When asked about my hobbies as an adult, I used to find myself stumped. Hobbies were seemingly handed to me from elementary school through college, but once out in the real world I found myself in a country where lacrosse doesn’t exist, I had no idea where to find a non-religious choir, and the volunteer organization I tried to help out disbanded. Color me hobby-less.
Of course now I’ve got soccer, and thanks to my Kindle I actually read again, but for a while the only answer I could think of to answer the question of what I liked to do in my free time was “eat.” Rodolfo and I consider going out to eat a hobby, since it’s something we dedicate time and money to and enjoy. I have a list of Santiago restaurants I want to try in order to keep perfecting our art and pushing our horizons as connoisseurs of good grub (or maybe because at heart I’m still a fat kid who just loves food) and last weekend I crossed two off that list with delicious results.
First up was a place we’d tried to go the week before: Ciudad Vieja. Rolling up at 9pm on a Saturday meant we were confronted with and impossibly long line, but 2pm the following Saturday proved more successful. We did have to wait for a table but were invited to take a seat at the bar, where we soaked up the ambiance.
This place has an old-school vibe despite the fact that their food is in some ways very creative. In Chile, a cold sandwich usually means white bread with no crust and your choice of ham and cheese or chicken and avocado filling with a few other varieties if you’re lucky. Hot sandwiches are considered fast food and feature beef churrasco or pork lomito with some combo of avocado, mayo, tomato, cheese or even green beans. They’re good, but the selection is somewhat limited – no US-style fancy deli sandwiches here.
Ciudad Vieja takes traditional Chilean foods and puts them between two slices of bread. Of course there are also non-Chilean sandwiches, but my favorite part was being served a fresh take on a dish Rodolfo’s abuelita would make.
We started with the empanaditas – cheese and mushroom, cheese and crab and the slightly spicy chicken ají de gallina. The fillings were all good, but it was the dough that I found especially impressive. Not too heavy or too fried, it gave the empanadas a homemade feel.
I went for the criollo, which gave me a very generous serving of pot roast-like plateada en escabeche with some fried yam, tomato and a little green chile. My roast potatoes looked a bit sad on the plate, but they were almost as good as the main attraction.
Rodolfo’s Peruvian-inspired lomo saltado – sautéed beef, tomato and onion with shoestring potatoes – practically counts as Chilean since Peruvian food is so popular here, and the fact that he scarfed it down before I could get a bite leads me to believe he enjoyed it.
The service matched the food and ambiance – friendly, relaxed and good – and our only complaint was that the raspberry-orange juice we ordered never came. But even that just gave our waitress a chance to impress us as when Rodolfo told her to just forget it, she said that if we just wanted to try it she’d bring us a taste on the house. We declined since by that point we’d already decided we’d be coming back.
I’m pretty sure Ciudad Vieja will become one of those go-to favorites for us, and if you’re in Santiago I wouldn’t be surprised if you felt the same way – just make sure to get there early!
More in this series
Saturday in Santiago