My final destination in Chile was Valparaíso. This port city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is perched on a series of hills and is famous for its higgledy piggledy streets navigable by funicular railways, elevators, or precipitous stepped paths. The city was a major stopping point for trade between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans before the opening of the Panama canal, and you can see the influence of Spanish and British commerce in the architecture. Some streets are filled with heavily decorated mid-Victorian stone buildings that wouldn’t look out of place in Glasgow or London, while the main square has a more Spanish colonial feel. But it isn’t the European downtown that forms the soul of the city but the hillside neighbourhoods with their colourful houses clinging on precariously. Valparaíso has long been an artistic centre in Chile and the town continues to hold a raffish appeal. Once quite run down, it has started urban renewal projects and even in the few years since my last visit, there are more cafes and boutique shops aimed at tourists. This kind of gentrification isn’t always a good thing, of course, but it does seem at least to have led to some of the historic neighbourhoods getting an injection of cash. And, if the left-wing grafitti I saw is anything to go by, the city hasn’t lost its radical flavour en route.
But what of the food? Well, there are quite a few touristy places around that I suspect might be a bit mediocre, but luckily my host knew of a place that has been around for ages, is reliable, and has a good view. Sold! So off we went to Cafe Turri on Cerro Concepción, which is one of a few cafes around the top of the funicular railway on this centrally located hill. The location is splendid, with a shaded terrace looking out over the bay.
The menu was a mixture of traditional Chilean dishes and more modern inventions. And by modern I mean stuck in the 1980s. There were raspberry sauces on pork, mahi mahi with pineapple and coconut, and balsamic reductions as far as the eye could see. I steered clear of these distressing innovations and chose the specialty of the house, pastel de jaiba or crab pie.
Now, you can see here the ‘modern’ plating: the squiggles underneath the pastel are balsamic vinegar, which truly did not harmonise with the flavours of the dish. I had to pick the crab out of the crepe it was served in and try my best to avoid the sharp and sticky stuff underneath. But once you got past that issue the pastel itself was delicious, a rich and generous concoction of crab, cream, cheese and wine. (Did I mention this was lunch? God, I need to go on some kind of kale diet when I get home…) And in a piece of luck, the restaurant gave us a little magazine on the neighbourhood’s culinary culture that included a recipe for the pastel de jaiba, so I finally have a recipe to share from my trip. Hurrah!
Pastel de Jaiba / Valpo Crab Pie
- 1/2 kilo crabmeat
- 1 garlic clove
- 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 red pepper, finely chopped
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup cream
- a handful of cilantro
- 150 grams parmesan
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp merken* or smoked chili powder to taste
- 4-6 slices bread
- 1/2 cup milk
- glass of white wine
*merken is a Mapuche Indian spice, made from red ají chilies, cilantro and salt. A good replacement would be ground dried chipotle, or plain chili powder if you’re stuck. It’s not used in large quantities in Chilean cooking so it won’t make a huge difference.
In a bowl, soak the bread in the milk and put aside. Fry the onion and garlic in two tbsp oil. When the onion is transparent, add the red pepper and cook for three minutes. Then add crabmeat, oregano, cumin, merken and white wine and cook for at least five minutes, allowing the alcohol to evaporate. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, cream, and the soaked bread, then add to the crabmeat mixture and cook for another three minutes, stirring constantly.
Turn off the heat and stir in half the cheese and cilantro leaves. Taste for salt and pepper. Finally, put the pastel into individual ramekins (or one big one), add the rest of the cheese and grill to brown the top.
The recipe doesn’t specify how many this amount of ingredients serves, but experience suggests this rich dish would work really well in small portions as an appetiser.
Cafe Turri, Templeman #147, Cerro Concepción, Valparaíso, Chile