Leche de tigre in Santiago
Revelers gathered around the grill, befriending the guy brandishing the tongs and the big knife, eyes agog as the flames danced sacrificially around a huge hunk of meat, throbbing as if still alive. Occasionally, the grill guy would carve slivers from the edge, the blade slicing through the salty, charred crust to the glistening pink tenderness inside. Devoured with fresh bread and salsa, and washed down with copious pisco sour aperitifs (later graduating to piscolas, or pisco mixed with cola) the fiesta continued into the wee small hours, until the booze ran dry.
The night incited the inevitable hangover. The morning painfully evolved into the afternoon, at which point I dragged my self-pitying, raggedy carcass out of my apartment in search of a steadfast cure for my caña (hangover). Only one thing would suffice.
It was the height of summer and although late afternoon, it was searingly hot; the concrete and glass visibly radiated the day’s heat, not helping my nausea.
I was headed downtown to where the city’s Peruvian migrants have helped spice up Santiago’s restaurant scene, challenging the typical Chilean offerings of pasty empanadas and the famous hotdog topped with avocado, ketchup, and mayo, earning it its tricolor nickname, the Italiana.
I sidestepped the patio tables of my favorite Peruvian restaurant seeking refuge indoors, spotting a vacant table under a failing ceiling fan. I knew what I needed. A weary yet smiling waiter took my order and left me to ponder the previous night’s antics, my eyes glazing over, hypnotized by both the brightly colored textile tablecloth and the Andean panpipes charming me from the speakers.
My order arrived. On the rim of the glass, an adorning shrimp perched as if posthumously contemplating its demise within the murky opalescence of the ‘leche de tigre.’ Literally meaning ‘tiger’s milk,’ it is simply the leftover liquid of a ceviche preparation: flecks of macerated red onion, hot chili pepper, and cílantro with floating fish bits and the key lime juice it was cured in. Oh, and a hair-of-the-dog shot of pisco.
I remember the first time a friend of mine suggested I try this concoction. Skeptically thinking it akin to some kind of shamanic ritual, the thought of consuming it provoked puke-worthy memories of my Scottish granny forcing watery, salted porridge on me as a child.
But it is fresh and restorative. I’m not sure if it is the acid-to-alkaline effect of the citrus, or the electrolyte restoration from the fish, or just the shock that you are forcing this absurdity on your debilitated self. But it works, almost instantly. As a side note, it’s delicious. And I’m pretty sure the pisco has something to do with it. Hell, if it can cure the fish, it can cure me.