Chile From Within

Merken, ( Merquen, ) Mapuche and Bolano

Posted in chile, Chile culture, Chile film by tomasdinges on December 5, 2008

By coincidence, but with pleasure, I write today that Robert Bolano was a poet who was an author who wrote about poetry but never published it in his books and his book, a debateable magnus opus but certainly intended to be such is for the second year running one of the NY Times top ten books of the year and he chose to name his child Lautaro, who was a Mapuche leader mythologized in Chile like maybe Bolano will be in America and they are united by Nicanor Parra, who wrote that one of the most important four poets of Chile ( there were only two and neither was from Chile ) was from Spain, Alonso de Ercilla, who wrote that epic and descriptive poem about Lautaro, who fended off the Spaniards and gave rise to the myth of the Mapuches who currently in the Chilean countryside, arinconados, they find refuge from police acting upon Lagos-era laws allowing injudicious actions against those too easily classified as terrorists, as well as their own sense of shame for their lack of a normal last name, by the standards of the colonizers who now all have second homes on La Playa.

But what do the Mapuche have (for us)? They have Merquen. They have what we, the huinkas, can consume. Oh, how appropriate. Merquen, per the Miami Herald.

“Merkén is a ground mixture of dried, smoked ají cacho de cabra, a Chilean pepper that looks a bit like the Mexican guajillo, and seasonings that include cumin, coriander seeds and salt. One of my favorite Latin ingredients, this paprika-like blend adds heat, intense smoky flavor, saltiness and subtle aroma to everything from soups and braises to table salsas.”

So yes, stilllifeinbuenosaires, THIS, is a gourmet product from Chile besides wine, in the spirit of the people as the ultimate gourmands, genius and delicacy arising from necessity and availability. Like paprikash in Hungary or the multiple ways Mexican use tortillas and eggs and tomato and chile, the Mapuche have used the toasted chile and spice that all our mothers in the United States, or even in Santiago, ask for from the Chilean countryside when it is available.

See the Miami Herald for their guide to this, new “Chilean treasure,” and its history.

I quote from the end of the article:

“When I use artisanal merkén from the Araucanía, the Mapuche heartland, I am not only keeping the spirit of the ruka and its smoky hearth alive, but also the collective will of a tenacious people who have won the right to live on and leave their mark.”

So, stilllifeinbuenosaires, your question. What else is there that is gourmet in Chile besides wine? It depends upon the packaging, but I would argue that everything that is raw is gourmet. See this NY Times article.

But truthfully, I think that officially wine is the only gourmet item that Chileans have to offer. Why? Because just recently did the local industry decide to propose an appelation system for the regions where their wine is produced.

OH, I can smell the terroir in the morning air!

ps. On this day in Chilean history, Cnn Chile is launched.

6 Responses

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  1. stilllifeinbuenosaires said, on December 5, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    Thanks for your answer.

    Before I left the U.S., I read that North American farmers were going to start marketing agricultural products based on the notion of terroir.

    Here’s another question: In Argentina, genetically modified fruits and vegetables don’t have to be marked as such. Is it the same in Chile?

    The fruits and vegetables are so robust and unblemished here that I cringe at the thought of their origins. I’d rather eat a blemished, organic fruit than anything.

    Still Life

  2. Chileno said, on December 6, 2008 at 1:07 am

    >>>I think that officially wine is the only gourmet item that Chileans have to offer.

    It’s gourmet terroirism. Wine chauvinism. Someone’s gotta put a $100 pricetag on completos, chorillanas and pasteles de choclo it’s the only way the world will know the wonders of chilean cuisine.

  3. stilllifeinbuenosaires said, on January 6, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    I got to try merkén in Puerto Natales (in an omelette). It was excellent. Can you find it in supermarkets of Santiago or market vendors?


  4. jerri husch said, on January 8, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    You can find merken at all supermarkets…buy the least expensive kind—-in the small plastic bags…and don’t be caught up in the marketing and packaging of the “gourmet” stuff—unless of course you find some produced by small organic and sustainable farmers….which would be the best…..

    It is delicious….

    • tomasdinges said, on January 8, 2009 at 11:38 pm

      Merken can be found in supermarkets…but the best is in these little towns. Homes have their special recipes, so I be you if you are travelling in an area with a Mapuche tradition…Los Angeles, Temuco, pa’ la cordillera o al mar, you should ask around and see if an abuelita por alli lo tiene para vender.

  5. […] until the top of the casserole is bubbly and golden. Serve immediately. Sprinkle with Chilean merquen if possible. E. brought me back some gourmet goodies from his last business trip, including basmati […]

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