Meal time: (An almost) Daily Saga

Eating; it’s a necessity we all have to deal with every day. The U.S. takes a certain pride in formulating the most efficient way of maximizing caloric intake while minimizing the time commitment for mealtimes, hence the almost incomprehensible number of fast food restaurants. With the goal of productivity, always productivity, almost 20% of all American meals are eaten in the car (via Michael Pollen, The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and over 90% of Americans eat some kind of ready-to-eat meal every day.

But here in Chile, eating is a genuine time of relaxing and recharging, and there is absolutely no skimping on either courses or visiting time.

IMG_1585The big meal of the day in Chile is lunch, and accordingly the typical work day accommodates that. Chileans go in about the same time as Americans, say 9:00 a.m., but their lunch breaks are usually at least an hour and are NEVER eaten at a desk. It’s the time to enjoy friends and colleagues and not the time to squeeze in a few phone calls. The coffee/tea course that usually follows meals is delayed until later in the afternoon, say between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m., so it can act as another long (by American standards) breather. The work day doesn’t come to a close until after 7:00 p.m. But the Chileans wouldn’t have it any other way.

And then, of course, there is dinner. Most restaurants don’t even open until 8:00 p.m., but they don’t get busy until around 9:00 p.m. Even though dinner isn’t the “big meal”, there is little left out. First appetizers, then drinks, then the entree, then fruit, then dessert and then coffee/tea. It takes a few hours, and no one is ever in a rush to leave.

Surprise- The only place you can find fast food restaurants are in the heart of Santiago, but they’re not popular like they are in the states. They usually cater to tourists and Americans who are used to that type of eating style. Although there are some local restaurants who provide take-out or delivery options, it’s never prepackaged stuff and airs more on the homemade side.

IMG_1587There are always people congregating in adorable cafes and outside bars and bistros (sushi is huge here), but eating out is reserved for special occasions. Eating in the casa is essential to the Latin culture, reinforcing that family is important. Another thing that makes eating easy at home is that every household has a maid. It’s an intrinsic part of the culture, unlike in America where it is a sign of wealth or class. Thus all the home-cooked meals are fresh and made from scratch. And so good.

And so healthy. Avocados, rice, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes… all seen in almost every meal. And that’s not including the fruit course that is with at least one meal a day. Usually, though, the only fruits and vegetables that are served are those in season locally. Keeping the global footprint to a low, strawberries in winter are extremely expensive and are a sign of excess.

The value Chileans put on visiting and eating creates a warm sense of welcome, and makes every meal a long saga filled with laughter. I’ve only been here for three weeks, but it’s almost hard to remember how during college I’d practically swallow a Wendy’s hamburger in 3 three minutes, alone, so I could make it to work on time. I much prefer it here.

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