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Full Circle

Day 166: Castro, Chiloé

Michael Palin - Full CircleFelipe is in his forties, with a shock of dark curly hair, anorak and jeans. He has the air of a favourite professor at a progressive university. Sonia looks older. She has short dark hair and a round, strong face, like that of a boxer. Dogs, cats and a cockerel follow her everywhere. The rain has slackened to a raw drizzle, but it is still the sort of weather you wouldn't wish on your worst friend's barbecue.

I help Sonia peel potatoes (Chilotes, as they call those who live on Chiloé, maintain the potato, which the Spanish brought to Europe, was discovered here on the island). I ask how many people are expected. She says thirty-eight.

'Un grande curanto?' I ask.

'No, pequeño,' she replies, small.

Before now she has prepared curantos which used a thousand kilos of potatoes. Meanwhile friends are digging out a four foot square hole for the fire and others are collecting the turf sods that form part of the cooking process. A number of wooden stones are being laid on a platform of solid slow-burning manio wood beneath which the fire is lit. Sonia shows me how to make two sorts of potato cakes called milcao and capelele (I remember the names by thinking of them as a firm of local solicitors) while we wait for the stones to reach the right temperature. This is a crucial moment. When it is reached everything must be done fast so that they lose none of their heat. As the wood is pulled apart and the stones revealed, Sonia, looking like some revolutionary heroine as the smoke billows around her, summons the ingredients forward. Clams and mussels are laid on top of potatoes, salmon wrapped in pangue leaf is laid on top of the shellfish, strings of sausages and a couple of hams are laid on top of the salmon, my very own milcao and capelele are dropped among the sausages and they in turn are battened down with more clams. The whole gastronomic pyre is sealed with squares of turf, through which smoke, though dampened, still gently escapes, like the aftermath of some sinister nuclear catastrophe.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 166
  • Country/sea: Chile
  • Place: Castro
  • Book page no: 225

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