When is lunch not just lunch? When you’re in Chile, of course.
The custom here is to eat an enormous lunch. And if you’ve been invited to someone’s home, it’s never just lunch. There is always sobremesa, after-meal table chat, which can last until once, evening tea-time, when you’ll be expected to eat again.
For once, it’s usually bread, sometimes with butter, jam or cold cuts, and always, always some tooth-achingly sweet pastry which Chileans love. Just in case it isn’t sweet enough, sometimes there’s manjar, caramelized milk which is similar to dulce de leche.
A friend invited me to lunch at his brother’s home. Knowing that it would be an all-day affair, I ate a light breakfast and prepared something to contribute, an Apple Crisp, which I thought would be great for once.
Lunch started with empanadas. That would have been enough, but then there was beef with rice, two vegetable salads, bread, and potato salad. Here, plates are usually filled with the main dish in the kitchen instead of taking food to the table and allowing people to serve themselves. My plate arrived laden with two huge slices of meat and two piles of white rice. Chileans don’t waste food or anything else, so I knew I was in trouble. Though I made a valiant effort, I had to donate my second piece of meat to my friend’s brother.
Next came dessert, peaches and cream, again served from the kitchen. I wasn’t hungry at all, but dutifully ate what was in my bowl.
After that, what I needed was a nap, but instead we took a spin around the area, stopping to buy ice cream cones for them. They were nonplussed when I refused one.
By the time we arrived back home, it was nearing 7:00 p.m. The sister-in-law quickly lit the oven and threw in my Apple Crisp which needed to be baked for a good 30 minutes. The oven barely had time to heat up before she was taking it out again 20 minutes later. She dished up generous portions and we all tucked in. The apples weren’t soft and the top wasn’t crisp, but it still tasted good…to me.
They had never eaten Apple Crisp before and had been looking forward to it all afternoon, but when the sister-in-law took one bite and put down her spoon, I knew that she didn’t like it. Eventually, she took up her spoon again and the adults slowly worked their way through it. The younger boy spit out his one-and-only bite, and the other kid wouldn’t even try it. In the spirit of not wasting anything, and not wanting to offend me, the father offered to eat the spitter’s left-over portion.
Next time I’m invited for lunch, I will leave the cooking to the Chileans or buy something at the local bakery. Pass the manjar, please!