A Bite de Atacama: Tasting the Cuisine of Northern Chile
By Brandon McGovern, Natural Resources and Environmental Geology Major
Corn Ceviche, Quinoa Sushi, Franchuteria Bakery-French Bread & Rico Motecon Huesillo
It is our first full day in Chile. We flew into Calama, Chile yesterday morning and took the shuttle to San Pedro de Atacama where we checked into the hostel and relaxed. The next morning the group of eight students and two instructors went out to learn about culinary history of northern Chile through a walking tour called “A Bite of Atacama” led by Nora Höflitz. We started out tour at the town square in San Pedro de Atacama where Nora gave us a brief overview of the history, geography, and geology of San Pedro and the surrounding areas and how these factors controlled the types of food. She told us about the underbelly of the town which is all the homeless dogs you see around Chile. This took my intention because of my love for dogs and really got to me since I am a dog owner myself. I liked learning about the people who live in the highlands and what they must do to survive such as domesticating and raising llamas and protecting the vacunas, which is like the llama except shorter and has softest fur in the world. Llamas are the main domesticated animal with their capability of surviving in the harsh conditions and the high altitude. From town, you can also see all of the volcanos surrounding San Pedro de Atacama, these amazing geologic features are deeply rooted in the history of the people, and their importance can be seen in the architecture of San Pedro de Atacama. The primary feature is triangles cut out of walls to represent the volcanos. Early civilizations also considered these volcanos to be gods because of their smoking.
After meeting in the square, we headed to a French bakery called Franchuteria. The bakery started when a French man came to Chile and started selling French bread on the streets. It was such a hit that he opened the bakery Franchuteria and is considered a must go place in San Pedro. At the bakery, we tasted French bread with local fresh honey harvested in Chile, local jams and a local spice called Rica-Rica all of which tasted amazing. There was also a chocolate French bread that was also very good. I did not have any coffee but those who tried it said it was terrific. While at the bakery we were given the opportunity to try cocoa tea and were told of the many benefits for the health such as energy, helping digestion, and cleansing your body. Cocoa is a big part of Chile as it is used in all kinds of ways by the people, and it is the primary local remedy to help with settling my stomach and altitude sickness. It would be nice to bring some back but it is illegal almost everywhere in the world.
The next stop was to get a small refreshing drink that is very popular in Chile called Motecon Huesillo. The drink consists of mote which is boiled and peeled wheat mixed with peaches or pomegranates that have been dried and seasoned. In every city, there is a popular stand, in San Pedro it is Rico Motecon Huesillo and am glad I got the opportunity to try it out!
The next stop of the tour was a to a little restaurant called Ayllu that was really neat! It also contained a small microbrewery where Saint Peters beer is brewed. They named the microbrewery Saint Peters because locals often call San Pedro, Saint Peters. We got a small tour of the microbrewery and learned the processes of how they crafted their signature beers. At this restaurant, we were also treated to llama, at first, I was skeptical of trying it. I decided to go ahead and try it and was surprised at how good it was. It is normally served with and egg an olive which complemented the llama well. Llama is one of the healthiest meats in the world and I highly recommend it to those visiting Chile.
To let our stomachs settle for a while we walked to the lesser known parts of the town where we discussed the local edible plants of the desert. These trees and bushes had names that were difficult to pronounce. The first is the Algarrobo tree which produces pea pod-like fruit that is very sweet. The second tree is the Chañar tree which produces a fruit similar to an olive but is much sweeter and with a larger pit. The fruit is the traditional fruit used as a sweetener before the Spanish brought sugar cane. The local people make a variety of pisco (a Chilean schnapp made of fermented grape) using the fruit that is very sweet and easy to drink.
After Ayllu we went to Restaurant Paacha where we were treated to Chilean sushi and a type of Ceviche Indian salad which contained fried corn that was delightful. We were also treated to more bread, which is the case at every restaurant you go to in Chile. Corn is big in San Pedro due to the fact it can be grown and sustained in the conditions of San Pedro. The sushi contained quinoa, one of the most important plants in the high Andes.
After we were treated to ice cream at a small ice cream shop called Tierro De Sol. The ice cream came in popular Chilaen flavors like rica rica and cocoa. Throughout the tour I tried many refreshments and foods containing rica rica and it is easily my favorite flavor in Chile.
Valley of the Moon and Salt Valley
By Claire Gibbs, Comprehensive Geology Major
On Wednesday July 19th 2017, the Missouri State University Chilean Volcanoes Study Away group went on the Valley of the moon and Salt Valley. Most of the people who live on the land (natives) offer their land to be able to show off the lovely land. Salt Valley was named by a pre-geologist who was fascinated with the wonderful geological formations and who San Pedro de Atacama is named for. The Salt formations are about 18-23 million years old and have three plate boundaries, ocean to ocean, continental to continental and continental to ocean. The minerals that are present are clay, volcanic ash, and salt (cubic form). The desert is the driest on the planet since there is little rain each year. The amount of rainfall is about one millimeter per a year which makes for a hard life. Like a cave in America, touching the salt could slow down or stop the growing process. Once told that we could enter the cave. The cave had a lot of twist, turns, climbing and jumping. Once we got to the top, we took a group photo. The next place that we went to was the Tres Marias. The guide told us a story:
“There was a tourist that was looking at the structure. He then decided to get up and personal with the structure. When he climbed the rock formation, the rock underneath fallen down. Now I like to call it the two and a half Marias.”
The Valley of the Moon was the last stop on the tour. In 2007, there was a huge earthquake that had shifted the land form. Now it is one of seven protected places that is protected. The name comes from the moon in space because the craters look like the one in space. In the Chile summer (the American winter) the rain makes the formation turn brown. The grand finally was seeing the sunset in the mountains. We got some snacks that were super tasty and then we watched the mountains turn from grayish blue to lavender purple. It was fantastic. This is the tour to be sure to go on when visiting San Pedro de Atacama!