Have you ever glommed on to a piece of information and carried it with you, even if you can’t remember its origins or vouch for its accuracy?
That was me with the city of Valparaiso and hot dogs (or completos, as they are called in Chile).
Someone, somewhere in Peru told me that Valparaiso had the best hot dogs — topped and smeared with avocado — in all of Chile, possibly in all of South America and quite possibly in all the world. Thus, images of avocado (the ultimate fat) atop hot dogs (the ultimate junk) stuck with me, securing Valparaiso a coveted spot on our South American itinerary.
I was so excited in fact that I told anyone headed to Chile that they must visit Valparaiso, if only for the hot dogs. I even remember writing about it with urgency on a friend’s Facebook wall when I heard she was flying into Santiago.
“Go to Valparaiso for the avocado-topped hot dogs. Best in Chile,” I said, my hot dog excitement getting well ahead of me — and the fact that I had little to no basis to make this recommendation.
I was on a mission. And I would make it everyone's mission.
And oddly enough, I don’t even really like hot dogs.
Keep in mind that these gals know Chile, having lived there for something like (I hope I'm getting this right), 7 and 20 years respectively. So you could say, they know the place well.
Shoulder shrugs. Valparaiso had hot dogs just like anywhere else in Chile. But my hopes of a Chile dog to beat all dogs? Temporarily dashed.
We day-tripped to Valparaiso anyway. But it was sketchy, a dangerous sort of place to look for hot dogs.
We'd been warned of Valparaiso, perhaps most so by the people on its streets. Passers-by would eye our cameras and bag and point — no, not to steal them, but to suggest that we should put them away so that no one else would. As we walked into the hills above Plaza Sotomayor, just about every person we passed pointed up in the direction we were headed, shook their heads and said something to the order of “Peligroso.” (Dangerous.)
As we climbed further still, a crazy guy shook his arms, did something like a rain dance, shouted “Police, police!” and drew his finger across this throat. Against our better judgment, we climbed further still.
Suffice to say, we survived to discover a fascinating neighborhood, one of Valparaiso's many.
But no hot dogs.
Valparaiso is a port town, with a down-at-the-heels underbelly feel to it. But well beyond that, it has a spirit. It's offbeat and wickedly artistic with its knock-your-socks-off street art. The people on the streets and at Mercado Cardinal, one of Valparaiso's fresh markets, were warm and colorful. The photos in the slideshow below tell it best.
And although we had only one day, we enjoyed our visit immensely. For its aesthetic and most of all for its people, Valparaiso stands as one of my South America favorites.
Photo Essay of Valparaiso, Chile
If you don’t have a high-speed connection or want to read the captions, you can view the photo set here.
But wait a minute. You dragged me through this sketchy, charismatic city, but I signed up for a piece about hot dogs. What gives? I want hot dog intelligence.
As it happens, we got our Chilean hot dog fix at La Vega market in Santiago. Logs of pure mystery meat (as hot dogs apparently ought to be) were smothered in rich, creamy avocado, mayonnaise and chopped tomato salsa. Chile does in fact take hot dogs to a new culinary level (this, from a kid who grew up on deli dogs and Texas wieners with chili and mustard in Scranton, Pennsylvania). So in my limited hot dog experience, Chile delivered the best dog in Latin America. (Yes, yes Brazil, I know you've got something mad and over-the-top, too. But, that's for our next visit.)
Hot dog trivia: any guesses why the avocado, mayonnaise and tomato-topped hot dog is called a completo Italiano?