Monday, June 21, 2010

Stuff Gringos Look For

It happened to all of us. We got to Chile, decided to try and cook something special, and couldn't find any of the ingredients. The other day I got to thinking about some of the little gringo treasures that can be found around town, and some of the products that most commonly drive a new gringo in Chile nuts searching for them. I haven't found everything I've looked for, and my search gets easier as Jumbo and Lider expand their imported sections, but hopefully sooner or later everything will reach us here near the bottom of the earth! That means you, cream soda, I'm waiiiiiting for you!

Look no further!!! You can find it in Chile:

Cranberry Juice - Jumbo sells cranberry juice in a box in the juice section. When its in stock, they have light and regular. Certain pharmacies will also sell concentrate for about $6,000 for 1/2 liter.

Cranberries - Whole berries are hard to find, most Chileans have probably never tried cranberries, and call them arándanos (same word for blueberries). Dried cranberries can be found at Jumbo. I've been told you can order them from frutconcept or lavandacasadete, though I've never tried it.

Soy Milk - Its in a box with the juices, Ades brand.

Root Beer - Jumbo sporadically sells A&W Root Beer or Stars and Stripes brand. Most Chileans have never tried root beer floats so grabbing a few cans of root beer can mean a fun introduction.

Buttermilk - put a tablespoon of vinegar in with a cup of room temperature milk and let it sit a few minutes.

Maple Syrup - There is a somewhat cheaper alternative called miel de palma (similar process to maple syrup but from a palm tree, I consider it fairly tasty, though different. You can buy it in a jar or can in the same aisle as honey.) Its hardly a match for the real stuff though, real maple syrup is TASTY! But its expensive in Chile. The large Jumbos and Liders do have imported maple syrups in nice glass bottles for a hefty price. I remember seeing a bottle once for $6,000, which seemed like a lot, but in perspective, maple syrup isn't cheap in the U.S. either. Understandably, my family made it for a while and it was a pain of a process!

If you want to have a waffle party without going broke and can manage not to be too much of a snob about it, I recommend using a jug of the fake stuff (made in Colombia!) that can be purchased at a small nuts and canned goods shop in the center of Viña del Mar on Ecuador street, between calle Valparaiso and Arlegui. It reasonably imitates the flavor without making me as nauseous as Aunt Jemima. Its got a green label, costs around $2,000 pesos, and you´re going to have to invent 15 ways of pronouncing maple before the staff figures out what you want (hint: try MOP-lay)
Jumbo also typically sells "SYRUP" in the winter, which is a very cheap imitation maple syrup similar to the one described above.

Bagels - In Viña I would recommend BagelMania, above the Santa Isabel between 9 and 10 Norte with 1 Poniente.   The bagels aren't overpriced, and they even have homemade cream cheese and other favorites like lox bagel sandwiches.   You might also try ordering from the owner of Barlovento Artesana Cafe (3 Norte 980, between calle Quillota and 2 Oriente). 

Peanut Butter - Can be found at most major grocery stores for a fairly expensive price considering the itty bitty jar. Or, hold out until Lider stocks up on the Safeway brand, which is considerably cheaper. In Valparaiso near the corner of Avenida Argentina and Errazuriz there is a little shop which makes its own peanut butter. It's not cheap, but its decent and fresh.

Corn Starch - Try Jumbo

Cheesecake - Yeah, every cafe sells cheesecake here but I'm gonna go out on a limb (er... solid plank, there is no convincing me otherwise) and say most of them are pretty terrible and pricy imitations that taste like fluffy air with the slight smell of cheese. They LOOK tasty, especially with those blueberry or manjar sauces they always cover them in, but mark my words, whatever they give you will not live up to the name "cheesecake."

A few places I´ve heard that have hit the mark are Barlovento Artesana Cafe (3 Norte 980, between calle Quillota and 2 Oriente. I can vouch for this cheesecake), a place in the little mall in Reñaca, TPuro, Tartas y Tortas, and Galletaria Laura and Emporio la Rosa in Santiago. Also, some people like the Gatsby´s cheesecake though I´ve never had the guts to try it.

Lider now sells frozen cheesecakes, which are good but not to-die-for.  Sometimes Lider will carry a cheesecake mix in a box where you need to just add milk... and honestly it's damn tasty and cheap. Stock up.  

Molasses - Melt a block of chancaca over low heat with a bit of water.

Dr. Pepper - Jumbo, occasionally

Brown sugar - sometimes Jumbo, Lider or an independent tostaduria will have a variety of azucar moreno or azucar rubia that looks like what you need for your recipe. If not, in Valparaiso on calle Chacabuco behind the bus terminal, you´ll find what you need in one of various stores you will initially think are just bulk dog food.

Tofu - can be found in Santiago in some of the Patronato Asian markets . In Valparaiso, last I heard there is someone who makes it and does a drop off at Govinda´s Hare Krishna restaurant on Wednesdays.

Baking Powder - often incorporated in flour, otherwise it can be purchased separate and is usually one of various brands with English packaging, therefore called... "baking powder!" One jar I see often is red and yellow and says ROYAL.

Baking soda - bicarbonato, found everywhere but with the spices. Or, you could try it my way, have your mom ship you a box of Arm and Hammer with the funky multi-use picture labeling, and scare your suegros into think you're putting cleaning supplies into the mix.

Celery Salt - Im not from the South and have no idea what this is about, but a friend was excited to find this at Jumbo.

Tahini - Jumbo has it. Its with the curry sauces, and frequently sold out. Sesame paste (which is sweet) is NOT usually an acceptable alternative. However, peanut butter could be, if you're trying to make hummus.

Hot cocoa mix - Good Value brand at Lider is a bargain at around $2,000 for a 20 ounce jar WITH mini marshmallows.

Pecans - Lider and Unimarc

Chocolate chips - Jumbo and Lider. You're probably better off buying chocolate at a baking goods/decoration store and chopping it up into small pieces. In Valparaiso there are some of these stores around the bus terminal on Guillermo Rawson.

Candy - Twix, M&Ms, Milky Way and Snickers are making their way slowly to cash registers. Other than that, if Jumbo doesn't have it in the candy aisle, there's a store called Price Shopper close to Portal La Dehesa in Santiago which is famed to be full of gringo candies and cereals.  Good Value peanut butter cups can be found sometimes at the Lider near the Vina mall. Benzi the pet supplies stores also carry lots of American candy bars.  

BBQ Sauce - Santa Isabel, Lider, and Jumbo sometimes import a decent one.

Marshmallows - Most major grocery stores, in the candy isle. Beware of really cheap brands and marshmallow-looking treats that taste like black licorice.

Pumpkin - around Halloween you´ll have to make runs to various Liders, Jumbos, and local markets to see if you can find anything orange or just have to settle for a squash. I've never seen canned pumpkin, but you can buy a slice at a mini market and pop it into the microwave or oven until it caramelizes and approximates what you´ll need for your recipe, or boil chunks of pumpkin until they are soft enough to mash with a fork and drain.  

Baking tools, appliances, and things you might just want to bring along from Gringolandia:

Tampons - line your suitcases with them. They cost an arm and a leg here! (On the contrary, buy birth control over the counter here to save some cash.)

Pepto Bismol - I haven't found the brand name, but I've received alternative recommendations for Gaviscon, Antiax from Lab Saval, or Phillips...none of which I'm convinced are quite comparable.

Advil and Tylenol - my personal advice is... stash up before you come! You can find alternative pills here in Chile, however, even with the same active ingredients, not all the compounds are the same and (psychosomatic or not) I don´t feel they work as well for my body. Chileans I know who travel often stock up on their trips so there must be something that draws certain people to the American brands. Paracetamol is the Chilean version of Tylenol, by the way, with acetaminophen as the active ingredient.

Waffle Irons - In Chile you'll often see panqueques (what I'd call crepes, as they're super thin), but most people have never tried thick pancakes or waffles. You can sometimes find a waffle iron in the baking section of stores like Jumbo.

Oven thermometer - Your Chilean gas oven is bound to require modifications to your baking directions. An oven thermometer will save you a lot of time, guessing, and burnt cookies. You can probably find the thermometers somewhere in a baking store or the baking section of a large store.

Measuring cups, spoons, or any obscure baking supply - specialty stores usually have what you´re looking for, and Casa & Ideas probably has much of what you seek too, but some things might be cheaper and easier to just drag along from Target back home. At times I've come across United States style measuring cups at random spots in Chile, but bringing a set along might be an easy fix. Many people in Chile tend to use normal spoons, small stirring spoons, and cups to estimate ingredients. Then again, I wouldn't guess that most Chilean baking recipes are as complex or adventurous as the one you may be intending to use, so try that at your own risk.

Food Substitutes for when you can't find exactly what you're looking for:
Cook's Thesaurus - absolutely amazing


  1. Great post! A couple of things. If you're looking for cranberry juice in Santiago, the natural foods store in Mall Panoramico in Providencia sells concentrate for $10.000 (enough to make a lot of liters...maybe 20?). I've seen cornstarch everywhere. It has a different name. I forget that name, so this comment is really useless. Also, baking powder is at any Lider. It's called polvos de hornear and it's in a little red jar, usually near the "baking" section (which consists of mixes to make queques). Also, in my experience, Arm and Hammer is baking soda, not baking powder, but maybe they make both? The box you describe and link to is definitely baking soda though, which, as you said, is bicarbonato.

  2. I'm getting ready to pack my suitcases, so thanks for the tips!

  3. Cornstarch is "Maizena" and it's legit - I've used it! Lydia, thanks for posting this. Do you know that there's a Chilespouse who is SELLING this information (and other good datos) for USD$27. As much as I want to know more about where I can find the things that make me feel at home, not yet convinced that I want to shell out USD $27 bucks! I might still do it ... but with this information, I think I'm set for the short run! :o) Thanks!

  4. Abby- haha thanks you are completely right and I just edited it. I copy pasted the comment into the wrong heading!

    Heather- if theres anything you're wondering whether you'll need to stock up on let me know, I could look around a bit! You can pretty much find the same stuff in both places, but sometimes the taste just doesn't match up and we end up missing what we consider the real deal. For me, its usually candy and sodas, which, although there are plenty of alternatives, they never seem to satisfy a craving from back home!!

    Andrea, I didn't really realize. I do know what/who you're talking about though, but I am under the impression that its content includes much more on dining out and wine, rather than just clues to a gringo scavenger hunt. I just checked though and apparently she DOES talk about this aspect of finding ingredients yourself. if anybody is interested, I've never seen the book myself, but from what it seems like online (as I've come across reviews and articles by her before) she knows her stuff. I don't live in Santiago but having a food guide could be worth it. In the end, $27 bucks could easily be lost dining at bad restaurants if you didn't know any better hehe!

  5. pecan dato: They sell them in bulk and way cheaper than 2900 the pote that they cost in the supermarkets (but in shells, and yes they are tough to get out), at a tostaduría near Manuel Montt on Providencia. Don't buy anything else there, because my whole oats were full of chaff, but the nuts were a lifesaver and I even made a pecan pie for a friend's baby shower once!

    I have talked about the bagel thing quite a bit on my blog, and we have decided that the Café Melba bagels are bagel-shaped, but the NY contingent wasn't convinced. I will see if I can dig up that post and talk more about this (or find it yourself, bearshapedsphere bagel...), I don't want to litter your useful blog with links to mine!

    Also, my infectólogo (infectious disease doc) at Santa María said that pepto bismol is not sold here, nor is anything with the same active ingredients.

    Cheesecake in Santiago: Galletería Laura R, one location on Manuel Montt, another on Vitacura. You will thank me. It is gelatin-free and almost as good as your mom's.

    Peanut butter: Natural PB recently sighted at the Sabores de Chile store on Agustinas near Teatinos or Ammnunategui. You can also just buy peanuts and make it in your mini chopper, but go slowly and pulse else you will burn out the motor.

    Great post!

  6. haha eileen, good to have official word on the pepto bismol. those things people recommended do not appear to be very similar, but some swore by the dato haha so i figured the might be worth a mention. i personally stock up.

    thanks for the santiago datos. i havent looked around much for stuff there, but its likely someone else who reads this will find it useful.

  7. Great list! You were the one that told me where to get Dr. Pepper in Santiago, for which I will be forever in your debt.

  8. I've just found a bagel-bakery in Vina del Mar, 1 Poniente, 9 Norte, on the second floor of the Santa Isabel supermarket...fell in love with the Mediterranean (goat cheese, zuchhini, tomato, olives)..check it out, too me it tastes like the "real deal"!!!! :)

  9. haha. i doubt anything will taste like the "real deal," i've already slaved a few years away as a bagel baker. but i will check it out and try to give an unbiased opinion!

  10. does anyone know where I could find jelly for my peanut butter sandwich?

  11. I know im years late finding this incredible article, but im in Viña till december! Anyone know where to find feta and other non Chilean cheeses? Also greek yoghurt? Also if you haven't tried it yet, PuroCafe in Valpo has pretty good espresso/other coffee preparations =)

  12. Do you know where to find cacoa butter for chocolate making?

    1. I do not actually - this isn´t something I have looked for. Jumbo is usually the supermarket with the more obscure options, otherwise there tend to be little shops that sometimes specialize in certain types of imports or products but I am not sure which would have this! Good luck!