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The flavors of Chiloé on a culinary tour of this Chilean island

Ricardo González R.

Alamy

Chefs recreate the traditions of the Greater Island of Chiloé, in the south of Chile, where the cuisine is based on ancestral customs and is famous for its intense flavors from land and sea

 

As soon as you step out of the plane or the ferry boat that crosses the Chacao Channel – which separates the continent from the Chiloé Archipelago –, you’ll feel the different atmosphere of  the south. Maybe it’s because of the proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the adjacent channels. Or the omnipresent greenery, the humidity, the fire, the geography, or the unique way people speak, as if they were singing. The fact is, that the peculiar lifestyle on these islands in the south of Chile has attracted foreigners who arrived as tourists and ended up establishing  roots there. This is the case of Claudio Monje, the owner of Rucalaf. After years traveling around Chile and Europe, he built his small, blue roof-tiled house on the way to the Rilán Peninsula, between the cities of Castro (the capital of Chiloé, where the LATAM flights land) and Dalcahue. He defines the place as  a bistro: the food is what the day, the market and the season have to offer.

 

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Mauricio Ayala and Alejandra Rivero, who own the “casa de comidas” Cazador (formerly Mar y Canela), also came from abroad and have been living in the district known as Palafitos Gamboa, where improvised stilt houses were built along the shoreline of Castro. In this area, where many people transit (and which is one of the city’s tourist attractions), the duo creates food that’s reminiscent of the era when Chiloé jamón was also famous in Lima. This explains the local tradition of artisan cold cuts production, for example. With a more heterodox and fun style, the restaurant El Mercadito has a colorful, friendly and modern setting. It resembles a food stand, where you can find mussels with french fries, hot and cold ceviche, and fried fish, among other varying seasonal dishes.

 

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Smoked picoroco (a type of crustacean), crab, trout or common sawfish, cheese, kelp, bread, dried shellfish strips, and giant cloves of garlic. You can find all this at the compact Feria Lillo in Castro, on the city’s shoreline, near a pier where small local producers sell ingredients and handicrafts from the region. Close by stands the restaurant Travesía, owned by two Chiloé natives: Lorna Muñoz, the cook, and Renato Cárdenas, a renowned local researcher. From their experiences, they have created a traditional cuisine connected to the locale, with modern touches, like lamb in a bowl with luche (fine kelp abundant on the island): the symbiosis between land and sea is common in these parts.

 

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On the outskirts of the city appears Dalcahue, a peasant  fishing village just  a few miles from Castro. It’s an essential stop for travelers looking for fresh oysters. Also, make sure to pass through  the charming Mercado, which is home to just eight eateries. Depending on the season, they prepare locos (a type of shellfish), fried southern hake, and meat and shellfish stews with milcaos and chapaleles (white flour bread and potato bread), essential items that honor the many local recipes in which potatoes are the protagonist. There are over 200 potato varieties catalogued on the Chiloé Peninsula, and some of these tubers are transformed into mellas de papas, a sweet dough covered in leaves and baked in the oven; or into tropones, potato flour balls that take on the consistency of jelly when in contact with heat. These are two simple examples of  cuisine that is as surprising as the local people and landscape.

 

LATAM has direct flights to Castro from Santiago and Puerto Montt.