Traditional Chilean food is as rich and varied as the country itself. Chilean food is heavily influenced by the country’s geography, which includes a long coastline and fertile valleys.
The land and varied climate in Chile is also make it perfect for growing several varieties of grapes. Chile is known its piscos, a type of brandy made from grapes. It is also becoming a world famous destination for wine lovers.
Traditional Chilean food is also influenced by its neighboring countries. While the Pisco Sour, for example, is considered a national drink in Chile, it is also very popular in Peru, as is ceviche and grilled meats in Argentina.
Chileans put their own special spin on their favorite dishes, including using special spice blends and cooking techniques that make their most popular dishes all their own.
Planning a visit to Chile? Here are some activities you might enjoy!
History of Chilean Food
The history of Chilean cuisine is deeply rooted in the country’s indigenous and colonial past. The indigenous peoples of Chile, such as the Mapuche, were skilled at using natural resources to create a diverse range of foods.
They would hunt and gather fruits, berries, nuts, and herbs, and also cultivate potatoes, quinoa, and other crops. They would also fish in the ocean and rivers, which were rich with salmon and other fish.
When the Spanish colonizers arrived in the 16th century, they brought with them new ingredients, such as wheat, olives, and grapes, which were used to create new dishes.
The Spanish also brought cattle and other livestock, which became an important part of Chilean cuisine. The combination of indigenous and Spanish foods created a unique blend of flavors that is still present in Chilean cuisine today.
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Later on, as Chile opened to the world and received immigrants from Europe, Asia and Middle East, many new ingredients and techniques were introduced to the Chilean cuisine, adding new flavors and dishes that blended with the traditional ones.
Overall Chilean cuisine is a combination of indigenous, Spanish, and later European and Asian influences, which has evolved over time and continues to adapt to new ingredients and techniques.
Here are some traditional Chilean dishes to try during a visit to this fast growing popular South American destination.
Pebre will likely be one of the first Chilean foods you will be introduced to during your visit, as it is often presented alongside freshly baked bread at most restaurants.
Pebre is a salsa made from a blend of fresh ingredients, including cilantro, garlic, onion, and chili peppers, which are finely chopped and mixed with olive oil, lemon or lime juice, and salt. The mixture is then left to marinate for a few hours to allow the flavors to meld together.
Besides a topping for bread, Pebre is a also used as a marinade for meats before grilling or as a topping for empanadas or other pastries or even as a dressing for salads.
We found that the spiciness of the Pebre varied quite a bit, so if you are sensitive to spicy foods use care when taking your first bite!
The completo is the quintessential Chilean street food. A simple hot dog is topped with a seemingly obscene amount of avocado, mayonnaise, tomato, and sometimes sauerkraut.
The story goes that street vendors in the port city of Valparaiso began selling hot dogs topped with the available ingredients of the time. German immigrants added sauerkraut to the mix, and a hot dog with “the works” was christened “El Completo”.
The completo has evolved to include different types of sausages, bread and many more toppings, and it’s a traditional Chilean dish enjoyed by many. One of the most popular variations is the “Italiano” in which the toppings of avocado, mayonnaise and tomato match the colors of the Italian flag.
Empanadas are pretty easy to find almost anywhere in Chile. They are often sold in corner stores, are ever present on restaurant menus and in vendor carts, particularly throughout the larger cities.
For those who haven’t been introduced, empanadas are a pastry dough pocket that is filled with a savory mixture of meat, vegetables, and sometimes cheese. Empanadas are very common in South America, although each country has its own special twist, involving the texture of the dough or the filling.
What surprised us is that the Chilean empanadas typically consist of ground beef or chicken and onions, which is pretty standard. And then the favorite variety, Empanadas de Pino, also adds raisins, olives and hard-boiled eggs to the mix, huh?!? Ok, the hard boiled eggs and olives aren’t so atypical, but raisins? You be the judge.
Empanadas can be fried or baked, and are spiced with diffent sides and salsas to rise to the level of your own personal taste.
Lomito and Churrasco
Lomito is a traditional Chilean dish that is made from a cut of pork called “lomo” or “lomito.” Lomo is a tenderloin cut that is similar to a pork tenderloin. The pork is typically marinated in a mixture of spices and then grilled or pan-seared. The dish is almost always served with a side of French fries and a salad.
Chimichurri, a sauce which is popular in Chile and Argentina, made with parsley, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar, is frequently served on the side and adds an extra layer of flavor to the dish.
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A popular variation on Lomito is Churrasco, which is a similar sandwich but made with beef.
The churrasco is a skirt or flap steak, which is marinated in a combination of garlic, olive oil, and spices before being grilled to perfection.
Churrasco is often served on pan amasado, a type of bread whose name translates to “kneaded bread” in Spanish. It is a soft, fluffy bread made from flour, yeast, sugar, and milk, and it is often served warm, with a soft, moist center and a slightly crispy crust.
When served together, churrasco with pan amasado is a classic Chilean meal that is enjoyed as a casual, comforting meal. The tender, flavorful meat is complemented by the soft, warm bread, which soaks up the juices from the meat.
Manjar is Chile’s own version of dulce de leche. It’s similarly made with sweetened milk which is cooked down and caramelized into a rich, sweet and creamy spread.
The process can take several hours, and it requires constant stirring to prevent the milk from burning. The results however, are well worth the effort.
Chileans love it layer or slathered on desserts, used as a dunk for cookies or churros, or heck why not, eaten right out of the container with a spoon.
Chilean Parrilla Grill
You can’t really go to South America without visiting a Parrilla, and Chile is no exception. Here the food is cooked on a heavy metal grate over an open flame wood or coal fired grill. When approaching the restaurant the unmistakable smell of barbeque fills and air and intices you inside.
>Grilled meats are often served with grilled vegetables or an assortment of other sides such as fresh baked breads, several styles of potato, (our favorite being baked potatoes in a creamy cheese sauce), salads and plenty of spicy pembre salsa.
If you visit one on your trip, and you should, bring friends and a big appetite – you’ll need both.
Camarones al Pil-PilCamarones al Pil Pil is a very typical preparation for shrimp. The dish is made with white wine, butter, olive oil, garlic and dried chile peppers. The peppers, called goat’s horn chiles, are deep red in color and add a lingering spiciness and slight sweet flavor that is just right.
Not a seafood fan? No problem! Many restaurants also offer additional dishes cooked “al Pil Pil” such as chicken, pork or mushrooms.
While Peru is best know for ceviche, Chileans also have a love of the seafood dish and have their own twist on the classic recipe.
The fish in Chilean ceviche is “cooked” in a citrus marinde, most often lime juice but sometimes with grapefuit juice. From here Chileans tend to keep the recipe simple, adding in a little diced onion, cilantro or red bell pepper.
Another difference is that Chileans often add another favorite ingredient, avocado, to the mix. It adds a lovely rich texture to the dish without overpowering the seafood.
The trick really is to let the seafood be the star. Since Chile has an abundant coastline they have plenty of fresh seafood to enjoy, which I understand is wonderful with a nice Chilean Sauvignon blanc. Give it a try!
Pastel de Jaiba
Chileans do not shy from rich creamy, cheesy dishes. And if you love all of those things, and are a seafood fan, Pastel de Jaiba (or Chupe de Jaiba) may become one of your favorite Chilean dishes too.
Pastel de Jaiba is casserole that is served as either an appetizer and a main dish. Recipes vary, but ingredients often include stone crabmeat, white wine, garlic, along with bread soaked in milk and heavy cream. Some recipes are topped with a layer of cheese before baking.
It’s a dish that can be found in most Chilean restaurants, but it’s also a made by families in their own homes. Each homemade variation is passed down through generations and is frequently enjoyed for special occasions.
Merkén, or Merquén is a traditional Chilean spice blend that is found in most Chilean households and restaurant tables. It adds a smoky and slightly spicy flavor due to the use of dried goat’s horn chile and toasted ground coriands seeds. Many blends also add salt and cumin.
Merkén is used to flavor almost any savory dish, from sprinkling it on pizza and burgers, to grilled meats, eggs, soups and as a common ingredient for sauces and marinades. A little jar of it makes a great souvenir to take home from your travels and can be found being sold by street vendors or in any market.
Pollo al cognac
Pollo al cognac is considered a sophisticated dish, often served on special occasions or in high-end restaurants. The dish is known for its rich and complex flavor, which is a result of the use of cognac, a high-quality brandy, in the marinade and sauce.
The chicken is typically pan-seared or grilled and then served with the marinade sauce, which has been reduced down and combined with cream, drizzled on top.
The dish is believed to have been influenced by the French cuisine that was brought to Chile by immigrants in the 19th century. Whatever the influence, anything served in a cream and brandy sauce is going to be spectacularly delicious!
Cazuela is a traditional Chilean soup or stew that is made with a combination of beef, chicken, or pork, and vegetables such as potatoes, pumpkin, and corn. It is a hearty and comforting dish that is often enjoyed as a main course, particularly during the colder months.
The soup is flavored with spices such as cumin, paprika, and oregano. It is then thickened with a mixture of flour and water. Some variations may also include the addition of rice, beans, or other grains.
Ensalada Chileana – Onion and Tomato Salad
Chilean Salad. Credit: Sergii Koval
Ensalada Chileana, also known as Chilean onion and tomato salad, is about as simple as it gets. As the name implies, the salad is made with fresh tomatoes and onions, which are then dressed with a vinaigrette.
The vinaigrette contains olive oil, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Some variations may also include the addition of chopped cilantro or parsley.
Ensalada Chileana is characterized by its fresh and crisp flavor, and it is a popular accompaniment to a wide variety of dishes, particularly grilled meats and seafood.
Sopaipillas have been a staple of Chilean cuisine for centuries, and they are believed to have originated with the Mapuche people, the indigenous people of Chile. The word “sopaipilla” comes from the Mapudungun word “sopaipa”, which means “little bread”
Sopaipillas are made from a dough of flour, water, and salt, that is rolled out and cut into small circles. The circles are then deep-fried until they puff up and become golden brown. Some variations of the recipe include adding yeast to the dough to make it rise and giving it a softer texture.
They are served as a side dish with meals, often topped with salsa, or can also be served with a sweet syrup or honey as a snack.
Pastel de Choclo
Pastel de choclo is a traditional Chilean dish that is made with a sweet corn custard and a meat and vegetable filling. The word “pastel” means pie, and “choclo” is the word for sweet corn in Chile.
The crust of a Pastel de Choclo is made from a mixture of sweet corn, milk, butter, and flour, which is spread over the bottom and sides of a baking dish. The filling is typically made from a combination of ground beef, onions, raisins, black olives, and hard-boiled eggs, which is spread over the crust. The top is then covered with more of the sweet corn mixture, and it is baked until golden brown.
The crust is creamy and the filling is rich, it’s a dish that is perfect for a cold winter day.
Lomo a lo Pobre
Lomo a lo Pobre, or “Poor man’s steak”, is a traditional Chilean dish that consists of a steak (usually sirloin or tenderloin) served with French fries, fried eggs, and sautéed onions. The dish is known for its combination of flavors and textures.
The origins of the dish are not clear, but it is believed to have been created as an affordable and filling meal for working-class Chileans. The dish is typically made using inexpensive cuts of beef, and the addition of French fries and fried eggs to the plate makes it a very filling meal.
When he steak is cooked to perfection, the french fries crispy and golden, and the fried eggs rich and creamy, this is a tough meal to beat.
Machas a la Parmesana
Machas a la Parmesana, also known as Parmesan razor clams, is a Chilean dish imported from Spain. Tender razor clams are baked with a Parmesan cheese and bread crumb topping. The clams are also often seasoned with garlic, parsley, and lemon juice, adding extra flavor to the dish.
Machas a la Parmesana is a popular tapa (small plate) that is served in bars and restaurants, particularly in coastal regions where razor clams are abundant.
Charquican – Beef stew
Charquican is a Chilean stew made from a variety of ingredients pumpkin, corn, onions, and chili peppers. It is typically served with rice or bread and will often come with a fried egg on top if served for breakfast.
What makes it most unique is the use of dried preserved meat that is rehydrated in the stew. The word “charqui” means dried meat in Mapudungun, the Mapuche language.
Alfajor. Credit: JuanRojPhot
Alfajores are a traditional South American cookie that consist of two shortbread-like cookies filled with Manjar, a caramel-like spread made from sweetened condensed milk, similar to dulce de leche. The sandwich cookies can also be be made with chocolate or a fruit filling, but the most popular cookie middle by far is manjar.
Mote con Huesillos
Mote con huesillos is both a Chilean drink and dessert. It is made from a type of wheat called mote, which is boiled and sweetened with sugar, and then mixed with huesillos, a type of dehydrated peach. The mixture is then combined with water and served cold, often garnished with cinnamon. Some vendors may also add milk to the drink, giving it a creamy texture.
This refreshing drink is believed to have originated from the Andean region of Chile. It’s a traditional drink for the Fiestas Patrias (National holidays) in Chile.
In reality Mote con Huesillos can be easily found any time of year and is sold by street vendors and supermarkets thoroughout the country.
A Pisco Sour is made with pisco (a clear brandy distilled from grapes) lemon or lime juice, simple syrup, ice, and a frothy egg white. The ingredients are shaken and poured into a glass, and then garnished with a dash of bitters on top.
Pisco is a key ingredient in the drink and it can be made with different types of pisco, such as acholado, a blend of different grape varieties, or mosto verde, made from partially fermented grape juice. The type of pisco used can affect the final taste of the drink, with some having a more fruity or floral flavor while others have a more robust and complex taste.
The Pisco Sour is thought to have been created by an American bartender named Victor Morris, who owned a bar in Lima, Peru in the early 20th century. He is said to have started making the drink in the 1920s and it quickly became a popular cocktail in Peru and later in Chile.
No matter its origins, Chile has definitely adopted the drink. The Pisco Sour remains more popular today than wine, despite the efforts of the many Chilean wine growers, which is why most of the wine produced in Chile is actually exported.
Chile is home to many wineries, producing a vast array of white and red varieties. Chilean wine is not only delicious, but is also quite affordable compared with wine in other regions.
Be sure to try the Carmenere, a red varietal that was rediscovered in Chile and is extremely popular.
You can learn more about Chilean wines in our upcoming post – stay tuned!
If you love wine, here are a few activities you might enjoy while visitig Chile!
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