Cost of Living, Part I: Food

Hello all! How is it already December? It’s hard to believe, since spring is rapidly ripening into summer in Chile. As I walked around the feria this past weekend, I saw blueberries and strawberries and cherries in full season. Mangoes and watermelons are just coming into season. Broccoli is getting cheaper, along with just about everything else. I thought about how amazing it was that I could spend $3 and get a pound of blueberries and two pounds of cherries. I also bought avocado (always!), red onions, garlic, tomatoes, lemons, cilantro and parsley. I literally found myself whistling on the way home, so excited about my purchases.

The prices at the feria are one of the reasons my cost of living is so low (compared to the US). I never buy cherries in the U.S. – they are simply too expensive. Here, I find myself snacking on them all day. But not everything is cheaper. I’m often shocked to discover some things are dramatically more expensive than in the US (like coffee and clothes). So I thought to write a series of blog posts (interspersed with fun things, of course) on the cost of living in Chile (as I have experienced it).

I begin with food because it is spring. The feria is overflowing with goodness, and is usually much cheaper than the grocery store. It’s worth the trip! Average prices:

$1.50-2.00, 1 lb blueberries

$1.50–2.00, 2 lbs cherries

$.80-1.25, 1 lb strawberries

$.80-1.00, 1 lb lemons

$1.50-2, 1 lb avocado

$2, 2 lbs red onions

$.50, bunch of parsley or cilantro

$1.50, 2 lbs sweet potatoes

$1.00-1.25, large bunch broccoli

$.80-1.25, 2 lbs tomatoes

$.75, 1 lb bananas

$.50-.75, red/yellow/green bell pepper, each

$.35, cucumber, each

Seriously? I love it here. I come home with a full pound of blueberries and think nothing of finishing them in a few days. It’s amazing. Of course, one cannot find raspberries or blackberries. They simply aren’t available. In the US, we ship items from all over the world so we can have whatever we want, whenever we want it. Here, if it’s not in season, it’s usually not available at all.

Palta (avocado) is like hummus in the Mediterranean – it is plentiful, cheap and EVERYWHERE. I love it, and find a reason to eat palta nearly everyday (along with every other person in Chile). Whether it’s with quinoa and veggies; mashed up alongside with garbanzos, lemon and salt; on plain toast or simply chopped up in a salad, it seems there’s always an excuse for palta. And note that it’s no longer avocado. From now until forever it will be “palta”. 🙂

None of this is organic (I assume). The craze has not hit Chile, though you can occasionally find organic products.

My staples – quinoa, garbanzos and lentils vary depending on the store. Beans are surprisingly a bit more expensive. I pay about $3 (or more, depending on the store) for two pounds of any given bean – garbanzos, lentils, etc. Quinoa can be outrageous, which I found surprising since I am IN South America for goodness sake. It’s grown here! I finally found a niche store where I can buy quinoa for $3/pound (also amaranth and chia). Finally! I can afford to eat quinoa again.

Eggs cost a bit more, whether in the store or at the feria. In the store, they range from $1.75-3/dozen, depending on the type. At the feria, where they are farm-raised eggs, they are usually about $3/dozen (and so yummy). The eggs are HUGE, with those orange yolks that tell you they are really farm-raised. 🙂 You’ll notice in the picture below that eggs are not refrigerated in Chile. In the US, we refrigerate our eggs (check out this link). In Europe and elsewhere in the world, this is not necessary because they haven’t “washed” the eggs, removing the protective outer layer. Many homes in Chile store eggs in the refrigerator. I suppose it is simply easier, but it is not necessary.

Milk is also interesting. Chileans love their milk products – from the liquid itself to yogurt to ice cream to cheese. But milk is only found in cartons sitting on the shelf. You will not find refrigerated milk in Chile (at least, I haven’t seen it). The Internet offers several reasons for this – lack of a strong dairy industry (long transportation lines from the south and cost of refrigeration), cultural preference (it’s always been this way and now it is just how things are), economics of milk on the shelf lasting much longer than milk in the refrigerated case. Whatever the reason, milk comes in boxes (see picture below). Since I haven’t bought milk, I haven’t paid attention to the prices.

Ice cream, on the other hand, I HAVE looked at. 😉 It is extraordinarily expensive – the cheapest brands I’ve found are about $4/carton (on sale!). Anything that looks inviting runs about $8-9/carton. It’s kind of insane, and I haven’t eaten much ice cream here. Unless of course I am near the beach and they have a lovely boutique ice cream shop. Then I indulge, because, why not?

Cheese is also very expensive. And the variety that we enjoy in the US simply doesn’t exist. My European friends have sometimes been disappointed both with the lack of variety and quality in Chilean cheese. But seriously, if you’re coming from Europe, your expectations are already pretty high. You can only come down from that. I have had no complaints, though I do miss mozzarella. I haven’t been able to find that.

Sugar is the last item I’ll cover. Regular sugar (white and brown) is available, and readily used. However, they also have liquid sugar (see picture). It’s fascinating – kind of like a liquid stevia. Sweetness is measured in numbers of drops instead of cubes or teaspoons. I remember putting 5 drops into my drink once and someone kind of gasping, saying, “you really like things sweet, don’t you?” No, I just didn’t know how many drops I needed! Haha!!

I love the availability of food I find here. I look forward to my trip to the feria each week. I loved finding my niche store with quinoa, amaranth and chia seeds that I can afford (along with all my favorite spices). I love seeing fresh ginger and  turmeric available on the street. I love turning the corner and seeing a fruit and vegetable stand everywhere I go. Every week is an adventure. I find myself trying new things, exploring new areas and broadening my horizons. As always, I’m enjoying every minute. Till next time!



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