I have to say, I had very little knowledge of Chilean food before going there. Though Chilean wines have found their fame in international markets, authentic Chilean restaurants are hard to come by. During my two-week trip around Chile with Yampu Tours, I ate at many great hotels, restaurants, and cafes.
One thing I concluded was that chefs in Chile are hugely influenced by European cuisine. Not only do they use French cooking techniques, many focus entire menus on French, Italian and Mediterranean dishes.
The second most popular cuisine in Chile is German, specially in the southern part. In the cities of Fruitillar and Puerto Varas, you can find traditional German bakeries selling all kinds of kuchen, and restaurants specializing in German style sandwiches. There is also the popular Kunstmann brewery in the town of Valdivia, where German settlers arrived first in early 1800’s.
So what exactly is Chilean cuisine?
There are few traditional dishes that the Chilean people still enjoy for casual meals and at home. As a tourist, I felt I had to seek out for these places. Most tour companies feel that they are too rustic to take international visitors to. But what good is visiting another country if you haven’t tried the local food?
- Empanadas – Chilean empanadas are 6-8 inch long rectangular doughy pastries, stuffed with mainly beef, onions, raisins, and boiled eggs. These are baked in traditional brick ovens and known as Empanada de Orno. Fried empanadas are also common, and stuffed with cheese or meat. When cooked well, the crust is flaky and crisp, while not too greasy. Try it with ají verde (green chili pepper sauce).
Where to eat empanadas: Marmoni restaurant in Pucon, Quillay outside Santiago.
2. Pisco Sour – The Chilean version of pisco sour generally doesn’t contains eggs, due to salmonella contamination. There is some excellent quality pisco that is produced in the northern region of Chile. You can order your pisco sour in different flavors such as mango, pineapple, cucumber-ginger, etc.
Where to drink pisco: Vira Vira Hotel in Pucon. The bartender, Luis Mariano Cerda Monsalve is a well known mixologist who has published his recipe book on cocktails, as well as written about extensively.
3. Sopaipillas – There are two versions of this deep fried bread that is often served as an appetizer. The first one is made with white flour, animal fat and water, and another in which pureed pumpkin is mixed to the dough. In each version, the dough is formed as disks and then deep fried. It can be eaten sweet, with icing sugar or a sweet caramel sauce, or as a salty snack, topped with a chili sauce or mustard.
Where to eat Sopaipillas – Marmoni restaurant in Pucon and Hotel Casona at Matetic Winery.
4. Cazuela – If there was a national dish of Chile, this would be it! The rustic stew is simmered for hours with chicken or beef broth, corn, rice, potatoes, pumpkins, carrots, green beans. It is served piping hot in a clay pot, and is the best comfort food on a cool evening.
Where to eat Cazuela: Galindo Bar Restaurant in Santiago is a good place to try authentic Chilean food. It is always packed with locals and they don’t accept reservations.
5. Humitas – Similar to Mexican tamale, Humitas in Chile are prepared with fresh corn, onion, basil, and butter, wrapped in corn husks, and baked or boiled. They can be made savory, sweet, or sweet and sour, served with added sugar, chile pepper, salt, tomato, olive and paprika.
6. Pastel Del Choclo – Chilean version of the Shepherd’s pie, this corn pudding is layered with beef, chicken, whole olives, onions and hard boiled eggs. The dish is delicious but also heavy in calories.
Where to eat Casuela: Galindo Bar Restaurant in Santiago.
7. Quinoa – Harvesting quinoa in northern Chile dates back 7,000 years. These protein packed seeds are integral to survival of the Mapuche people. It is still used to make drinks, sides and desserts.
Where to eat quinoa: Awasi Atacama hotel serves a delicious vegetarian quinoa dish with tomato sauce and baby vegetables for lunch.
8. Seafood – Chile’s long coastline is abundant with species of fish, mollusks, crustaceans and algae. Local seafood that I tried during the Fall season included abalone, hake, corvina, salmon, reineta, congrio, giant mussels and razor clams. The fish is simply prepared on the grill, with very little seasoning.
Where to eat seafood: Ibis Restaurant in Puerto Varas with a great view overlooking Lake Llanquihue, and Hotel Casona at Matetic Winery.
9. Asado – BBQ parties are a favorite pastime of Chileans over the weekends. Friends and families gather in backyards, drinking wine, grilling meats, talking and enjoying the beautiful weather. While beef and pork are common, the Chilean speciality is cordero al palo (whole roast lamb) grilled for 5 hours and accompanied with pebre, a local condiment made from pureed herbs, garlic, and hot peppers; in many ways similar to chimichurri. The dish is typical of southern Chile and is served hot accompanied by salads.
10. Dulce de Leche desserts – My sweet tooth went on a field trip once I discovered the different desserts made with caramel across the town of Pucon. Brazo de Reina is a Swiss cake roll layered with homemade dulce de leche. Torta de Mil Hojas is a Napolean style flaky pastry with a big chunk of dulce de leche. Alfajores are chocolate discs filled with caramel, similar to moon pies. Of course, the Kuchen (German cakes) are amazing too!
Where to eat Dulce desserts: Pasteleria Mamacelia is a hole in the wall bakery next to a gas station, where the locals go to eat empanadas and pastries. Other sit down sweet shops are Suiza Pasteleria and Cassis in Pucon. Winkler Family Kuchenladen in Frutillar is a must stop for German cakes.
This is no way the complete guide to Chilean cuisine. They are just some of the dishes I ate and highly recommend you do it!
Do you have a Chilean recipe you really like? If so, share with our readers below…