Chile’s Solar Restaurants

In the Elqui valley, located in the  heart of Chile’s Atacama desert, lies a trend that is not only good for the planet, but also good for our bellies.  A group of pioneer restaurants are exploiting a resource that never fails them to cook their food; the sun.  Solar cooking is not something new for Chile, they have been utilizing this concept for nearly 20 years.  Locals in the region began experimenting with solar ovens through a project in collaboration with the University of Chile.  It’s a method that any place with ample sunshine can implement and in the Elqui Valley that’s more than 300 days a year.  The solar ovens are built on the premises and are a creation of hard work and dedication to the environment.  The design is simple and genius at the same time.  They utilize a reflective surface to heat an enclosed box that can reach temperatures of 350F (180C).

Solar restaurants are a perfect example of slow food at its finest.  The food served in these restaurants has all been cooked in the outdoor ovens.  It is prepared in the morning and left to cook slowly  for hours until lunch or dinner services.   There are usually just a few menu options on offer each day, such as simple breads, stews, and baked desserts.   You can be sure that each dish is made with the full love and attention of the cook and the sun.  Since there is minimal human interference when using a solar oven, the food is left to speak for itself.  The result is fully developed flavors and fall-off-the-bone tender meat.

One sunny day I was fortunate enough to visit a solar restaurant near the town of Vicuña that was offering slow stewed goat with carrots and chicken with peas for lunch.  I chose the goat and it was simply sublime.  The dish was hearty, satisfying and surprisingly delicate.  The carrots were infused with flavor that came from the goat’s bones and the meat had reached succulent perfection.  A true testimony of how simple is better.

One of the joys of visiting the restaurant was a live demonstration of the power and heat of the sun’s rays.  A metal kettle was placed on top on grates laid over a concave plate of mirrors and a piece of paper was put underneath.  The paper instantly burst into flames and disappeared within the minute.  It was quite inspiring to see the power of nature and how it was being harnessed in such a productive way.

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In a world where we have technology cook our food and revel in the newest techniques and methods to define dishes.  Solar cooking is a step in the right direction to sustainable delicious food.  These solar restaurants are integrating themselves into the landscape of the Elqui valley and are a source of pride in the region.  If you’re visiting the Atacama desert don’t pass up the opportunity to try the tasty fare at the solar restaurants.

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