Monday, September 21, 2009

The Eighteenth: Chilean Independence Day

In Chile “the eighteenth” (September 18), has the meaning that “the fourth” once did in the US: patriotism; nationalism; Chilean unity; military might, the end of winter; and of course, Chilean food and drink. Celebration begins at noon the day before, is stretched over a week, and is lubricated by a bonus given to Chilean workers.
Celebrants in the Parque Intercomunal Padre Hurtado

Throughout Chile, parks are turned into fair-grounds with booths selling all that is typically Chilean:  here  hats, ponchos and boots of the Chilean cowboy, the mythic huaso (pronounced “waso”).

And there are rodeos with real huasos (or at least real huasos urbanos) and demonstrations of horsemanship by the military and the national police…

…and games for children.

But the real stars of El Dieciocho are empanadas and chichaEmpanadas, meat, seafood or cheese-filled pies, are the height of “Chilenidad” and the original Chilean fast food.  They are inexpensive, good, filling and can be eaten out of hand.

 And chicha[1], partially fermented grape juice, is the ideal companion for empanadas.  Fresh, tart and slightly sweet, the best is artisanal, un-filtered, un-pasteurized, and produced from the fall harvest.  Its alcohol level depends on the sugar content of the grapes and the length of fermentation, but it usually seems to be 3 – 5%.

 But once the obligatory empanada and chicha are dealt with, the serious eating and drinking can begin.  By far the most popular foods for the 18th come from the parrilla, the grill.  High on the list are anticuchos[2], mixed meats and sausages skewered with onions and grilled, and served with a marraqueta – a Chilean French-roll.

And there are chorizos (sausages) served on a split marraqueta, hotdog-style to make a choripan…

 And ribs.

And in the bowls at right, pastel de choclo, literallycorn pie,” with a filling of beef and onions, plus a piece of chicken, hard-boiled egg and an olive.

Plus pigs and lambs, roasted Patagonian style.

And to drink, more chicha, beer, wine, pisco (Chilean brandy), and pipeño (a light sweet wine), plus those Chilean classics, Pepsi and Coke.

Celebration is communal.

And if you still crave something sweet, candy from nearby Mendoza, Argentina.

It’s a lot like an old fashioned US celebration of the fourth, but without corn dogs.  

[1] In South America chicha is a generic term for drinks made of fruit or corn, usually fermented with low levels of alcohol.  In Chile chicha is usually made of grapes, or in the south, apples.  “Cider” is a close English equivalent.
[2] “Anticucho” is from the Quechua for “cut meat stew” see


  1. I'm moving to Santiago next week and all these photos have me super excited! Nice blog! Looking forward to reading more!



  2. Thanks. I hope you enjoy Santiago. And your tight pants will fit right in. (I’ve been reading your blog: "Marissa’s Big Adventure") But if you’re going to backpack through Chile and Argentina, pack light. There’s a laundry near every hostal.


  3. I would like to add something: you should notice the marvelous Los Andes mountains behind the park , I agree viva Chile m.... Wifita.

  4. Thanks Margaret. And for those who don’t already know her, Margret (another gringo anthropologist) writes a great blog called Cachando Chile—this time on (you guessed it) “El Dieciocho.” Click her name above for a link.


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