Patagonian Cuisine

The Araucan Curanto

The Curanto Tradition

When we arrived in Colonia Suiza, we found a history of movements, changes, of belonging and not belonging, with the history of a man searching for a place to settle and build his dreams. It is as if between one culture and the other you converge into the Araucan curanto made by the Goyes, descendants of settlers that came from Valais, in French Switzerland. They came and adopted local traditions.

This tradition was introduced by the aborigines that initially came from southern Chile. May be its origin is Polynesian.

It is a ceremony where the food is cooked with the heat from round stones, placed in a hole in the ground. The stones are previously heated with logs, then maqui or nalca leaves (local bushes) are spread over the stones, meats and vegetables are placed on top, everything is covered with the same leaves, wet fabrics and the hole is covered with the soil. The flavor of this type of cooking is slightly smoked, you have to try it…

The Swiss immigrants settled in this area of the Andean Range, a few km. from where Bariloche stands today, at the end of the last century.

They were farmers and gave a good impulse to the region. Most of them came to Chile and then crossed the Andes. Very few arrived from Buenos Aires, one of them was Eduardo Goye, father of Emilio Goye, pioneer of the commercial curanto.

All of them with immigrants of different origin like Germans from Chile, and mapuches that remained after the exterminating campaign by General Roca (1879), composed the population of this region at the beginning of the century.

The aborigines that populated and populate this land were the keepers of the curanto; it is their symbol: the prosperous harvest, the earth opening and delivering its fruits and the gratitude.

The road to Curanto

To reach the town we drove through coihues, yellow brooms and chucaos. We left from Bariloche on Route 237 towards Llao-Llao. We turned left at km. 18 and entered the Circuito Chico, away from the sounds of engines. There are other silences…, the historical town is some 6 km. away.

Thrushes and bandurrias were keeping us company, as well as some chimangos.
On the right we found the El Trébol Lagoon. Further up the road, the entrance to Villa Pañil, a place with cabins, beach and fishing.

We drove by Cerro López and Cerro Capilla with imposing rocky walls. On the roadside, a great variety of bushes: berberis, rosa mosqueta and others.
At km. 21.4, if you choose the first access, you turn left towards Colonia Suiza. The second access leads to the Punto Panorámico, from where you can see the Llao-Llao Hotel. Both are dirt roads.

A map and different signs give us information about the area. We keep walking, and suddenly before our eyes, yellow and red tulips with Cerro López in the background, a great scenery. We went on through a forest with coihues to a farm area. Apple and cherry trees in bloom everywhere; a carpet of petals were blown off by the wind.

We spotted “Casa Grande” built by Félix Goye in 1895. This is the oldest house. We see other houses belonging to Juan Goye and Marcelo Goye. Before entering, on the left side, we see the “Colonia Suiza” that sells fresh and smoked trout. Guided visits are available.

Where to taste it?

We crossed the bridge over the Goye Creek. Several billboards on the road invite us to taste the Curanto.: Curanto at “Lo de Nora”, by Emilio Goye, Curantos Victor Goye, “Heidi” Restaurant owned by Hector Goye…some campings are available for your stay in the area.

On Felix Goye street you have the school, a fair that sells regional products and the curanto that is prepared during the summer, “El Fundo” is across the street (restaurant, tea room and a recreation area for children), Abuela Goye ice cream parlor, chocolate shop, crafts and mountain bike rentals.

Further down the street you find the “Los Viejos Colonos” museum, under the guidance of Don Marcelo Goye´s daughter. This is the family house built with lumber from the area. The museum exhibits the history of these immigrants. Inside the same farm, with a great variety of trees and fine fruits, the “Granja Suiza” elaborates craft products.

We chose “Lo de Nora” Restaurant; the hole was already covered with meats and vegetables, they placed the maqui leaves on top and then the wet sacks. Emilio and his son César covered everything with soil. We had to wait. In the meantime, we talked with Emilio Goye, in his eighties. He prefers the barbecues, because he has been preparing curantos since 1939. They adopted this tradition from the mapuche culture, and for them is also a ceremony. The guests waited for two to three hours in the dining room.
Everybody was called to witness the opening. The soil was raked off with care, the sacks and the maqui leaves were removed showing the meats, potatoes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and apples. The family prefers the maqui leaves over the nalca leaves because these do not retain the meat juices and do not leave a sour taste.

Everybody who entered the dining room was served:
1) Potatoes, sweet potatoes and chorizos.
2) Round of beef and matambre (stuffed meat)
3) Lamb with pumpkin stuffed with sweet peas.
4) Pork tenderloin with pumpkin stuffed with corn
5) Chicken with apple

For dessert, raspberry pie and coffee. Don Emilio sat with the guests telling family anecdotes and experiences of the first settlers that arrived in this valley from the Valais Canton.

How to prepare Curanto?

How do you prepare the Araucan curanto? (Curanto means: hot stone)

You dig a hole in the ground of about 15 cm. In depth. (The area of this hole depends on the number of people)

Red hot round stones (typical of this area) are placed in the hole.

You then spread a blanket of nalca or maqui leaves. On these you place the ingredients: beef, lamb meat, pork, chicken, chorizo, potatoes, sweet potatoes and hollow pumpkin stuffed with cheese, cream and sweet peas. A new layer of leaves is laid on the ingredients and on top of these wet sacks to keep the heat inside. Everything is covered with abundant soil turning this into a true pressure cooker.

When smoke starts escaping through the soil, it means that it is time to uncover the curanto. The food has been perfectly cooked by the heat of the stones.

In Chile, there is a city version by placing everything in a pan and cooking it on a stove.

If you do not dare, you can stop at the Colonia Suiza to eat the best curanto prepared by the experts. You can reach this place by bus (Empresa 3 de mayo – No. 10) or a tour.

Some telephones of interest (for information)

Museum: (02944) – 448330
“Lo de Nora”: (02944) – 448250
Trout “Colonia Suiza”: (02944) – 448360
3 de Mayo Transport: (02944) – 433805

Photos: Rubén Escalante
Text: Graciela Francucci