A delightful fact of life in the country of Chile is the lunchtime option of the "menú del día." In Iquique as in other cities and towns throughout the country, shortly before the midday meal you will see handwritten chalk signs appearing in windows or on sidewalks in front of eateries. Prices will vary depending on the fancy factor of each establishment, but most "Mom & Pop" places will offer lunch for an average of $2500 pesos (approximately $4 US dollars.) And by "lunch" they mean fresh bread on the table; soup or salad for the first course; a piping hot second course; and often a small bowl of fruit or ice cream for dessert. Sometimes drinks may also be included, but otherwise family-sized bottles of soda, water or juice can be purchased for the equivalent of another couple of dollars.
An even more economical option is the "colación" which is often a one-course meal packaged to go. This will usually cost under $2 US dollars and is also fresh, hot and filling.
This week, our family had the opportunity to enjoy a daily menu due to a scheduled power outage which left us without electricity in our neighborhood from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. While it seemed as good an excuse as any to eat out, we also didn't want to break the bank! As they say in Chile, we were looking for the three "B's" - bueno (good), bonito (attractive) and barato (cheap) - for lunch. We decided to try a restaurant just a couple of blocks from the FLORECE building. The price was right, it looked bright and clean and was not too crowded for that time of day.
However, we soon realized we must have just missed the lunch crowd! An important side note to the daily menu is this detail: once they're out, they're out. In other words, only a certain amount of each item offered on the menu is prepared. This particular day the waiter somewhat sheepishly advised us of several options which were no longer available. Thankfully none of our family members had their heart set on anything in particular (because to be perfectly honest, the kids would rather junk/fast food over a daily menu every time!)
In the end, we enjoyed sliced fresh bread with homemade spicy pebre; the kids began with salads and the adults with a hot soup called ajiaco for appetizers; and everyone had white rice with either pollo al jugo (chicken cooked in its juices with veggies on the stove), pollo al horno (baked chicken), porotos (bean and noodles), or estofado de carne (beef stew.) Besides running low on food, the restaurant was also running low on drink options so our only choice - albeit a healthy one! - was bottled water for the whole family. All in all it was a decent meal but as our children fondly remembered, the last place we ate a daily menu provided a free plate of papas fritas (french fries.) Who can compete with that?!
Oh well. Live and learn (and eat!), Iquique-style.