Often overlooked and unknown, Chilean foods can surprise you with their ingredient-forward simplicity. If at all possible, visit Chile during the summer when the abundance of fruits and vegetables assures you the sweeter and crispier bounty of nature.
Chilean food has been influenced by the Incas, Spaniards, Germans, Peruvians, Arabs, and many others; but has remained focused on the season’s ingredients. Meat is an afterthought and very seldom the main star of a dish. Seasonings are sparse, and rarely spicy. Soups are required in winter and salads are served family-style.
The best food is often found in Chilean homes or small places. So make friends: Chileans are not shy about having people over to break bread.
Don’t leave Chile without trying:
Pebre con pan amasado: Pebre looks similar to salsa, but the flavors are different. Pebre is never cooked, always freshly made with tomatoes, cilantro, onions. Proportions and size of the ingredients will vary according to the chef. Often brought to the table to enjoy with a bread basket full of pan amasado, a bread perfect for soaking the juices of the pebre.
Empanadas de Pino: Chilean beef empanadas are a great lunch on the go, don’t underestimate how filling they are. Chileans will offer them as an appetizer, but they are a full meal with a thick crusty dough and filled with meat and onions, an olive, eggs, and raisins. Easy to get in bakeries around lunchtime, especially on Sundays.
Porotos Granados: A summer dish usually offer in two versions “con pilco” (where the vegetables stay whole in the soup) or “con mazamorra” (where the corn and squash are blended into a rustic puree). Both are incredibly fresh and light. Enjoy with Chilean salad: tomatoes and onions.
Chacarero, Churrasco, Lomito o Completo: Sandwiches are very important in Chile. Everyone has an opinion on what bread is the right one, what toppings, and in what order. There are specific restaurants devoted to producing the best Chilean sandwiches called “Fuentes de Soda”. Most will have pictures to help with your choices. Churrasco is a thinly sliced beef; Chacarero is a particular churrasco served with green beans and tomato. Lomito is thinly sliced pork loin cooked in its juices. Completo is the Chilean hotdog; the right places to try it in Santiago are El Rápido in downtown and Domino (a chain).
Humitas or Pastel de Choclo: Another couple of summer dishes. Humitas are the Chilean tamales, made with fresh corn, sweet and milky. They are more similar to cream of corn on flavor than to Mexican tamales. Pastel de Choclo is a Sheperd’s pie where the potato topping has been replaced with a corn one. A fairly time-consuming dish, it is usually made during the summer holidays.
Pescado Frito or Chupe de Jaiba: If you visit Valparaíso or any coastal town, you must stop at a Marisquería and order either fried fish (usually white fish like a conger eel, branzino, seabass, or similar) or chupe. Chupe is a creamy casserole made with bread, milk, cheese, and crab, lobster or a mix of seafood, mildly spiced with paprika.
Torta Mil Hojas: Chileans know their sweets well, basically any delivery method for Dulce de Leche works for us, but Torta Mil Hojas is special. Many families treasure their recipe and don’t share it. Luckily, you can buy slices at many coffee shops or bakeries; it goes fantastic with an espresso or Cortado. There are different flavor combinations, and if you are afraid of the overpowering sweetness, chose one layered with a citric jam or chantilly cream beside the Dulce de Leche.