Have you ever attended a local festival on your travels?
On our quest for Authentic Food in Chile, we stumbled onto a local festival in Talca our first stop in the country.
But, why did we stop in Talca, Chile you may be wondering?
Talca – The Birthplace of Chile and Chilean Wines
Talca was our first stop in Chile after we left Argentina on our quest. We stopped in this important city for two reasons.
First, Talca is the birthplace of the country. This is where the Chilean Act of Independence was signed In 1818, by Bernardo O’Higgins, the liberator of Chile.
Secondly, our stop in Talca was to discover the wines. Talca, which is in Maule Valley is where Chile’s first vines were planted in the 16th Century. This valley also has the oldest vines of the emblematic Carménère wine. Read more here for the border crossing experience and wineries in Maule Valley.
As we settled with our airbnb host, Rosita, she told us about a local festival we should attend to discover authentic Chilean food.
The festival is called the Feria del Folclor de Huilquilemu. It takes place in Talca every November, and for four days, Chileans of the Maule region enjoy folkloric music and dancing, handicrafts, traditional food and drinks, and more.
Never having been to a Chilean local festival, we were eager to discover the local culture and the food. With no expectations, we took the local bus and arrived at the festival about 30 minutes later.
A Chilean Local Festival – Feria del Folclor de Huiquilemu
Located right outside the center of the city of Talca, the festival took place at Villa Cultural Huilquilemu. This cultural landmark and now museum, is where Bernardo O’Higgins was baptized.
We arrived at about midday and were quite surprised both at the location and the number of people. It was a hot afternoon and the many families and young children were crowded in the shaded handicraft booths seeking relief from the hot sun. The place was spacious and some of the displays from the museum were open to the public.
Food At a Chilean Local Festival
Being on the quest to discover the popular Chilean dishes and local specialties, food was the first thing on our minds.
Chancho en Piedra – A Local Specialty
As we made our way toward the food stalls, we noticed some beautiful smooth rocks. They were used to grind ingredients so we stopped to learn more. With our limited Spanish, we engaged in a very interesting conversation with the local artisan. He told us about the origin of the stones and how they are traditionally used to make chancho en piedra.
Chancho en piedra also referred to as pebre is a type of salsa that originated from Talca made to accompany meats. It is used in Chile like the chimichurri sauce is used for Argentina or pico de gallo in Mexico.
Chancho en piedra literally means “pork in stones”. Despite its names, it has nothing to do with pork. It is said that “chanco”comes from the Quechua verb “chancar” which means “been crushed”. The stones which are river stones are round and smooth and used for crushing the tomatoes.
Chancho en piedra is made from tomatoes, whole cumin, pepper, garlic, salt, green pepper, and oil. However, the ingredients vary by tradition, region and the preference of the cook.
Typically pebre is not made with tomatoes although you will see this sauce with tomatoes called pebre in restaurants. The main idea is to offer a tasty marinade to enhance the flavor of grilled meats. Traditionally, no knife is used to cut the tomatoes and prepare chancho en piedra. Instead, the stones crush the tomatoes transforming them into a smooth and delicious paste.
Grilling and Barbecuing
While Chileans may not have Argentina’s claim to fame for their barbecues, we were quite impressed with how much food was grilling on hot coals. There was chicken and sausages on skewers; beef, lamb and ribs on the grills.
There were even preparing mussels and clams in giant pots over fire. What an unexpected surprise!
The most surprising thing on the grill were the churrascas or pan chileno which were simple white bread cooking on the parilla (barbecue).
Mote con Huesillo
As we were taking in the atmosphere and enjoying ourselves, we were struck by a strange looking drink on almost every table. After mustering up some courage in our limited Spanish, we asked a lady standing nearby what she was drinking.
Mote con Huesillo is a traditional summertime drink made with wheat and peaches. While it was strange to see a huge peach in the cup, along with wheat, we found it surprisingly refreshing. You can read more about this famous drink and others in our previous post 6 famous Chilean drinks to experience like a local.
Fresh Juices – Jugos Naturales
Fruit juices are very popular in Chile and can be found pretty much everywhere. At restaurants, cafes, stalls and fairs, you can order your juice made fresh from the exotic fruits found in the country. See more about the 6 exotic chilean fruits we discovered at farmers market in Santiago.
Given the heat and the popularity of fruit juices, the lines to order the juices were quite long. Many were choosing from the popular flavors of frambuesa (raspberry), naranja (orange), or durazno (peach). At this point, we were no longer hungry or thirsty but were amazed at the popularity of the juices.
Rapa Nui Dance
In addition to the food and drinks, there was folklore music. The highlight was the discovery of traditional Polynesian dance from the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island (Isla de Pascua).
Easter Island is a Chilean territory and is the world’s most isolated inhabited island. It is a Polynesian Island located in the Pacific ocean approximately 3,510 km (2,180 mi) west of continental Chile.
We were pleasantly surprised to see the Rapa Nui and their traditional dance for the first time at this Chilean local festival. Their performance was magnetic. Their energy was captivating and they represented Easter Island with great pride. This performance was a favorite crowd pleaser.
On your travels, don’t forget to look for the local festival for authentic experiences. We had not heard of this particular Chilean local festival before and it was not in our guide book. The only way we found out about it was from Rosita, our airbnb host.
Connect with locals on your travels. Flip through the local newspaper. Even though you may not understand the language, you can at least get a sense of the local activities. Don’t forget to check with the tourist office and for a calendar of local events.
To travel deeper and for more local experiences, be flexible with your itinerary and make room for a local festival and events. Be open and remain curious. At these local events, you will be immersed in the cultural and will get the opportunity to taste the authentic foods.
We were thrilled to have stumbled onto this Chilean festival in Talca. We got to discover Chancho en piedra, mote con huesillo and sample lots of delicacies from the grill. We were immersed in the local culture and saw Rapa Nui performers for the first time ever. What a wonderful introduction into the local Chilean food and culture.
On your travels, what local festival have you attended and what did you discover? Share your comments below.
Feria del folclor de Huilquilemu, Villa Cultural Catholic University of Maule (UCM), located at kilometer 7 of Road to San Clemente.
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Savor The Adventure!
Rosemary is a writer and culinary explorer. Together with her partner, Claire, they created Authentic Food Quest to inspire people to travel deeper through authentic food. Through food, they believe, people can have more meaningful connections on their travels. Prior to creating Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary worked as a director of strategy in advertising for over 15 years. Take the quiz and find out your Food Traveler Profile.