Posts Tagged With: War of the Pacific

Peru and Chile In Food Fight

"The Cause" of so much hate?

Chile and Peru are at war again.

The war between the two countries this time is not about political differences or control of mineral-rich territories. This one is a war of words about food – and at its core national pride – that emerged and has grown nasty in the past week. And it’s Chile this time around that is coming out on the losing end, one might say taking heat and trying to get out of the kitchen – fast!

The fight started with a promotional video released by Chile to showcase Chilean dishes and food products to a Russian market. With neighbor Peru known worldwide as a gastronomic powerhouse, Chile has been trying to step out of the shadow and improve its culinary image. In the video, titled “Flavors of Chile,” Chilean chef Christopher Carpentier prepares several dishes with ingredients he touts as Chilean. One of the dishes known as La Causa – The Cause – and a cocktail known worldwide as the Pisco Sour, are presented in the video. Never once in the video does Carpentier say the dish and cocktail originated in Chile, but the fact they are presented in a video labeled “Flavors of Chile” sets off Peruvians, who have a longstanding beef with Chile for taking Peruvian – and Bolivian – land and occupying the two countries following the War of the Pacific. In that war, with Peru and Bolivia allied, Chile won and took copper and other mineral-rich territories. Peru lost whole cities and Bolivia lost several cities, too, including its access to the Pacific Ocean. Since that war fought in the 1800s and subsequent Chilean occupation, Peru and Chile have had cold diplomatic relations. Chileans recognize that many Peruvians don’t like Chileans, and it all goes back centuries. So when Peruvians see anything that smacks of something being taken from them by Chile, they get defensive.

Peruvians – with Peruvian chefs and food experts leading the charge via social and mainstream media – immediately accused Chile of trying to steal yet another thing from Peru, this time their longstanding traditional Peruvian dish and Pisco cocktail.

A sour note

Peruvians are indignant that Chile would promote to the rest of the world the drink and the dish as Chilean when in fact both were originated in Peru. The demand that Chile pull the video came almost instantly, and the Peruvian media wasted no time going out on the streets to ask people what they thought of Chile’s latest foible.

For the record, there is no dispute that the dish – made from mashed potatoes and garnished with seafood or other toppings – originated in Peru. There is debate, however, as to the origins of the Pisco sour. Peru maintains the cocktail was created in Peru, which has a port town named Pisco. Tour guides in Lima, Peru, will point out the place – Morris’ Bar – where the Pisco sour was supposedly invented.

Chileans – with Carpentier going before television cameras – shot back across the border that the video was showing a “fusion” of foods and flavors in Chile, not necessarily touting the dishes as purely or originally Chilean. Carpentier issued an apology of sorts, stating he wasn’t out to mislead anyone. But for the Peruvians, it wasn’t enough. Some still went after the Chilean chef with fervor and gusto. One of those Peruvians leading on that front in the cross-border food fight was none other than restaurateur and Peruvian cuisine expert Isabela Alvarez.

Alvarez went to the media to share a bit of inside knowledge about Carpentier. She said some three years ago he came to her for work. She offered him an internship in her restaurant, El Señorío de Sulco, where Carpentier, she says, learned the ins and outs of Peruvian cuisine. She said he became fascinated with Peruvian cooking and especially fond of La Causa.

“He knew the origin of these dishes, which he learned to do in our country,” she told the Peruvian press, adding that it was not by ignorance or accident that he had prepared the dishes for the video. She then went on to rip Carpentier apart, calling him “irresponsible.”

Meanwhile, the president of the Peruvian Society of Gastronomy, Mariano Valderrama, threw himself in the middle of the fight. He said La Causa is undeniably Peruvian and of that there can be no argument because the dish is strongly linked to the cause of Peru’s national independence. He told Peruvian press that however “it was gratifying to know that the Chilean chefs take our plates and help us to spread throughout the world.”

Valderrama explained that the name of the dish comes from a Quechua word and that the dish was prepared to sell and raise funds for the patriots who sought to liberate Peru from Spain.

In the video Carpentier also takes a stab at preparing ceviche, which is a dish found in many Latin American countries, but a dish nevertheless for which Peru gets high marks as the country that knows how to make a killer ceviche.

Valderrama told the Peruvian media that although ceviche is prepared in many countries, especially those located to the Pacific, in Peru  it’s a tradition and done well.

Peruvian press has not let up – perhaps out to further embarrass Chile – by doing man on the streets interviews on the subject – stirring the pot.

The infamous video now lives on YouTube.

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The Calamity in Calama

The dog on the left with the blue shirt and white star was attacked and chased into submission by these street dogs that invaded his neighborhood. Then the "alpha male dog" turned on another dog in the pack in what turned into a vicious dog fight I witnessed.

What you are seeing is a dog fight between two dogs of the same pack. The dog on the bottom got the worst of it and limped away.

The dog in the middle on top of the other dog is apparently leader of the pack and asserting his dominance as the poor neighborhood dog wearing a sweater approaches. He's in for a nasty fight.


YOU DON’T WANT TO TANGLE WITH SOLDIERS WHO WEAR THESE SUNGLASSES: Chilean troops based in Calama march through the streets, ready to defend the homeland.

The town is called Calama, but they may as well have named it Calamity. Or at least that’s the impression inhabitants have given in the short time I’ve been here.

In less than a week in this dusty mining town in northern Chile, I’ve been warned to be careful about packs of street dogs that behave more like wolves on the attack; tricky gypsy women out to relieve the unsuspecting of cash and credit; roving band of drug-addicted robbers looking violently take possession of other people’s valuables; of contaminated tap water with high levels of stuff that can kill you; on and on. Who would think a decision to come to Calama to teach English would be potentially hazardous to my health? Well, living life is a big hazard in of itself, isn’t it? I’ll just continue to hope my Guardian Angels have not abandoned me, thinking “kid, no way we are spending a minute in this Podunk town!”  🙂

For those of you who aren’t keeping up – and God only knows why you are not! – Calama kind of just happened. I was in Peru on my way to Bolivia. I had La Paz on my mind, its mountains, the salt flats of Uyuni, and the landscape and people I had heard so much about. Ready for Bolivia I was. Then the good people at the International Center contacted me to ask if I would be interested in joining their team of English teachers for at least the next six months. My task would be to teach English to executives at one of the local copper mines. After some thought, and with South America in the throes of winter, I accepted the offer. The idea is to wait out winter here and continue travel in nicer summer weather.

A word about the region’s copper mines: Chile is the world’s largest copper producer and boasts the world’s largest copper mine. The mines are in the northern part of the country and Calama is a town that sprung from that mining production. The mines date back to pre-Inca times. In other words, the indigenous people that lived in the region pulled copper from the area long before the Incas and the Spaniards came to the area. The mines were the source of wars between Chile, Peru and Bolivia with archrival Argentina threatening to also attack Chile. Argentina has a longstanding beef with Chile over some southern islands. Not to mention their rivalry over futbol 🙂 Chile managed to kick serious butt and in the process took land from Peru and Bolivia. To the victor go the spoil, right?

In that so-called War of the Pacific, Chile kept several cities and towns from Bolivia and Peru. One of those towns it took from Bolivia was Calama. The Chileans had marched all the way to Peru’s capital, Lima, and contend they could have kept even more territory. The Peruvians and Bolivians still hold a grudge with Chile over the lost territories, especially Bolivia which lost its access to the Pacific Ocean. Chile maintains a very strong army just in case its neighbors try anything foolish. Most military experts note that Chile would handily beat back any aggression. They are probably right. Chile maintains a military contingency in the north and I saw them marching through the streets and they looked like a fierce force.

Let sleeping dogs lie

Anyway, there’s no soft way to put it: Calama is an ugly city. Some say it’s not even a city, that it’s an encampment of miners and mining-related industries. A Chilean colleague at the International Center told me that I picked the ugliest city in Chile to visit first. She said the reason the city is so ugly is because it grew out of a collection of substandard houses and buildings to house and provide services to the miners. Nobody was thinking aesthetics.

One of the first questions I’m asked by residents of Calama is what I think of their city. That question is usually followed with a statement from them that it’s okay to say it’s ugly because it is. Clearly some of them don’t think much of the place. I for one think I can survive here six months. I don’t mind that the place is ugly. I care more about the people and how they treat me, and so far, people have been very friendly.

Now, if only those rabid dogs, those street thugs, those tricky-dickey gypsies and the carcinogenic water would leave me be.  🙂

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