When travelers come to New York City and ask for my recommendations on where to go, I’ve found that my ‘must-see’s’ are basically always centered around a restaurant. Food is a wonderful way to connect with a culture, which is why I love the mission behind Authentic Food Quest, a blog with the vision to inspire travel through authentic food. The blogging duo behind Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary and Claire, seek out local cuisine while traveling in an effort to inspire others to travel and connect deeper through authentic food.
I’m thrilled to share their story of their experience at Baltinache, a restaurant in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Discover their favorite parts of their experience:
Have You Ever Experienced A Restaurant In The Desert?
When you think about a desert, what comes to mind? What foods native to the desert can you think of? Would we be wrong to assume that local produce or original cuisine are not the words you spontaneously came up with?
On our quest for authentic food in South America, we stopped in San Pedro De Atacama in the north of Chile. San Pedro de Atacama is considered an oasis in the Atacama desert. It is a small touristy town, but with an endearing charm to the slow pace, dusty streets and adobe brown colored buildings.
The Atacama desert is the driest and oldest desert in the world. Unlike more familiar deserts, like the Sahara desert in Africa and the Mojave in California, the Atacama is actually a fairly cold place, with average daily temperatures ranging between 0°C and 25°C.
When it comes to food, we were surprised to discover unique ingredients from the region. We invite you to try them with us.
Traveling Through Authentic Food
We are Rosemary and Claire, a couple, who are on a quest to discover and highlight authentic food from around the world. Our goal is to inspire travelers to have a deeper connections and experiences on their travels through food.
We believe that one of the best ways to travel is through authentic food. Through authentic and local food, you connect deeper with the people, you discover more, you surprise yourself with new tastes, and awaken your taste buds to new flavors.
Our Quest For An Authentic Restaurant In The Desert
When we got to San Pedro de Atacama, it was at the end of December and Claire’s birthday was approaching. We were looking for a special place to celebrate this special occasion.
In typical fashion, we looked for a local and authentic restaurant. Being a touristy town, there were not many options until we stumbled onto and read about Baltinache.
Baltinache is known for serving indigenous fusion cuisine – a mix of Mapuche (Native Chileans) and local ingredients from San Pedro de Atacama. In addition to the cuisine, this restaurant is unique in many ways. First, it stands out by being completely off the beaten path, located out of the main town center. Secondly, it does not have regular opening hours and the best way to find out if it is open, is to call ahead. Thirdly, the entrance is very characterless and blends right into the Adobe style architecture making it very easy to miss.
We asked Luz Maria, the manager of our small and cute hostel La Casa Eco Explor, for her thoughts about the restaurant. She confirmed that Baltinache is a place to go for an authentic experience. After she helped us making the reservation, we were set to go on a beautiful Summer night (in the Southern Hemisphere).
Mapuche Restaurant In The Desert
Baltinache is small and intimate restaurant with no more than 20 seats available. They propose a set priced menu that consists of the choice between two appetizers, entrees and desserts. No menu was handed out. Fortunately, our waiter let us take a picture of his handwritten notes so we could remember the name of the dishes.
To learn more about Baltinache’s indigenous fusion food, we talked to the chef, Marta Neculpán. Marta told us that she is a Mapuche, known as “People of the Land”, the native population from Chile. Mapuche Indians are known to forage products from the field. Her husband César Osandó, is from San Pedro de Atacama, and brings the local flavor to her cuisine.
Unique Desert Food Experience
To start, we were welcomed with pebre served with round white bread. Pebre is a Chilean condiment made with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onion, olive oil, garlic and ground spicy aji peppers. To accompany the pebre, we ordered the local drink Pisco Sour Rica-Rica. It is a cocktail made from the famous Chilean Pisco brandy prepared with the local plant Rica-Rica, known as a homeopathic remedy for treating an upset stomach. We were off to a great start!!!
We were both very intrigued by the salad entree, which was made of queso de cabra (local goat cheese), frangollo (mashed Andean corn) with shrimp and merkén – a Mapuche condiment made from red smoked chili peppers. It was unpretentious and made for a nice light and flavorful appetizer.
For the entrees or main meal, we each decided to try something different. Claire had pecho asado or brisket prepared with the famous Chilean Carménère wine sauce. Locally harvested potatoes topped with fresh herbs and spices, completed the meal.
Rosemary had the second option on the menu, which was the famous Chilean fish – Reineta. This was accompanied with sautéed mote (wheat), which is used in the traditional Chilean drink mote con huesillo. A delicious salsa (sauce) made with olives and Rica-Rica was drizzled on the Reineta and mote.
Both dishes incorporated Mapuche and local ingredients. The meals resulted in exquisite and distinctive cuisines. We were delighted!
To pair our meal, we chose a bottle of Carménère, the emblematic wine of Chile that we discovered on our quest. Deep in color, this red wine is soft and rounded with floral and berry aromas, and hints of smoky tobacco. This pleasant and easy wine went very well with our food.
Not quite ready for dessert, we decided to order one Chilean empanada to share. This was not because we didn’t have enough to eat, on the contrary. It was part of our quest to find a delicious Chilean empanada. Up to that point, we had been disappointed with what we had previously tasted. The restaurant served us the Chilean specialty empanada de carne al horno. We were so glad we had it! It finally delivered on the tasty Chilean empanada we had been seeking. The dough was fresh and airy. The filling was delectable, made with eggs, onions and ground beef. Almost a second meal in itself!
Being a special occasion, we splurged and got two desserts. Rosemary ordered the Panna Cotta with figs and raisins. While Claire got the muffin with Lucuma (Chilean subtropical fruit) and chañar (Andean thorny shrub) ice-cream. Both desert were delicate and rich in flavors. Great luscious treats to close the meal.
This was one of the most unique and special experience we had on our quest. We never thought we would find such a unique restaurant in the desert of Atacama. We had a great time tasting unique dishes that combined indigenous ingredients with local flavors.
The chef was approachable and proudly shared with us her history and Mapuche background. The intimate environment and open kitchen is a reflection of the warmth and cheerful ambiance.
For a special occasion, be sure to check out Baltinache in San Pedro de Atacama. You will be thrilled with the meal and the fusion of flavors. This restaurant is off the beaten path and is a reminder, that the most memorable experiences happen off the popular zones. Travel deeper and connect with the locals through food.
Have you ever had a unique dining experience in an unusual place? Please share with us your comments below, or tweet at us:
Rosemary and Claire are co-founders of Authentic Food Quest. They traded in their corporate jobs in 2015 to eat their way around the world. Starting out in South America, they traveled to Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Peru and spent 6 months discovering the authentic foods in the region. Their mission is to inspire people to travel through authentic food. Follow their quest as they get ready to explore Southeast Asia next.
All Photos credit of Authentic Food Quest.