Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Cultural Complexity of Completo Italiano

By Alex Mehlin

In a country boasting one of the best economies in South America, it seems odd that the national dish is a warmed bun wrapping a cheap hot dog, layered in avocado, tomato, mayo and the choice of ketchup, mustard and Aji.

It is impossible to avoid the Completo. Ranging from a 500 peso Completo guy on the corner to 2500 peso Completo at a fine dining establishment you generally always get the same thing. At one point we thought it would be a great way to rank the quality of a town on their Completos, but now 135 Completos and counting, we have discovered that they all completos are generally the same.

The completo has the cheap food market cornered. The only contender is the Empanada. Only the empanada is a mystery, walking into a market there is always an air of caution. How long has this empanada sat there? Am I going to be surprised with a hardboiled egg or an olive? Will it be warm or is it going to be cold and soggy?

‘’No matter what you think you will never know what you are going to get until you take the first bite.’’ Mike an avid fast food connoisseur has proclaimed numerous times, ‘’the Chilean Empanada is not sexed enough.’’

Chileans take down a remarkable amount of Completos. In Valparaiso we sat in a popular Completo restaurant and watched as the Completo Maestro slapped together hundereds of Completos to feed the frenzy of Chileans stretching out the door. Waiters ran back and forth carrying trays stacked with as many as 20 Completos.
With age and experience the consumption of Completos becomes more eloquent.

‘’Its funny to watch old people eat completos!’’ We sat and watched an old couple sitting next to us sip down Coke out of the bottle and meticulously devour their meal. ‘’They eat the sauce first,’’ Zach examined as completo toppings stretched from his lower beard up to his ears.

To watch a true maestro at work is a thing of beauty. Ambidextrously he will spin the hot dog over the hot plate as he masses a fresh avocado. Right when the warming bun is at optimal softness, he places the hot dog on the bun and sprinkles chopped tomato over the top. Next, with the swiftness of a Ninja, he spreads the avocado and mayo over the top. Presented on a specialized holder, with a much needed napkin under the bun, the Chilean delicacy is delivered. On a table or standing bar, an assortment of condiments await to top off the appetizing treat.

While other fast food is available they are all just a variation of the Completo. Hamburgers, Churrasco or Choripan are all just another form of meat covered with avocado, tomato and mayo. These food items all fall under the title of Italiano. The Gypsies have discussed the name Italiano and have reached the conclusion that it stems from the fact that like the Italian flag the Completo and its counter parts are also Red, Green and White.

Like the name Italiano the Completo is filled with mystery. Why the hotdog of all things became a national dish or how a highly conservative culture can find it acceptable to eat off a dingy table while slapping condiments on top of a hotdog and consider it a meal ever came to be the norm? We have pondered the many intricacies of the Completo and have come to realize that there is no real answer. We accepted this fact daily while slowly developing our own Completo eating style and adding tallies to the Gypsy Completo count.

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