Bridget Gleeson Travel Writer

At home in Santiago

When you stay in a foreign home, you learn what the locals wear to bed and how they take their coffee (in this case? Instant Nescafé with steaming hot milk and liquid sweetener.)

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Oh, I’ve had some memorable experiences staying in people’s houses while traveling. At an apartment in Visakhapatnam, India, on my way down the hall to brush my teeth in the morning, I stumbled across the family kneeling before a tiny altar draped with beads and flowers, quietly chanting, their heads bowed. While staying at a Bolivian house, I was stupidly slow to realize that dinner was never served – but that it would be a great faux pas if you didn’t show up at ‘home’ in time for an elaborate three-course lunch. At a bachelor pad in Barcelona, I couldn’t find a single teacup or even a spoon; the only food or beverage available was single-malt whiskey. (‘We don’t really invite friends into our homes for meals,’ my host said, ‘Spanish people prefer to meet at the corner bar.’)

This is decidedly not the case here in Chile – at least not at the palatial headquarters of my extended family in the outskirts of Santiago. Open the state-of-the-art refrigerator and you’ll find lemons, avocados, strawberries, raspberries, leftover pastel de choclo and stuffed zucchini, locally produced cheese and wine; there’s homemade bread on the counter and almonds growing on the trees outside.

As in Bolivia, lunch is the primary meal of the day – which is something to get used to if you’re coming from Argentina, where dinner is not optional. The other night I crept into the kitchen and made myself a gigantic sandwich while everyone was sleeping. I felt vaguely embarrassed; I just hadn’t eaten much at lunch, as Chileans apparently do. But I also felt glad to know how it really is here. I’d never know these cultural details if I were staying in a hotel.

Other in-house details of note, at least in my corner of Chile?

Mashed avocado is a condiment that’s practically as common as ketchup or mustard. God bless you, Chilean people.

In the local version of the Spanish language, they cut the endings off lots of words and say things like ‘weno’ instead of ‘bueno.’ Their voices lilt upwards at the end of a sentence, so sometimes I think they’re asking questions when they’re not.

Family meals on weekends are all-day affairs. Aunts, uncles and cousins come with their beach towels and toys; after lunch, they hang around together, camped out on the lawn.

Some people have dogs that primarily serve as protectors of the property; they’re not pets that you play with or walk down the street on a leash

(like this little fellow, ‘un golden‘ as they say.)

Nescafe with bread, cheese and yogurt in the morning. Stuffed avocadoes or pasta or sandwiches with mineral water or beer at lunch, often followed by strawberries with cream. Fresh-squeezed fruit juice or coffee or tea in the evening, often served with some kind of cake (see below, a cake made from the lúcuma, an Andean fruit.)

Sometimes they also serve special treats like mote con huesillo (dried peaches cooked in sugar and cinnamon, then served with ‘husked wheat,’ which is much better than it sounds) and fresh slices of níspero fruit.

This coming week, it’s back to hotels and restaurants; I’m researching Central Chile for Lonely Planet’s next Chile & Easter Island guidebook. But for now, it’s good to be en casa.