Thursday, 11 February 2010

Curanto - Slow Food at it's Best



For so many years I had always wanted to visit the mythical island of Chiloe. No idea why, maybe it was the sense of isolation that the islands have. The way they managed to stay apart from Spain for so long, but even when they were reigned in, the locals kept up their traditions and culture for so long.
One of the things that survived the centuries of Spanish rule and later after independence is curanto. Curanto is pure Chiloe. It’s a foodies dream to eat a purely indigenous dish that has survived the centuries and is still very similar to how it was centuries ago.
Curanto is basically a dish of clams, mussels, chicken, sausages, pork ribs, 4 different types of potatoes cooked in different ways. All this is served on a gigantic platter and with a bowl of the broth that the meat and shellfish were cooked in. So it has a flavouring of everything. Quite delicate and very delish.
As we were in the northern capital of Chiloe, Ancud. We headed to the best restaurant in town that we were told served the best curanto on the island. The Kuranton restaurant is settled nicely in the port area. It’s interior has a mish mash of curios from Chiloe. There is a whole row of old cannon balls from the fort a few hundred metres away. The fotos of old Chiloe reminded us of a bygone era, but the towns did not look too dissimilar to today. Only Ancud has changed due to an earthquake earlier last century, and was totally rebuilt in concrete. A saving on the trees.


The traditional way of cooking curanto is to dig a pit and fill it with stones and make a fire so the stones become very hot. Once the fire has subsided and the stones are red or white hot, you fill the pit with native leaves that give off a distinct aroma.
The shellfish are put into bags and left on top of the leaves. The meat products having been marinated are put into a pot of water and left on top of the stones to cook. They also take in the aroma of the leaves. The shellfish are then covered by cabbage leaves or similar to cook. It is very much like the Polynesian Hangi, but has been adapted to the cold climate of Chiloe.
Two types of (wet) potatoes are put into bags and these go on top of the leaves. Everything is then covered by grass, and left to steam for an hour or so.
The two other types of potatoes. One is Milcaos, these are shredded and the liquid is squeezed out until dry. This is put together with some mashed potatoes, seasoned and added to some deep-fried pork skin. This is then cooked in the oven or even fried in some places.
The other, Chapaleles are boiled and mashed and mixed with flour and seasoned and served with honey.
This is of course the traditional way of cooking curanto. One I’m sure is not done too often these days. We were gutted to miss the 9th Annual Curanto Festival. In which we found out about much later that 7,000 people descended on a small island that probably only had a few hundred inhabitants.
But they cooked a traditional curanto for 7,000 people. A world record I’m sure. To read this in Valparaiso was quite gutting to say the least. As it would have been a great day out.
Anyhows back to our meal. A large platter was placed in front of us, which would have been enough for 3. I can imagine tourists ordering one each to their dismay.
A small bowl of the broth that everything had been cooked in was also served.
This was served with pebre. A very Chilean thing indeed. It is a very crude raw salsa, consisting of finely diced onions, red pepper, coriander, parsley and mixed with water and salt. Most places we had this it was pretty dire. Still the best one I have eaten is by a Chilean friend living in north London. I still prefer the Mexican salsa, but hey ho.


After eating a mountain of shellfish and meat and potatoes, you are definitely stuffed. As you can imagine, but it’s a very content stuffed, one which knowing you have eaten a meal that not only took an age to cook, but has survived the ages also. Hail to the Slow Food Movement.

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