What is “La Once Chilena”?
The Chilean “once” (pronounced “on-say”) is a cultural tradition in Chile that revolves around a light meal or snack typically enjoyed in the late afternoon or early evening. It is similar to what is known as “tea time” or “afternoon tea” in other cultures.
Once is the most popular mealtime in Chile. Always in the evenings (from 7 to 10 pm) and often replacing dinner. It’s a treasure tradition. It is beloved for its flexibility and hominess. Once is the embodiment of comfort food for Chileans.
In Chile and Latin culture, leaving someone to eat alone is frowned upon. The Once awaits everyone in the household. Even if you ate, you could have another cup of tea to keep company to the late arrivals.
What do you eat at Once?
The weekday Once is usually a mix of bread and assorted bread fillings (cosas pa’l pan) or spreads, leftovers from lunch or the weekend, and coffee and tea. The table will have a bread basket and cold cuts, jams, butter, cheese, mashed avocado, and queso fresco. If lucky, a pound cake or bundt cake, too.
On weekends Once is more elaborated with cakes, kuchen or pies. Maybe an assortment of different pieces of bread on the bread basket. Fancier cold cuts and cheese and scrambled eggs.
Key features of a Chilean once include:
- Tea or Coffee: Once usually starts with a cup of tea (té) or coffee (café). Herbal teas and flavored teas are also popular choices. Hot chocolate or mate (a traditional Argentinian caffeinated drink) might sometimes be served.
- Bread: A variety of bread is typically served with once, including hallullas (soft, round rolls), marraquetas (crusty rolls), and other types of bread. These are often accompanied by butter, jam, or dulce de leche.
- Cheese: Sliced cheese, such as Gouda or Chanco, is commonly included in the spread.
- Avocado: Mashed avocado is a common addition to a Chilean once. It is usually served with a sprinkle of salt and sometimes a drizzle of olive oil.
- Ham or Paté: Thinly sliced ham is often served, and some people enjoy ham and cheese sandwiches as part of their once.
- Pastries and Sweets: Sweet pastries, cookies, or cakes are a must for once. Popular options include kuchen (fruit pies), sopaipillas (fried dough), and Berliners (doughnuts).
- Eggs: Egg salad, scrambled eggs with ham, or scrambled eggs with tomatoes during the summer are traditional.
- Conversation and Socializing: Beyond the food and beverages, a significant aspect of Chilean once is the opportunity for family and friends to gather, chat, and enjoy each other’s company. It’s a time for relaxation and conversation.
What to expect if invited to Once?
Be glad if you get an invitation for once, because since there is always an assortment of things, you can choose what to eat and drink. Also, Once is a more intimate affair than dinner in Chilean households, so you are probably a good friend and trusted.
Since much of Once revolves around bread, if you are gluten intolerant, inform your host beforehand.
What to bring to Chilean Once?
Bring something sweet if you want to get food; store-bought is fine. Stop by the local bakery and get a pie or a kuchen, an assortment of cookies, etc. If you enjoy baking, any recipes listed below will be well received.
You can also bring flowers, chocolates, jam, or dulce de leche. If you get wine, do not expect the host to open it during the once. Most likely, the wine will be saved for lunch or Asado.