistic, as he had steered us to the mediocre place the night before, plus he seemed to imagine hotel guests must want to eat at the swankiest places in town which wasn’t really the case for us. But as soon as we saw the exterior of Mary’s restaurant, we had an inkling that this might be a much different experience.
Doesn’t this just look like a place that will serve exciting food? When we went in, we were offered the front room (in the picture) or the cosier back room. We picked the back, only to realise that all the customers in back were men. Up front were couples having a nice night out, while in back were tables entirely of men. Hmm. Oh well, we were obviously gringos so we decided to tough it out as the men gave us Paddington Bear Hard Stares.
Sadly, they could only do curanto with a full day’s notice but they did offer us pulmay, which is curanto cooked in a pot. What arrived was the obscene looking dish above: a sizable wooden trough filled with giant mussels, regular mussels, clams, a longaniza sausage, and potatoes. On the side came a bowl of spectacular dipping gravy, a rich broth of fish bones and crustacean shells and given a welcome kick with red ají chilies and cilantro. It looks quite plain but it was one of the tastiest dishes I’ve had in Chile. Some of the lemurs pronounced it even better than the seafood-palooza from Puerto Varas. That’s fighting talk, but it gives an idea of the richness of the broth. It also came with home-made ají sauce, which was smoky and so delicious we asked Mary for the recipe. She insisted it was just ají, cilantro and vinegar, so the chilies must be really good in Chiloé. Mama Lemur had a sopa de mariscos that was equally wonderful, made from congrio, mussels and clams and with a less spicy but no less deeply flavoured broth.
And, lest it be suggested that all I did in Chiloé was eat, here’s a nice picture of a beach we went to on one of our drives around the island.