Chilean Chronicles, Part VII: Donde Mi Negro, Lunchtime Courtesy of Cali

A happy customer at Donde Mi Negro.

A happy customer at Donde Mi Negro.

Two years ago Judith Torres couldn’t find work in her native Cali, Colombia.

So she decided to search better fortune for herself and her two sons in Santiago.

Shortly after her arrival Torres decided to open Donde Mi Negro, a restaurant serving typical Colombian fare on the corner of Herrera and Agustinas streets, right near major thoroughfare Matakuna Street.

Torres’ pride in her roots can be seen in the image of a curvy woman in a yellow bikini who stands in a heart of the national colors of yellow, red and blue above the wooden doors and graffiti-stained orange walls through which you enter to find a clean and modest space that seats about two dozen people.

Dunreith and I ate at the restaurant for lunch today after we had entered the Museum of Memory and Human Rights and decided we needed to take the sights and sounds in on a full stomach.

We had already met with University of Diego Portales department chair Carlos Aldunate Balestra and other UDP colleagues like institutional memory Josefa Romero and coordinator Loreto Correa. Josefa told us that the school has the largest journalism department in the country; judging from the resources there, they school is well equipped to train the next generation of aspiring broadcast, radio and print/digital scribblers.

The Colombian flag also appears in the middle of the menu, which more than delivers the standard dishes promised at the restaurant’s entrance at very reasonable prices. Dunreith had a cheese empanada that was more heavily friend than the Chilean varieties we’ve sampled thus far for a mere 50 cents, while I had a full quarter chicken for $2.40 accompanied by a hefty plate of piping hot and glistening French Fries for an additional 80 cents. A salad with large tomato slices, generous portions of cauliflower and some broccoli atop lettuce was an unexpected surprise.

Torres, who learned to cook from her mother and at a cooking institute in Cali, was plying her trade on a four-burner stove with a hefty black frying pan going to work on beautifully rounded papa rellenas, a skillet with lean pork chops and a hefty pot waiting on the side in reserve.

The crowd of primarily working class people-there was a heavy presence of men wearing blue jeans and paint-splattered sweatshirts and sneakers with holes-ate in contented silence. Judith said that her customers are not only Colombian, but come from many different countries.

She does not work alone.

Aurora Huauaco pitches in with cooking and waiting on tables, and Sandra Paola Torres serves the customers, too.

Judith convinced her younger of two sisters and the baby of five children who also could not find work in Cali to join her in Santiago five months ago.

“I paved the way and then she joined me,” Judith said with a laugh.

The sisters work together on weekdays from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and Judith keeps the place open on weekends, too.

Two years after she arrived, although she has good days and bad days, Judith is optimistic that things are heading in the right direction.

She plans to stay in Santiago with her boys, who are 15 and 4 years old.

Not Sandra.

“I want to go to the United States,” she told me in Spanish. “Put me in your suitcase, but take me. With urgency.”

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2 responses to “Chilean Chronicles, Part VII: Donde Mi Negro, Lunchtime Courtesy of Cali

  1. I am getting addicted to these updates. The food sounds wonderful. I know it is the least of your experience, but come on!

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