By Patrick HiegerIf you don’t live in Chile, the title of this piece might be confusing to you. Onces? As in eleven? Plural? And that po at the end? Well, that’s just a colloquialism, a breath added on to the end of many statements. Don’t worry too much about that. As far as ‘onces’ goes, though–well, that requires a bit more explanation.
It would sound just as strange if you weren’t British or from the UK to hear someone discussing elevenses. Eleven is a number that typically need not be pluralized but, when it comes to snack time, all grammar rules seemingly go out the window. To start simply, onces is nothing more than a direct translation of the British elevenses. In the UK, it’s snack time in the morning. In Chile, it’s what you eat in place of dinner.
There is a theory that suggest that back when there were restrictions on boozing were being upheld in Chile, men looking for an afternoon nip of aguardiente would simply disguise the drink’s name by calling it by the number of letters in its title–eleven. And, since that seems a pretty elaborate code for a bunch of drunkards, for our purposes we’ll just stick with the idea that, because they both refer to snack time, onces is simply derived from elevenses.
Regardless, what the hell is onces?
No matter where you are, there will be bread. Chile just recently surpassed France as the number one consumer of bread on the planet. And, given that nearly any picture of the French is often characterized by the presence of a baguette, the Chileans must be some super bread eaters. It’s true. Bread is the staple of any occasion of onces, no matter how simple or elaborate. Marraqueta, or pan frances, is most often served, though you might also find hallulla, pan doblado, or a number of either staple bread varietals in which Chile specializes.
Because onces is just a replacement for dinner, the elaboration really depends on the time of day and the amount of people around. At its simplest, onces is bread, ham, cheese, perhaps some butter and jelly or maybe even some manjar, as well as tea. Tea is the other staple. Toast some bread, add some cheese, and maybe a slice of ham. It’s not too filling before heading off to bed. It’s just enough to get you through until tomorrow.
At its most elaborate, onces can often go hand in hand with the term ‘comida,’ which can often be used describe a meal, instead of simply being used to refer to food. In the case of once-comida, expect to find bread, tea, and the other fixin’s, but also be on the lookout for mashed up avocado, pan-cooked steak, a small salad, and maybe even a broth. Once-comida gets much more to the point of an actual dinner, but never quite involves an elaborately-plated meal. Is it the trick of telling yourself that you’re eating light, or the simplicity of having a snack-plus? Either way, it’s onces, not dinner.
No matter how simple or elaborate, onces is a Chilean staple. It’s not a meal, but it is. It’s a custom, just as high tea is for the Brits. And, just like the Brits, a great deal of restaurants throughout Chile will offer an onces service. It, too, can range from bread and cheese with jam to something much more elaborate. It’s all in how much of a dinner you don’t want to eat. Provecho.