Month: March 2019

In Chile, Houses as Extreme as the Landscape

March 19, 2019 – T Magazine (Cover story)

AT THE EDGE of Concepción, a small city in southern Chile, a 60-foot tower stands on a hill, a stark concrete rectangle among eucalyptus and pine. Set at the end of a pockmarked road that threads between unassuming two-story homes, the tower looms over the wooded hillside. Square windows of various sizes puncture the walls like the black spaces in a crossword puzzle. All right angles and hard geometries, the building could be a silo or a sentry tower looking south toward the Bio Bio, the river that, for 300 years, marked the border between the Spanish colony and the territories of the unconquered Mapuche peoples to the south. Instead, it is the home and studio of Mauricio Pezo, 45, and Sofía von Ellrichshausen, 42, whose firm, Pezo von Ellrichshausen, is part of a group of innovative Chilean architectural practices that is establishing a regional aesthetic, one that alludes to Brutalism while also respecting the country’s peculiar topography.

Pezo von Ellrichshausen’s Casa Cien, so named because it’s 100 meters (328 feet) above sea level, relies on a limited floor plan, repeating the same square divided by an asymmetrical cross in the seven stories of bedrooms and office space in the tower, which are stacked like an interlocking vertical puzzle. Narrow spiral staircases made from hand-carved blocks of Chilean cypress connect the tower to the kitchen and living room in the podium. The couple cast the exterior in reinforced concrete, then manually chipped away the outer layer in a process that Pezo, who spent his childhood two hours outside Concepción, describes as “aesthetic demolition.”

Read more in the New York Times, and in Spanish here.

The Lost City of Aguachile

March 13, 2019 Eater

I Saturday morning and a crowd of 30 people has already clogged the narrow central aisle of Mexico City’s Mercado de San Juan, the gourmet food market in the historic center. Bottles of Pacifico pass from hand to hand as waiting customers dance to banda music blaring from a precariously placed loudspeaker over chef Luis Valle’s cramped, chaotic kitchen. Flames leap as Valle throws a whole octopus onto the charcoal grill. Plates of crab tostadas, raw scallops as wide as beer bottles, and grilled tacos stuffed with smoked marlin pass over the counter by the dozen.

The dish that made Valle and his eight-seat stall, Don Vergas, famous within months of its opening in February 2018 is aguachile, the unofficial state dish of his native Sinaloa. The backs of six small shrimp crest a shallow pool of lime juice, their tails cozy under a tangle of red onion, cucumber, and cilantro criollo. Valle crumbles a pair of tiny, spherical chiltepín, a wild chile from Sinaloa’s eastern foothills, between his thumb and forefinger, showering the plate in a red flurry of capsaicin. The shrimp, still uncured by the lime (as they would be in ceviche), are slick and sweet and snap like cucumber.

The dish tastes like the sea and the dry inland forest, as bright and dazzling as Valle himself, cracking jokes to customers who, in the span of just a few minutes, have become his new best friends. Among his favorite subjects was the origin story of the dish itself, its beginnings as an indigenous preparation that had drifted out of Sinaloa’s eastern hills and west toward the Pacific, a version of the dish that he’d never actually tasted himself.

Read more at Eater

 

The Perfect Dish: Bombay Toast

March 8, 2018 – Roads & Kingdoms

There is no perfect dish in Bombay.

You’ll find very good idli and dosa in the leafy South Indian enclave of King’s Circle, but nothing to compare with what you’ll find in Tamil Nadu. There are some outstanding Keralite and Gujarati thalis—at Deluxe and Thacker’s, respectively—but they pale in comparison to what you might eat in Kerala or Gujarat. Chaat—that seemingly infinite variety of snacks made from fried doughs and chutneys, whose mixture of sweet and sour, hot and cold, spicy and sweet is a favorite culinary metonym for the Island City’s hopelessly mixed-up character—is better, though I’m loath to admit it, in the smog-choked alleys of Old Delhi. Even the spicy, seafood-heavy cuisine of the city’s pre-colonial inhabitants is better down the coast where the sea’s not murky with grey water.

But then there is the Bombay sandwich, available on virtually every corner of this cramped metropolis and all but impossible to find beyond the limits of its shockingly compact urban footprint. (more…)