It’s one of those Santiago summer evenings, the atmosphere at the Plaza de Armas awash with humanity. I have the prime seat on the plaza to watch it unfold. I have a schop; ice cold sparkling larger, pale in colour, refreshing on such a warm day. The air is alive with a beat that only resonates in the South American countries, like the working class populace are connected with the Latin beat through mental telepathy. Not walking through life, but swooning, swaying and sliding with attitude. I love it, I love watching it. People watching, it’s one of my favourite pass times, best served when you’re on the road and a long way from home.
The reason I’m here is for the famous Chilean street food, a “completo”, or how I was introduced to them, a Chilean hot dog. I’m lucky; my bride was born not far from where we sit, although it’s been a long time since she was here in Santiago, her local knowledge and native tongue is a valued asset to my mission, to eat my way around South America.
‘Dos Completo por favor’
Ema addresses the waiter who is dressed in tight black pants and a crisp white shirt. He responds back in Spanish and the pair exchange a laugh and smile, is that cheeky bastard flirting with my missus. Another aspect of the people, the macho lifestyle, the men are men and they let you know it.
Not to be outdone I lift my empty beer glass and add ‘Una cerveza, por favor’ it’s the first phrase I learned, months before I set foot on the continent. He smiles and drifts of towards the kitchen.
I ‘ve had these hot dogs at home, Ema whips them up for informal family gatherings, but I wanted one here amongst the people in their capital.
To start it’s a baguette type white roll, not crispy, defiantly not sweet. The frankfurter goes in first, diced tomato covers the frank, sauerkraut spooned in, avocado scraped on top filling any gaps on the expanding bread roll. Squeeze mayonnaise and mustard over the top and you have a “completeo”, this is served in a fit for purpose plastic holder.
15 minutes and several paper napkins later I get through this delicious street food, although I like a street food to be a little less messy it lived up to all my expectations. I take a sip of beer and its then that I decide, that I Peter, will not buy another hot dog unless I am sitting here at the Plaza de Armas it was that good…… or at home, made by Ema being the only other exception to my hot dog pledge.
Fast forward several years to September 2016 and I make the decision to become vegetarian. The story of this choice is another post entirely, but in a nutshell (and there are plenty of those around here) for us it was about the health benefits of a plant based diet. Since we adopted the plant based diet we have stuck true apart from Christmas dinner and our recent holiday, I could rave on about how good I feel but I’m not one of them guys, it’s our choice, ours alone, we’re not trying to change the world, just our little bit of it.
Last Wednesday night we invite the guys around for a meal, and to watch the State of Origin football, we’re not footy heads in our family, but we enjoy these interstate games as one of us is a Queenslander, and we all like to give him a hard time, As it turns out it’s usually Dave who has the last laugh.
‘I’m going to make Chilean Hot Dogs’
‘Yeah but that’s not fare baby, I love them and I’m trying to cut meat out of my diet, especially the processed meat’
‘Don’t you worry, I have a little surprise’
I was intrigued and looking forward to Wednesday to find out this surprise, maybe there is a way to enjoy what I love and still hold true to the plant based life.
Wednesday night rolled around and the local branch of the family all showed up.
‘Yes we’re having Hot Dogs, feels like it’s been ages’ was the general response, the younger members of the family not that impressed with our decision to go plant based, almost to the point of trying to get us back, like we have been seduced by a cult.
‘Yeah but what are you eating Dad, you’re a veggo’ more mocking as if looking after your health is a crime.
It’s then that Ema produces what is pure brilliance, or at least in theory, carrots peeled and carved into the shape of frankfurts, boiled to softness, marinated overnight in soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil and BBQ sauce. Then pan fried and served alongside the favorited condiments that make up the Chilean hot Dog. There is a stunned silence, then as Ema brings the real frankfurts to the table for the others a small chuckle breaks out, this turns into a riotous laughter as they realize the “carrot dogs” are for me and they get the real ones.
I jump in with the righteousness that takes over the vegetarian and taste the inventions, it’s carrots and I like carrots as a rule, like them with other vegetables, like them shredded in a salad, at a pinch I can eat them in batons dipped into salsa when the diet says you shouldn’t use corn chips. I go ahead and assemble my hot dog in anticipation, the eyes of the family upon me as I take the first bite.
‘Well, how is it?’ the chorus chimes in, ‘is it any good?’
I place my hot dog on the plate and prepare for the reply.
‘Do you know what would make this taste really good?’ I ask the whole family and they wait for me to answer.
‘A rasher of bacon wrapped around that bloody carrot’