The typical food stand of the Fernandez sisters.
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December 2001

Sisters Cecilia and Casandra Fernández:
Reclaiming Our Own Flavors

From generation to generation and kitchen to kitchen, the "Bocados Típicos" of sisters Cecilia and Casandra Fernández recovers old Chilean traditions and places them over a table that tastes like love for what´s own.


Flowers, garlic braids and red-hot chili peppers, baskets and crafts are some of the various elements that decorate the warm place where sisters Cecilia and Casandra Fernández offer their "Bocados Típicos" ("Typical snacks") over a squeaky-clean white tablecloth. It´s something they do in fairs and cultural events and that invites the public to meet again the flavors of their childhood, their landscape, their grandmother and family.

"Our main source of lessons is the relation with people. We investigate and share what we know , and people also contribute a lot. Some get emotional when they see the things they used to eat or drink when kids. They stay here talking, eating `picarones´ or `sopaipillas´. They remember the farm, where they used to make corn-coffee because they wouldn´t have much money. They tell us about the things that were done in their homes, the traditions of certain places, they even give us recipes and secrets. We learn a lot. There´s a real rich exchange that makes the knowledge and tradition grow", explains Cecilia.

Empanadas (including the small "pequenes", filled with onion and chili-peppers, no meat), earthenware-oven baked bread, egg-bread, "picarones", "alfajores", thousand-layer cake ("something very typical, with the same dough and manjar of the alfajor"), jam, fig cakes ("an almost extint fruit") and merengues; are some of the delicious things that come out of her kitchen. From different places they get products such as "charqui", ulmo-honey and the traditional "chumbeque" from Iquique (a kind of small cookie filled with sugar and Pica-lemon). For the thirst, there´s always a glass of "mote con huesillos", served very cold and made on a clay-pot. You prepare the corn or fig-coffee, the "chupilca" (wine with toasted flour) or, better yet, the "mistela", a soft and very aromatic liquor made during the Colony only for women.

With their greatgrandmother´s recipe, which includes cinnamon, spices, orange skin, brandy and syrup; Casandra and Cecilia make their own "mistela", their stand´s great pride. That´s why they show it on bottles on an old cupboard where they also keep a picture of her old mentor, that more resembles an altar than a kitchen buffet. This drink is also made with celery or beetroot. "You can make it of many things", explains Cecilia. "Basically it is the boiling of a herb or a fruit with brandy and sugar".

Lovers of folklore and of what´s authentic, sisters Fernández have been involved in this for a lifetime. For eleven years, they hosted a famous "fonda" called "El volantín", that worked during the mid-80s at the O´Higgins Park, and then a tango dance-hall, in San Diego street, where one could see folkloric groups everyday, anytime, with clowns for the kids during the morning. "With my sister, we thought that it was important to keep the tradition against the foreign invasion. When we were seventeen, we would go to the fondas at the park, and loved folklore. After some years, we went again and saw that it had disappeared, that they were only big cumbia-bands left. So we made this fonda, with `volantines´ and old garlands, all made by ourselves". But, as usual, the project could not sustain itself financially. "It was huge work and we never made any money. On the contrary: we lost a lot. The space-rental was very expensive and nobody helped us for this fonda that rescued a tradition".

The same motivation got them to open their store "Bocados Típicos". When they saw that even at the most popular stands hot-dogs and Cokes were sold, the sisters decided to offer to the public food that was typically Chilean. They started at the National History Museum´s fair. "We brought a brazier, corn and began toasting flour and make maté".

The simple stand began to grow, incorporating a lot of flavors till becoming an assorted store that catches the attention not only by its cleanness and quality of its products, but for its beauty, style and good taste on its decoration. "I think we have given an example, created a whole trend. Now, on the fairs, the places for handmade and typical food are clean and well-set. Why should rustic kitchens be all dirty? Why would you use a plastic plate, when you have so much clay?".

Reading, asking and talking, Casandra and Cecilia have become real experts and rescuers of our flavors, most of them almost extinct because of the modern life´s speed and junk-food. The importance of their mission is clear to Cecilia. "Now, there´s no time for cooking. Kids heat a dish on the microwave and eat it while watching TV. There´s a great loving, cultural and life-quality loss. You loose a whole side of education, of family life, table conversation. People now don´t know what corn is, even when they eat bread daily. Food brings you back your loved-ones, your home, your siblings, it is related to your roots and the love for your land. If I eat here a `paella´, I get nothing. But if I eat a `charquicán´, it tells me about my birth, home, mother, my smells. It is different, even when I like `paella´ a lot".


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