Monday, September 28, 2009

Pomaire Pottery/Greda de Pomaire

One of the most important characteristics of Chilean Creole cuisine is its cooking vessels; clay pots from Pomaire. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes, from the classic olla (pot), to casseroles, pitchers, water jars, plates and bowls; they hold heat wonderfully, are said to impart a special flavor to food, are inexpensive, and can be used in the oven or directly over a flame.  A pastel de choclo (corn pie) or paila marina (seafood stew--paila is the earthenware bowl) is almost unimaginable in anything else.[1]

Pomaire olla, a Motera grande


Paila marina

Click map to enlarge

Pomaire is a village of 10,000 or so, some 35 miles SE of Santiago. The village owes its name to Curaca Pomaire, leader of a group of Indians who in 1482 were settled to the north of today’s Pomaire.  In 1583 they were evidently expelled from property of their encomendero,Tomás Pastene, and settled near present day Pomaire as a Pueblo de Indios, and Indian Town.  Such indigenous communities, common in Mexico and Peru but relatively rare in Chile where most rural Indians and mestizos were attached to a hacienda as laborers[2], were used by the conquistadores and their descendants to house Indians displaced from lands the colonists wanted for their own uses.  Evidently this was the case with Pomaire’s Indians.  The village was established in its present location in 1771, and pottery making on a commercial scale evidently started shortly thereafter. [3]

The pottery technology used in Pomaire seems to have been that of the indigenous Mapuche.  Visiting the nearby village of Melipilla in 1822, Englishwoman Maria Graham found that the technology there was the same as she had observed earlier near Valparaiso.  There was…
…no regular manufactory, no division of labour, no machinery, not even the potter's wheel, none of the aids to industry which I had conceived almost indispensable to a trade so artificial as that of making earthenware. At the door of one of the poorest huts, formed merely of branches and covered with long grass, having a hide for a door, sat a family of manufacturers. They were seated on sheep-skins spread under the shade of a little penthouse formed of green boughs, at their work. A mass' of clay ready tempered lay before them, and each person according to age and ability was forming jars, plates, or dishes. The work-people were all women, and I believe that no man condescends to employ himself in this way, that is, in making the small ware: the large wine jars, &c. of Melipilla are made by men.[4]

While I found no description of the process in Pomaire, Mapuche chief Pascual Coña dictated a description in Life and Customs of the Indigenous Araucanians in the Second part of the XIX Century. 

Some of the old-time women were very skilled in the art of pottery; making various pitchers, jars, pots, plates, cups: all kinds of clay vessels….  When the clay was well mixed a handful was taken to work with.  First a round vessel bottom was formed from the clay.  Then another handful was molded into a strip or “piulo” using the palms of both hands.   When this piulo was long enough it was placed on the round bottom following its circumference, and was pressed into the base with the fingers.  Then a second handful of material was pressed onto the previous strip and the grove between the two piulos was smoothed inside and out.  The later work proceeded in exactly the same way.  According to what they wanted to make, the width, height and form of the vessel were formed.  As they were very experienced in their art, they produced many different shapes.[5]

While the technology seems to have been indigenous, the shapes were largely determined by Spanish taste.  The pieces below, and the one following the first paragraph, above, were made by Teresa Muñoz:

…born in Pomaire in 1915, learned the craft from her grandmother and mother.  She has practiced it since she was 16.  She works in the old style, forming the shapes by hand and repeating the patterns made by her ancestors.  She obtains the clay, already prepared, from the same area. She is one of the few artisans who maintain the tradition in the way she works and in the patterns she follows. [6]
  Paila (bowl)

More of her pieces can be found on line: see Traditional ceramic pieces from Pomaire, Collection of traditional Chilean craftwork, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

Today Pomaire is an attractive tourist destination for Santiagueños and visitors, who come on weekends and holidays to window-shop, buy pottery and other handicrafts, and to enjoy the Chilean Creole cuisine.

Dozens of shops line the main street.  Some include artisans demonstrating their work.  Today’s technology includes the wheel, but it remains an artisanal craft.


Prices are reasonable.  The casseroles to the right were 3,500 CLP, about $6.50 US.

  In addition to utilitarinan ware there are figurines, such as these crèche figures.


And other, non-religious novelties.

And there is food to take home or eat on the street.

And restaurants serving traditional Chilean Creole cuisine in pleasant shady patios.

But back to the pottery:  it is unglazed earthenware, thick and relative good at even heat distribution.  It can be used in the oven, over a flame or on charcoal, for roasting, sautéing, boiling or simmering, and for serving.  It keeps food warm for a long time.

Many people recommend that you “cure” new pieces; although it is not essential (my wife used her greda for years without curing any). The idea behind curing is to seal the pores of the clay.   Many techniques are recommended, but for pots that will be used for soups, stews, cooking beans, etc., boiling whole milk (preferably fresh from the cow) for 10 minutes or so seems the most common.  Others recommend boiling water with a good dollop of oil or lard added. (I tried this with my new piece, above—seems to have done no harm.) For casseroles, platters, bowls, etc., oiling the surface and then heating for 5 to 10 minutes in a hot oven is recommended.[7]

A few other suggestions:
  • For long simmered sauces, etc., that may burn on the bottom, use a heat diffuser 
  • Pre-heat casseroles that will be used in the oven for lasagna, baked chicken, etc. or expect to add 10 minutes or so to the cooking time.
  • Preheat bowls for serving soups and stews, cazuela, paila marina, etc.
  • Cook individual pastel de choclo, shepherd’s pie, mac & cheese, pot pie, etc. in greda bowls.
  • Use some caution in adding cold liquids to a hot casserole or immersing one in cold water. Greda is durable, but it’s not cast iron.
  • Don’t be overly cautious.  Sauté onions and garlic in the casserole, brown some meat, add wine, vegetables, simmer or pop in the oven. Take to the table and serve out of the pot with crusty bread and more wine. Enjoy. 
 Casuela de ave from a Pomaire restaurant

[1] Some take-out places sell pastel de choclo in bowls of greda for an extra $1 or so.
[2] Bauer, Arnold J. 1975.  Chilean Rural Society from the Spanish Conquest to 1930.  Cambridge Latin American Series, 21.  Cambridge University Press.  P. 47
[3]  Popular accounts of the early history of Pomaire such as the one published by El Detallista (Pomaire crèche y se proyecta a futuro, on line at seem to be sanitized, ignoring the circumstances under which Indians were dominated and exploited by the Spanish.  Discussion of the founding of the Pueblo de Indios of Pomaire come from Los Indígenas De Chile Central, Informe Comision Verdad Historica Y Nuevo Trato - 2001- 2003, Vol 1, Part 1, Chapter 2, p 74 on line at .
[4] Graham, Maria. 1824. Journal of a Residence in Chile, During the Year 1822.  London: Longman, Hurst, etc. On line at
[5] Wilhelm de Moesbach, P. Ernesto. 1930 Vida y costumbres de los indígenas araucanos de las segunda mitad del siglo XIX.  Santiago: Imprenta Cervantes P. 216.  My translation of the Spanish translation.  On line at
[6] 2001 Piezas de alfarería tradicional de Pomaire, ARQ (Santiago)  n.49 Santiago dic. 2001 on line at
[7] Facebook discussion board, Artesania a domicilio, Cuidados de los pocillos de Greda, on line at

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

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Food Network vs.

Since you’re reading a food blog, there’s a reasonable chance that, like me, you watch food TV from time to time. I started years ago with Julia Child on PBS, and then watched Jacques Pépin, the Frugal Gourmet, and Justin Wilson. I learned a lot, and thought they were great fun (especially Justin).
When the Food Network (FN) appeared, I watched it whenever I was in a hotel (no cable at home; PBS came via antenna) and found it had competent chefs and was usually interesting, though I learned less. Their focus was on entertainment, not education.
While I was back in the US last month  (Aug. 2009), I discovered that it now seems dedicated mostly to good ol’ girls, “BAM!” and “food porn,” what Anthony Bourdain defines as “watching others do something that you’re not likely to actually do yourself.”

In the “good ol’ girl” category we now have two main contenders: Rachael Ray (
photo below) and Paula Deen (left).
Rachael Ray, cute as a bug, has had seven Food Network TV shows, a magazine, and is the author (perhaps loosely defined) of 18 cookbooks, of which the “seven most recent titles all were New York Times bestsellers.[1]” Her style is down-home, girl-next-door-competent and she has her own (trademarked) vocabulary.
“Yummy” is “Yum-o” (a branding “trademark” expression; among Ray’s kitchen products is a “Yum-o” T-shirt), “delicious” has become “de-lish,” and her ingredients are often personified, addressed in some form of the third-person butch: a red pepper is a “buddy,” meatballs are “guys,” a sandwich is “Sammy.” “What makes Rachael Ray so exciting to people,” [says the Food Network’s head of programming] “is that she speaks their language, shops at the same places they shop, and uses the same ingredients.” Ray wants to be just like us.” ….this wasn’t the History Channel—but, on the evidence, there was a surprisingly strong affinity between preparing food and talking baby talk. “TV Dinners: The rise of food television” [2]
While Rachael’s appeal is not solely culinary (though she doesn’t always dress like that) her Food Network colleague Paula Deen, (17 books, 1 magazine, 3 TV shows) is more cream puff than tart. She’s roly-poly, talks and cooks Southern (Ya'll), and has a free hand with the butter, bacon and fat. True to Southern tradition, she likes it fried. Some specialties include food porn classics like Paula's fried butter balls, bacon-wrapped fried mac & cheese,” and the bacon, doughnut, egg burger.”[3]
And she has a sense of humor:

Those donuts were there, and the hamburger was there, so I said, "What the heck are we using buns for when we've got these luscious donuts?” …but there’s a catch, she says "It's only one serving per lifetime." [4]
“The Ladies Brunch Burger” on a doughnut
“BAM!“ and ”Kick it up a notch!” are the omnipresent expressions of Emeril Lagasse, the king of FN. Emeril has three TV shows including Emeril Live (with an audience and house band 5 days a week), 11 restaurants, and 16 cookbooks[5].
Emiril, for years a real chef of one of America’s great restaurants, the Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, has been on FN since its beginning in 1993. In a category all by himself, Emiril’s Creole and Cajun cooking is rich in crawfish, chili and garlic (BAM!) and showmanship. He plays to the crowd, but is also a great cook: his “Cajun Jambalaya” is almost as good as mine :-) but replace “Emeril's Original Essence” with a mix of thyme, oregano, garlic powder and cayenne.
Overall however, FN has moved away from chefs (except for Emiril) and toward “talents”. As Bill Buford wrote in the New Yorker,
…the shows made now are full of exacting, intimate, amplified, and exaggerated beauties. (It’s not erotic, I can confirm—that’s not why it’s called food porn. It’s just unreal. You will never meet a Playmate of the Month; you will never eat the red, juicy tomato that you see on “Barefoot Contessa.”) But the main problem was the “talent.” The network had got “too chef-heavy,” [FN president Judy] Girard had told me... Chefs tend to do one kind of show—the scorned how-to, or “dump-and-stir,” as the network executives call it. “You need television talents. You can’t run a network with chefs,” Girard said, so authoritatively and matter-of-factly that I found myself agreeing with her. (Of course not! Who wants to watch a wizened old chef!)[6]

In ’05 I spent a week in a Bariloche hotel watching TV while recovering from a cold and discovered; the Latino foodie channel from Argentina. In contrast to FN, it is chef-heavy and reminds me of the PBS style of old. Its reining queen is Narda Lepes with 15 TV programs, past and current, including multi-show sequences on the cooking of Japan, London, Brazil, Morocco, Scandinavia, Greece, and Vietnam and Cambodia. She has one cookbook, Comer y Pasarla Bien’ (Eat and Enjoy) winner of the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for cookbooks based on a TV program, and has a catering company in Buenos Aires.
Narda Lepes
Attractive but not a sex-bomb, her style is witty, down to earth and educational; actually a bit like Julia Child. And her shows are intelligent: the Gourmet Vietnam and Cambodia series is the best foodie-travel show I’ve seen; entertaining, respectful of the cuisines and their cooks, and free of the testosterone addled machismo of some (yes, you Anthony) who have traveled the same path.

Narda says:
In general I like homemade food. Even if it seems exotic because it is from a different place, as long as it is homemade that’s what I most like to eat. There are certain things within gourmet cuisine that I like, but not many. I like simple yet gourmet cuisine that focuses more on the products than on the presentation. First and foremost, I like to make food that tastes good. Whether it looks nice, is exotic, or rare is of secondary importance.[7]
There is no single Emeril-like king of ElGourmet, but there are a half-dozen or so interesting male chefs. Italian-Argentinean Donato de Santis' show, Villa della pasta has perhaps the most flair and showmanship; Venezuelan chef Sumito Estévez’s Puro Sumo and Máximo López May’s Máximo Clásico are among the most cosmopolitan; and the most unusual is Latin Ameirca’s best know chef, Francis Mallmann’s, Huente-Có (“Between Waters” in the Mapuche language).

There are also shows on bread, chocolate, vegetarian cooking, Asian cuisine, chefs, cooking utensils, and cooking basics, with styles ranging from unpretentious to chichi foams, froths and verticality.
Some of the obvious differences between the two channels are that ElGourmet:
  • has chefs, and many even wear chef’s coats.
  • has shows about wine.
  • has shows about regional Latin America cuisines: Columbia, Peru, Mexico, Chile.
  • has recipes using liver, kidneys, blood sausage, fish with heads.
  • shows people cutting up meat, boning chickens, filleting fish.
  • has no audience participation, house bands, cute fat ladies, or Iron Chefs.
  •        does not call everything “easy.”
  • is in Spanish—but it's good practice. You'll build vocabulary and can often figure out what’s going on from the pictures.
Why the difference? Whether from cause or effect, accident or design, the two have very different audience profiles—at least based on who looks at their US website.[8] ElGlourmet’s US web audience is substantially more female (74% compared to FN’s 62%), older (56% to 40% are 50+), less wealthy (75% make less that $60,000 compared to FN’s 42%), better educated (73% have college or grad school compared to FN’s 53%); and more Latino (duh), although audiences for both are majority “Caucasian.”

El US Web Audience Demographics

. US Web Audience Demographics

I suppose it is possible that ElGourmet has no hip consultants in marketing estratégico encouraging a dumb-down to draw younger, male, richer and less educated viewers, but other Latin American TV is as mindless and trendy as the US version; and cable is full of US fluff in translation. It also may be that the cable demographic in Latin America is more affluent and educated than its US counterpart so that there is a smaller Joe Sixpack demographic to aim at. Or, maybe, improbable as it seems, ElGourmet’s producers simply have better taste.
At any rate, it’s no contest, ElGourmet wins hands down--and is and another reason I’m glad I live in Chile.


Update: 2011

The Food Network has now gone all-entertainment-all-the-time.  On a recent trip to the states the only programs we seemed to get were "cupcake wars" (cupcake baking competition focusing on the competitors rather than the cakes), "Food network stars" (reality TV competition for who will be the next FN Star, complete with tears, anger,etc.)  and Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (Guy with spiked hair eats big burgers, coast to coast). Food pron rules. continues to have mostly shows that teach cooking.  ¡Felicidades El Gourmet!

[1] Rachael Ray's Official Biography, Rachael Ray on line at
[2] Buford, Bill. 2006. TV Dinners: The rise of food television. The New Yorker, October 2, 2006, on line at
[3] Paula Deen Is Trying To Kill Us, Serious Eats on line at
[4] Paula Deen on Her Bacon, Doughnut, and Fried Egg Burger, A Hamburger Today, on line at
[5] For ex-pat FN fans, Emeril is in Chile via VTR cable: Emeril Green/Ecogastoronmia is on channel 63/Discovery Home and Health.
[6] Buford, Bill op cit.
[7] Ritten, Sanra. 2008 An Interview with Narda Lepes. The Argentine, on line at
[8] Is the web audience similar to the TV audience? It seems likely, but who knows. Are Latin American viewers like Americans? Ditto. Latin American audience data was unavailable. Data is from Food Network, Quantcast on line at and, Quantcast on line at