I’m a bad vegetarian. I’m not Catholic, but I’m feeling a need to confess.
This last month here in Chile has really tested my commitment to my self-imposed dietary guidelines, and truth be told, they haven’t stood up to the test. I have three (kinda funny) examples of the challenges of being a vegetarian while traveling. Ready? Here we go.
- Sushi. (Or as Chileans call it, “su-chi.”)
I guess I’m not the strictest vegetarian to begin with because I’m ok with eating fish. Especially here, in a seaport town, I’m not opposed to a little fresh salmon or ceviche. So, when my host aunt/sister Flo texted me that she was gonna order in sushi for our anime night, I was all in.
“Go for it,” I told her. “I’ll get you back.”
It didn’t even occur to me to mention that I was a vegetarian (or pescatarian). What more is in sushi than a little bit of fish?
In Chile, it’s common to have sushi with chicken or pork. Flo ordered us “handrolls” which had cream cheese, avocado, and a few massive hunks of chicken, all wrapped in rice and seaweed. It wasn’t even cut up in little slices, which I thought was funny. That’s the most distinctive thing about sushi, right?
That, and the fish.
I felt bad when I realized what had happened. And I was too hungry to make a fuss about a little bit of chicken, not when she had ordered me some yummy sushi. So I ate it, and it was good.
Sushi here might not be what I’m used to, but it’s funny. I was glad to have discovered a cultural quirk of Chile. Mixing cultures always ends up being entertaining, and I guess a bit weird.
2. Completos. The Chilean hot dog.
Here’s another cultural mash-up. Imagine an extra-long hot dog slathered with mayonnaise, and topped with an entire avocado, mashed-up of course. Add your typical ketchup and mustard and, if you’re feeling adventurous (or just particularly German), sauerkraut. There you have a completo.
After about two weeks of hearing my gringo friends get excited about this culinary discovery, I was feeling intrigued and interested enough to try a completo for myself. It wasn’t like I went looking for one though. An opportunity fell in my lap one afternoon when I was working on a marine biology project with my Chilean lab group. It was late afternoon, and we were all starving.
Usually in Chile, people eat almuerzo (lunch) at 2 or 3 pm, but once the clock hit 4, we gave up working on our project, resolved to meet another time, and jumped on the bus to Sergio’s favorite completo place. They were really excited for me to try my first completo and since there was a special deal that day (2-for-1) Sergio bought me two, convinced I would love it.
For a hot dog, it was amazing! A completo is the perfect twist on the American classic. Though I wouldn’t eat it regularly, I’m really glad I tried the completo with my Chilean friends. Since then, I’ve had a couple completos without the hot dog (the meat part isn’t the best anyway), but I don’t regret trying it the authentic way first.
3. An Asado (Barbecue).
Did you know that here, people spend Christmas barbecueing on the beach?! And they’re jealous of us for having snow! Personally, I would trade the freezing Michigan winter for a Christmas asado.
Here, we’re reaching the end of Chilean winter. Which I guess means it’s asado season. My friend Sergio invited me again to try some authentic Chilean meat. And I said yes.
We went to his house in a little beach town about 30 minutes away. Then we started cooking. I loved how everyone got involved in the process, but I felt a little useless because one of the tasks I was given was peeling tomatoes. I had to admit I had never peeled a tomato.
About 2 hours later, the pinchos were on the grill. I wish I had a picture, because the amount of food there was impressive. And the meat was rico and juicy.
I had at least 7 skewers. Not to mention the multiple salads, soup, rice, and bag of potato chips I munched while waiting for the meat to roast.
On the bus ride home, I had an awful stomachache.
After that pound-of-meat shock to my system, I think I’ve learned my lesson on staying vegetarian. Sometimes it might be worth it to break it, but I think from now on I’ll stick to salads and veggies to keep my tummy happy.