Food in Chile
Chilean cuisine presents a great variety of dishes that were born from the fusion of the indigenous tradition and the Spanish colonial contribution, combining their dishes, customs and culinary habits. Contributions from German, Italian and French cuisine have been given thanks to the influence of the immigrants who arrived during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Chilean Creole food in general is a mixture of meat and agricultural products from each region. In the north and south, fishing is an important economic source and this is reflected in the variety of dishes: while in the desert area ceviche (fish seasoned with lemon and onions) is prominent, curanto (boiled seafood, meat, sausages and potatoes made in a hole in the ground) is the ultimate expression of chilota cuisine. The potato is also essential in other chilota preparations such as milcao and chapaleles. The central zone has corn (maize) and beef as protagnista preparations such as tamales and corn. The pine casserole and the charquicán are among the most famous preparations of the local cuisine. The roast is the main preparation for informal gatherings and family; it’s certainly more of a Chilean you’re inviting, so take the opportunity to learn more about Chilean society. Desserts include delicate or caramel preparations such as alfajores and Curicó cakes, while the German influence has introduced Chilean cake and strudel pastry to the menu.
Chile’s vast geography allows the development of several varieties of seafood on its coasts: The main species are crocodile, pomfret, conger eel and salmon, which is industrially produced in the south of the country. As for shellfish, it is mainly boobies and oysters, but also some crustaceans such as the crab and the Juan Fernandez lobster. Beef, chicken and pork are the main meats, although lamb is also found in the Patagonian region. Chile is a major fruit exporter, so you will easily find varieties of apples, oranges, peaches, strawberries, raspberries and puddings, of good quality and much cheaper than in Europe or the USA.
Note that despite this wide variety of dishes and products, the normal diet of a Chilean household is not very different from that of other Western countries; during your stay you will probably see more rice, meat, potato or pasta dishes or corn cakes.
In Santiago and the larger cities you will find a wide range of restaurants offering local and international cuisine. If you go to a restaurant, cancel the price of the food you eat directly, as indicated on the menu. Although optional, it is customary to add a 10% tip which is given directly to the waiter. He or she will always be happy to receive more. Not tipping is considered quite rude and is only given if the service in the restaurant was very bad.
Major fast food chains from around the world have several branches in the country. If you do go for fast food, it is best to eat one of the many different sandwiches that exist in the country: the Barros Luco (meat and cheese) and the Italian full (hot dog with tomato, avocado and mayonnaise) are the most traditional. If you are in Valparaíso and have good cholesterol, don’t miss the opportunity to try a chorrillana. In the streets you will find many stalls selling rolls (fried pumpkin masses) and the refreshing mote with shanks. The food prepared on the stalls is usually not too much trouble, so try it if you have a weak stomach.
- Pastel de choclo: a corn casserole filled with ground beef, onions, chicken, raisins, a hard-boiled egg, olives, and topped with sugar and butter.
- Empanada de pino: a baked cake filled with minced beef, onions, raisins, a piece of hard-boiled egg and a black olive. Watch out for the pit!
- Empanada de queso: a fried dumpling filled with cheese. You can find them everywhere, even at McDonald’s.
- Cazuela de vacuno: Beef soup with a potato, rice, a piece of corn and a piece of pumpkin.
- Cazuela de ave (or de pollo): as above, but with a piece of chicken.
- Cazuela de pavo: as above, but with turkey.
- Porotos granados: stew of fresh beans, squash, corn, onions and basil.
- con choclo: with corn kernels.
- con pilco or pirco: with corn, finely chopped.
- con mazamorra: with ground corn.
- con riendas: with thinly sliced noodles.
- Curanto: lots of seafood, beef, chicken, pork, potatoes, cheese and potato burgers cooked in a hole in the ground (“en hoyo”) or in a pot (“en olla”); a Chiloe dish.
- Southern sopaipillas: a fried dough cut into 10 cm circles, without pumpkin in the dough (see northern sopaipillas in the desserts section). They are a substitute for bread. They are known in the south of Linares.
- Lomo a lo pobre: a beef steak, fried potatoes, a fried egg (in restaurants there should be two) and fried onions.
In addition to the typical foods, you should expect foods that are common in any Western country. The normal diet includes rice, potatoes, meat and bread. Vegetables are abundant in central Chile. If you are concerned about portion sizes, keep in mind that the size of the dish increases as you head south.
With such an extensive coastline, you can expect seafood almost everywhere. Locals are used to eating raw shellfish by the bunch, but visitors should be careful with raw shellfish due to frequent outbreaks of red tide. Chile is the world’s second largest producer of salmon, as well as a number of other farmed marine products, including oysters, scallops, mussels, trout and turbot. Local fish include corvina (sea bass), congrio (conger eel), lenguado (flounder), albacora (swordfish) and yellowfin tuna.
- Hotdog or Completo (means “complete” in English). Not comparable to the American version. It contains mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, tomato or sauerkraut (chucrut), mashed avocado (palta) and chilli (ají). These ingredients form a complete sandwich, called a completo. With the mayonnaise, tomato and avocado, it is an italiano (an Italian) in the colours of the Italian flag.
- Lomito. Cooked pork steaks served with everything a hot dog contains. Italiano is the preferred form, but German purists prefer it with sauerkraut (chukrut).
- Chacarero: a thin beef steak (churrasco) with tomatoes, green beans, mayonnaise and green chilli (ají verde).
- Barros Luco: Named after President Ramón Barros Luco. Thinly sliced steak with cheese.
- Choripán: Bread with “chorizo”, a highly spiced pork sausage. So named because it is a contraction of “Pan con Chorizo” or “Chorizo con Pan”.
A common combination is meat with avocado and/or mayonnaise, such as the Ave palta mayo (chicken with avocado and mayonnaise) or the Churrasco palta (thinly sliced beef steak with avocado). The strong presence of avocado is a Chilean standard for sandwiches, which has influenced fast food franchises to include it in their menus.
- Northern sopaipillas: a fried pastry cut into 10 cm circles, containing pumpkin in the dough and usually eaten with chancaca, black syrup or molasses. It is common to make them when it is raining and cold outside. Sopaipillas as a dessert are only known north of San Javier. From Linares to the south, they are not a dessert and the squash is omitted. When it rains, southern Chileans have to cook picarones. In Santiago, sopaipillas can be served with a sweet syrup poured over them for dessert, or with spicy yellow mustard.
- Kuchen (or cújen, pronounced KOO-hen) is the German word for cake. In the south, ask for a kuchen de quesillo, a kind of cheesecake.
- Strudel (pronounced: ess-TROO-dayl). A kind of apple pie.
- Berlín. To translate John Kennedy’s famous quote (often mistaken for a faux pas), it is said to be a “jelly donut”. The Chilean version is a ball of dough (without a hole) filled with dulce de membrillo, crema pastelera or manjar. Powdered sugar is added, just in case you have a sweet tooth.
- Cuchuflí. Barquillo (tube of something crunchy like a biscuit) filled with manjar. The name originally comes from cuchufleta, which means deception or trickery, as they used to fill only the top of the barquillos, leaving the central part empty.
Central Chile is a great producer of temperate fruits, you can easily get fruits for dessert, including apples, oranges, peaches, grapes, watermelons, strawberries, raspberries, chirimoyas and some other varieties.
Moderate fruits are of very good quality and prices are generally much lower than in most of the US and Western Europe, while tropical fruits are rare and expensive, with the exception of bananas.
Drinks in Chile
- Wine: Chile produces excellent wines that rival those of France, California, Australia and New Zealand on world markets. These include Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere reds, as well as the white wines of the Casablanca Valley.
- Mote con Huesillo: A delicious summer drink made from wheat seeds (mote) and dried peaches (huesillos) that is boiled, sweetened and served cold. Usually sold on pavements or in parks.
- Chilean Pisco: brandy made from muscat grapes. The most popular brands are Capel, Alto del Carmen, Mistral and Campanario**.
- Pisco Sour: one of Chile’s most popular mixed drinks, which consists of a mixture of pisco with lemon juice and sugar. It has a delicious tart sweetness.
- Mango Sour: Pisco mixed with mango juice.
- Piscola: Pisco mixed with cola.
- Borgoña: red wine and strawberries.
- Terremoto: (“earthquake”): a typical Chilean drink consisting of a mixture of pineapple ice and pipeño (like white wine).
- Schop: Draft beer.
- Fan Schop: Beer mixed with an Orange Fanta or Orange Crush soft drink. A refreshing alternative on a hot summer day.
- Beers: Cristal and Escudo are the most popular (light lager). Garde Royale is a bit more flavourful, Kunstmann is a pairing with European imported beers.
- Jote*: Wine and Coke.
- There is a well-known dispute between Chile and Peru over the origin of pisco. Although pisco has been registered as a Chilean drink for some countries in the last century, it has historically been of Peruvian origin for much longer. Moreover, Chilean and Peruvian drinks are not the same product, they have different production processes, different grape varieties and not the same taste.
Unlike other Latin American countries, it is illegal in Chile to drink in unauthorised public places (streets, parks, etc.). The laws also restrict selling hours depending on the day of the week (certainly not after 3am or before 9am).
Chileans drink a lot of alcohol. So don’t be surprised if you see one bottle per person.