Concha y Toro

Ania Smolec 12/01/2016

San Pedro de Atacama and its treasures

With a long history, San Pedro de Atacama is the perfect place to explore its treasures, including a cuisine full of flavors and identity.

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Atacama, the driest desert in the world, welcomes tourists with an almost lunar landscape of dunes, salt lakes and vast plains that seem infinite. But among the rocks and sand, there is an oasis. With a long history, San Pedro de Atacama is the perfect place to explore its treasures, including a cuisine full of flavors and identity.

Valle de la Luna

You can travel to the Atacama Desert, located 1,700 km north from Santiago, by plane to the city of Calama or through a long trip on the Panamerican Highway. Remember we are in the driest desert in the world. Anytime in the year, even in summer, the temperature drops a lot during the night. So go warm or buy some of the famous alpaca fabrics.

One of the most recommended seasons is spring. In some years, when irt rains even a little, seeds wake up and make the desert bloom. This season, wetter than other years, has provided one of the most beautiful spectacles in the last years.

Geisers del Tatio

But anytime you choose, you will always admire a magical play of colors. When the sun sets on the horizon, the colors change and begin to mutate from gray and blue, yellow and terracotta, even pink and purple.

San Pedro de Atacama is located on the banks of the San Pedro River, at a height of 2,436 meters above sea level. The Atacama oasis was a very important strategic point in pre-Columbian times  for the original cultures, and later for the Inca and the Spanish conquerors. In every street, among its ancient walls, you can feel a strong sense of history.

From here you can visit many natural wonders and feel that the stars hang from a clear sky. It is no coincidence that the ALMA Astronomical Observatory operates here. Located 5,000 meters above sea level, it is the largest astronomical facility in the world.

Chañar

You can also visit famous natural monuments, such as the Salar de Atacama, with a magnificent view of big mountains; brackish lagoons where you can float on its dense waters; Tatio Geysers, located at a height of 4,320 meters, with its impressive fumaroles reaching up to 10 meters high and temperatures of 85° C; and the Valley of the Moon, a depression surrounded by desert dunes and hills with impressive sharp crests (it is part of the Los Flamencos National Reserve).

Near San Pedro de Atacama, you can also enjoy other activities, like guided bike tours or trekking; numerous historical monuments, such asthe Pucara of Quitor, a defensive fortress of the XII century; the church of San Pedro, a magnificent white temple built of adobe; and the Inca House, the oldest building in the village, covered with beams of trunks, branches and straw.

Rica rica

Despite the desert landscape in Atacama, you can see some green patches that appear in a landscape of yellow and ocher. Precisely in those native forests you can find some of the treasures of the Atacama food such as the rica rica herb or the fruit of the chañar tree.

The Atacama cuisine is a fusion of native cultures and more modern techniques. It uses many local ingredients, such as quinoa and corn, the basis of many dishes and desserts. The most famous is the Pataska stew, made with corn and meat, much like carbonada. If you are going to try it, do not forget to pour a glass of Casillero del Diablo Merlot to give this dish an exquisite counterpoint of flavors.

Chañar offers a sweet fruit, which was instrumental in the diet of Atacama for centuries. Local people prepare a type of versatile sweet syrup with it. This dark, thick and sweet product is used in traditional medicine to cure sore throats and in cooking for preparing desserts, ice creams and cocktails.

The rica rica herb is recommended by the locals as a remedy for the discomfort caused by the highlands or plateau sickness. It is an herb that is known for its strong aromas and miraculous medicinal properties. It is a distant cousin of the verbena, mainly consumed as an infusion for stomach pain, cough and cold.

I want to introduce a recipe that meets Chilean flavors, from the Atacama coast to the peaks of the Andes. It is a fish baked in a thick layer of salt and seasoned with herbs. It is an ancient cooking technique, known in the Mediterranean world. With this method, fish meat is very juicy and delicate. You won’t need more than a white wine to accompany this recipe. With Trio Chardonnay you will feel the desert blooming in your mouth.Today the chefs use rica rica for gourmet cooking. It can be used in cocktails, to season sauces, or in desserts like ice cream or roasted milk cream with wild berries. If you get some fresh rica rica at home you can use it to flavor a lemonade or prepare an aromatic sugar (fill a glass jar with white sugar and add a branch of rica rica) or mixed with oil, lemon or mustard for a tasty and original dressing.

Fish baked in salt and herbs

Ingredients

  • 1 kg of coarse salt
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 fish like sea bass, whole, with head and skin
  • 1 fresh coriander
  • 1 fresh rica rica
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 lemon

Pescado a la sal y a las finas hierbas

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to maximum temperature.
  2. Put the salt in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of water, the eggs and the lemon juice.
  3. Mix everything until the dough from the salt is sticky. Then extend two thirds of this mixture in a roasting pan.
  4. Fill the fish with herbs and then cover with the remaining salt mixture.
  5. It must be completely covered with a layer of just over 1.5 cm thick.
  6. Put it in the oven for 15 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven, take a sharp knife and through the salt layer to the fish. If the knife is hot, it means that the fish is ready. Set aside for 10 minutes.
  8. The salt layer must be hard as a brick, so with a blow to the edges with the back of a spoon, and with a bit of luck, the top comes off.
  9. Carefully brush the excess of salt from the fish trying not to touch the meat. Then gently move it to a disk.
  10. Run a knife along the backbone of the fish to the head, and then cut below the head. Use the knife to find the bones. Then carefully lift the fillet so the fish opens like a book. Discard the skin and bones and enjoy with your favorite accompaniments, a green salad or just olive oil, a touch of salt and freshly ground pepper.