Traditional Foods to Try in Chile

July 18, 2012 by

Eating & Restaurants, Unforgettable Experiences

Chupe de Locos in Chile. Photo courtesy of Paul Lowry.

Chupe de Locos in Chile. Photo courtesy of Paul Lowry.

The world’s longest country isn’t well known for its cuisine. Though its exquisite seafood and flavorful melting pot—with Incan, Spanish, French, Italian, German and Middle Eastern heritage—has yielded truly wonderful recipes, South America’s culinary superstar, Peru, usually gets all the attention.

Until earlier this year, however, for the first time in history, a Chilean cookbook, Gastronomia Patagonia (Patagonian Cuisine), won the prestigious Best Culinary Cookbook of the Year at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Paris. More than 30,000 cookbooks from 163 countries were considered.

The book focuses on the cuisine of Chile’s glacier-strewn southern tip, and serves as an excellent introduction for the gastronomically inclined tourist eager to explore the world’s longest country. Of course, Chile’s signature dishes come from up and down the 6435-kilometer (3990-mile) coastline, not just Patagonia. Here are just a few favorites to get you started.

1. Asados (or Parrilladas): If you’re going all out, order this impressive mixed platter of several different grilled meats, sweetbreads, sausages, potatoes and corn prepared right in front of you, usually accompanied by various salads, breads and wines. You’ve got to do it at least once while you’re here.

2. Caldillo de Congrio: This stew made of conger eel—with a surprisingly mild, white, flaky meat delightfully seasoned in this hearty seaside specialty—is a must-try for seafood lovers.

3. Cazuela: After a day of skiing Chile’s marvelous slopes, or exploring chill Patagonia, these rich stews are perfect, long-simmering combinations of beef or chicken and various root vegetables, squash, rice, corn and whatever else the chef desires. Chupes are usually lighter seafood soups, often with a creamy base.

4. Choripan: Sandwiches made with spicy sausage and topped with creamy pepper sauce are a treat.

5. Chupe de Locos: A dish made with local muscles cooked in a sort of pudding.

6. Churrasco: Thinly sliced steak served on tasty sandwiches makes a fast, filling lunch.

7. Crudo: The Chilean version of steak tartare (thinly sliced raw steak) is a popular appetizer in the beef regions of the country.

8. Curanto: This indigenous dish native to the Chiloe Islands is prepared in a pit, lined with red-hot embers. Layers of local foods, usually shellfish, potatoes, vegetables, and chapaleles (potato dumplings) are layered with aromatic leaves, carefully covered and cooked for hours to let the flavors mingle.

9. Empanadas: This ubiquitous Latin American specialty is particularly popular in Chile, where the half-moon-shaped pastries are often stuffed with “pino,” a filling with beef, onions, raisins, olives and a hard-boiled egg. Other varieties are stuffed with cheeses, seafood, chicken or sweet filling. Empanadas are everywhere, inexpensive and awesome.

10. Kuchen: A wide variety of German-style cakes and pastries are available throughout Chile.

11. Humitas: Chile’s answer to the tamale is made with fresh corn boiled inside carefully wrapped husks, and stuffed with all manner of sweet or savory fillings, including meats, vegetables and spices.

12. Mariscal: Cold seafood soup.

13. Marraquetas: French bread rolls sold all over the country, often served toasted with avocado (pan con palta) for a quick breakfast.

14. Milcaos: These potato pancakes popular since indigenous times are served fried, baked like bread or as part of a curanto.

15. Palta Reina: This light lunch dish, usually half an avocado filled with tasty Chilean tuna salad, is fit for a queen.

16. Pantruca: Chilean dumplings, often served in a tasty chicken stew, are a classic home-style dish.

17. Pastel de Choclo: This fresh-corn pie is traditionally baked in a ceramic dish with fillings that could include ground beef, chicken, sliced eggs, and vegetables. It is arguably the most traditional of Chilean dishes.

18. Pastel de Jaiba: A crab-meat pie, mixed with vegetables and seasonings, usually baked in its own shell.

19. Pebre: This chunky salsa, made with tomatoes, chiles, onions, garlic and cilantro, is served alongside all sorts of dishes, or simply with fresh bread for dipping.

20. Poroto Granado: A meat and bean stew popular in summer months, often cooked with sweet corn, pumpkin, tomatoes and whatever else is in season.

21. Sopaipillas: Unlike the Southwestern US dish of the same name, these fried pumpkin fritters, drizzled with brown sugar syrup, are a tasty afternoon snack.

22. Tomatican: This hearty tomato stew usually comes with potatoes, corn and other veggies, a great choice if you’ve overindulged in asados.

23. Wine: Since 16th-century Spanish priests brought the first grapes to Chile for “communion,” this has been a wine-producing nation renowned for its reds. Today, with more than 90 commercial vineyards inhabiting climates comparable to California and France, it is the 5th largest exporter of wine in the world; be sure to try the cabernet sauvignon, merlot and carmenère.

Learn more on a food tour in Chile

-Paige Penland

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