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From Achao to Magallanes: A journey into the flavors of chilote cuisine

Like thousands of other Chilotes, Arturo arrived in Magallanes in search of a better future for himself and his family. His father's passing, his mother's kitchen, and his love for his siblings were the beginnings of a restaurant that is a must-visit. The reasons? Well, there are plenty, but one stands out: his lamb cazuela with luche, which embodies the magic of the Chilote cuisine.

The Chiloe Costumbrist Fair was a precursor to the opening of one of the traditional places to savor Chiloe gastronomy. Located on Presidente Salvador Allende Avenue, one of the city's main thoroughfares that once connected to the primary Chilote neighborhood, you will find Don Hueicha restaurant.

It is one o'clock on a cloudy Saturday. In the kitchen, the Hueicha family begins to take orders from the three tables already seated. Meanwhile, we occupy our time by taking pictures of a dish we have been eagerly anticipating. It is not the star of Chilote cuisine, but it is simple and delicious, much like how we remember it from my maternal grandma's home, who was also a Chilota.

Suddenly, a fragrant aroma wafts through the air, and the dishes passing by remind me of the scent of salt, rain, and damp earth. Finally, it is our turn. The host, Arturo Hueicha, emerges from the kitchen and places a lamb stew with luche on the table, alongside a plate of sopaipillas and pebre. It looks incredible.

Our photographer's work takes several minutes, and despite our determination to capture great pictures for this blog, I am eager for him to finish as the cazuela is cooling down. My primary goal is to taste it.

As the restaurant empties out, its founder joins us to briefly share his culinary journey, the inception of Donde Hueicha, and his childhood memories of his mother and the kitchen.

The patrons of the traditional Chiloe Costumbrists Fair played a significant role in inspiring the creation of Donde Hueicha. For many, especially those with Chilote roots, having access to the traditional cuisine of the Big Island for a season was insufficient. Driven by a dream and family determination, this establishment, now 15 years old, has retained the charm of its humble beginnings.

Curanto, milcaos, chochoca, and lamb cazuela with luche are some of the dishes prepared here. "We haven't expanded the menu much because people come here for what they already know," Arturo explains, emphasizing, "The flavor remains consistent." The entire family knows the recipes inside out, making them the restaurant's unique selling points.

"The flavor here is reminiscent of home; your mother or grandmother's cooking," Arturo remarks as we press him with another question, "How did you learn to cook, and where does this homely seasoning come from?" He replies, "My mom worked as a cook at a school, so we learned to cook when she wasn't around. During winter nights, she would gather us in the kitchen, and we cooked together. If I wanted to make apple empanadas, we would peel the apples, and she taught us how to make them. It was the same with every meal."

At the age of fifteen, Arturo left his hometown Achao to study in Castro. Later, he moved to Santiago and, after his father's passing, to Punta Arenas to support his mother financially. However, after years of hard work in these lands, he was able to reunite his mother with his siblings.

For Arturo, even though his mother couldn't witness the realization of his restaurant dream, she is present in many ways. Most notably, in the flavors of his dishes.

It's highly likely that Chiloe gastronomy recipes have been with us since the arrival of the Ancud schooner in 1843, marking the beginning of Magallanes as Chilean territory. This cuisine is a blend of Huilliche, Chona, Spanish, and German influences, among others. However, it seems that the new generations may not share the same appreciation. At least at Donde Hueicha, they have observed a decline in demand for certain dishes. "Meals with cochayuyo, for example, or even with luche, aren't ordered as frequently anymore. In the past, it was mainly the older generation asking for these dishes, but young people aren't consuming them or giving them a try. We serve lamb stew with luche every Saturday. When we first started, we sold about 30 portions; today, it's down to ten."

Curanto, on the other hand, still remains popular, as Arturo informs us. However, other dishes like luche stew or cochayuyo are at risk of disappearing. So, we face a significant challenge, especially for those who haven't yet tasted this surf-and-turf delicacy. You cannot miss the opportunity to experience Magallanes through the flavors of lamb and luche stew. I can honestly say that its taste transported me to the mythical Chiloe island.

(Luche: Southern laver seaweed, Cochayuyo: A briny, edible seaweed known as cochayuyo, or Durvillaea antarctica, native to Chile)

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