Live gastronomy: The Mapuche cuisine of Anita Epulef
Anita Epulef’s story is moving. She lives in Curarrehue, in the Araucanía region of southern Chile. Her land is surrounded by araucaria forests, trees that seem to have been taken from the Jurassic world, lakes, rivers and volcanoes with snowy peaks. Here you can breathe and feel pure nature.
When you travel here, you also meet the heart of the Mapuche community, historically a people that has not had the necessary support from the Chilean government. But Anita’s initiative and her cuisine are helping her culture to be rediscovered.
Mapuche cuisine is living gastronomy. It is unique, that each cook interprets in her own way because there are hardly any recipes. Here we work with the memories of childhood, and how the heart feels.
Every year visitors from all over the world come to live the experience, and students, since in addition to the restaurant service it also offers workshops for those who wish to learn what Mapuche life is like. It is part of the slow food movement and travels to European countries to spread its culture. Last year, Anita participated in the promotion of the Chile Brand. A good omen for the western world and the Mapuche world.
What does it mean to be Mapuche?
The Mapuches say that the “küme mongen” is the state of equilibrium with all the lives that exist, that is what we call “to be well”, and those of another culture, say “quality of life”. I have gone a little further and I have seen other people too, we see that there is a lot of disconnection of human beings with their Mother Earth and this is more than damaging all ecosystems. So, if we are losing this knowledge that the original peoples had, I don’t know where it goes, and that’s not where others do it, but it’s already inserted here too, through what I said before, the very accelerated life, that’s why I feel more responsibility in taking root in the earth, and that’s what I feel today to be Mapuche.
When did you start this adventure?
I started working 14 years ago, I was helping to build a cultural center in Curarrehue, which strengthens the communities here, and the place was so beautiful that it quickly attracted attention in the region and the country, because it says a lot about what the Mapuche worldview is. They invited me to work there and then many visitors came and saw me offering something that is very alternative, if you can have mate, if you can have an omelet, and that’s how the word began to spread.
Are you spreading your culture through food?
Yes, or creating spaces for dialogue that they (the government) have not done. In Chile there are many heritage museums, but I think you have to look a little bit at the origin.
What do you want to tell through Mapuche cuisine?
You see this place [the restaurant] and it’s not full of people here because it’s not what we’re after. The people who come here do it because they have a more special search about a food experience, and also because of what we have taught and transmitted, the seasonality of nature, out there, is saying what we are going to eat if there were fruits and there is harvesting, but when there is no harvesting, we don’t have the food, so I bring a fruit from the forest and I offer it here. It is telling people that this is what we are: food, times, climates, seasons, Mapuche life, but we also want to say that this is what we talk about when we defend the need to take care of water and preserve native forests.
Pisku, a dish we tried from your menu. Can you tell me about it?
It is very representative of the mountain range area, it is a dish made with the base of some cereal, which in summer and autumn is cooler, but in other seasons it is storage cereals with a special smoke, we roast them or we precook them to dry and store. So then it has different flavors throughout the year, but now for example what you ate is fresher cereals, they are not dry but are harvested and worked. Beans, peas, corn, … all this can be worked like this.
So, is Mapuche food based on cereals?
Of course, what I tried to preserve here is also a seasonal food that one can eat, during the year, different dishes and not only meat, because the meat we eat in winter, when the land is there quiet and there is not much to look for. Today meat is associated with ceremonies, rites, or when there are many people to feed.
What about drinks?
For us, drinks are apart from food, as children we only drink water, and from the age of ten, mate. Of adults, apple chicha or quince. Not even sweet meals (desserts) are eaten together with the main meal, but as a mid-morning lunch because life starts very early.
So, we don’t mix sweet with salty, or liquids with hot food, but here to the people who.