It's all about the ají cacho de cabra — "goat's horn chili," a red, sun-dried, smoked pepper — which adds an earthy heat to the traditional Chilean spice blend called merkén. Named by the nation's indigenous Mapuche people, the dry rub typically incorporates a simple but balanced mix of salt, pepper, toasted coriander and sometimes cumin and other inputs.
Pablo Bonacic, a Santiago native turned Colorado Springs resident (thanks to Youth With a Mission), says everyone cooks with merkén back home. The flavor, he adds, "goes with anything," and boasts unique variations — "like with coffee, [where the essence] comes from the soil." Even the chilies his grandmother grew in a pot didn't taste like those from the country's fields, he says.
All of which explains the inspiration for Bonacic's new food truck, Merken (337-2233), which he hopes is just one step toward a sit-down restaurant some day. The truck's menu (viewable at Merken's Facebook page) largely features authentic Chilean eats that Bonacic will work hard to distinguish for consumers from Mexican grub.
For instance, his sopaipillas differ from Mexican sopapillas in that they're made with pumpkin and are more like a Native American fry-bread in texture. They're also saltier, rather than sweeter, he says, and receive any condiment or topping well: Here he offers pebre, a pico de gallo-like relish again ubiquitous in Chile, consisting of chili peppers, onions, garlic and cilantro.
And his barro, chacarero and churrasco sandwiches are Mexican torta-like in that they're prepared on bread, but made to highlight his truck-prepped, merkén -amped pork loin and beef steak cuts with fresh fixings like mashed avocado and tomato. (He does break tradition with chicken and vegetarian black-bean patty options, too.)
The Chilean pantry, Bonacic explains, results not just from indigenous and Spanish fusions, but a late-1800s migration of Europeans (Germans, French and Italians, most notably), infusing the marketplace with fine breads and pastries, among other items.
As for infusing our marketplace with a fresh new flavor, he'll look to park in the downtown corridor during weekday lunchtimes (check his page for daily announcements) as well as at local businesses with whom he's friendly, such as Fifty Fifty Coffee House and likely a local taphouse or two.
Fire in the Perk
When store manager John Mangrum arrived at The Perk Downtown (14 S. Tejon St., 635-1600) around 5:30 Friday morning, he found the store's alarm going off. Upon his opening the door, smoke poured out to reveal a "glowing near the microwave area" through the haze. CSFD quickly responded and handled the small fire, citing an ignition point indeed near the machinery. The store remains closed for inspections; check its Facebook page for reopening updates.