4 Dec. 2013
Lunch, or almuerzo, is the biggest and most important meal of the day here. A family we know well wanted to serve userizos (sea urchin) for lunch. They kept saying it is the most famous and sought-after dish in Chile, and all foreigners say it is Chile’s most delicious dish, and that it usually goes for $60 USD a plate. They had happened into a big sack bag of sea urchins from a fisherman friend. So they prepared them and brought them over in a bowl so we could eat lunch at our house, because their house is so very small there is no room for guests. “They were alive a few minutes ago” he said. Erizos are served cold, raw and “cooked” in the juice they’re served in. You eat them with toasted bread. They’re cold and slimy.
They were horrible to put it mildly. But we couldn’t let the family know because they were so pleased to be able to serve us this delicacy. They bowl of erizos literally looked like a bowl of vomit. The prepared sea urchins look like salmon-colored human tongues in the slimy vomit. They’re real soft and squish easily in your mouth if pressed with your tongue. They’re prepared by covering with a half quart of fresh lemon juice, to which is added lots of chopped raw onion, cilantro, garlic and salt.
Carolyn kept spiting hers out in her napkin on the sly and getting up from the table to check on things while she threw it away and got more napkins. The sneaky little devil.
The family figured out that she didn’t like them too much. She said “I like the sauce better than the other stuff” (the “good part”) … which technically was not a lie because she never said she liked the urchins. The sauce, like I mentioned, was like vomit, only slippery-er, kind of like mucous. It was hard to distinguish from the urchins, because they were so soft and a lot broke down and became part of the sauce.
Well, I had to eat my whole serving so they wouldn’t feel too bad. Of course they made sure was twice as big as theirs. I had to be careful not to gulp it down too fast to avoid the taste, because then I knew they’d try to serve me more. We said we’d save Carolyn’s bowl for later. I bagged up the leftovers for them to take home, but they insisted I put it with Carolyn’s leftover and eat it for breakfast. Mmmm. Yummmm. For breakfast too! They had more at home, they said.
A couple of hours later, about the time we had a family coming over for a lesson/Christmas project, I started feeling real sick to my stomach. We have only one bathroom in our really small little house, and its right in the living room practically where everyone was busy making a Christmas candy countdown chain. With the bathroom door shut, you can actually see people in the living room because there is no door jamb. With the door open, you could reach out and touch people in the living room, the house is that small.
So I kept trying to think how and where I could go be sick without startling this family with young kids. Like, going outside around the other side of the house and throwing up. But then, no, I make a whole lot of noise when I throw up and they would still hear me because the windows were all open and the wall around the house would echo really loud any noise I made. Maybe I could sneak out and run down the beach a ways and throw up. But, no, what if I needed the toilet too, like really bad at the same time? All these things were running through my mind. The other family finally left just in time for me to run back in to the bathroom and be sick for a couple of hours.
The next day, the guy asks me how I slept. He says sea urchin are an aphrodisiac, and give you lots of energy like caffeine. Thus he couldn’t sleep all night. Once my stomach quit hurting, I slept pretty good actually, about 12 hours after eating those things. I was left wondering if he got sick too, and was just trying to see if we did too.
Carolyn and I decided that the next time someone asked us if we liked shellfish (which means just about anything, here), we would both say quickly absolutely not.
The only other time we’ve been served shellfish, which is a local specialty because there is such a variety of shellfish harvested by the local fisherman and consumed by the tourists here and shipped all over Chile. We also had a hard time getting the locos down. Locos are kind of like small abalones.