Chile, a country with an insanely long coastline, unsurprisingly has a cuisine with an emphasis on fish and seafood plates. The nation also has a love affair with corn, using it in everything from soups to savory pies. Mapuche, Chono, Araucanian, and Spanish recipes and influences have all combined to create flavors both sweet and salty, sometimes at the same time, in Chile's iconic dishes. Consider pairing some of the food below with a glass of Chilean wine or eating an avocado as a side dish, a favorite Chilean snack.
A common street food throughout Chile, this fried circular flatbread made with squash can be prepared sweet or salty. Commonly served with pebre, a sauce made with coriander, onion, olive oil, garlic, and aji (pepper), this snack was brought to Chile by the Spanish, but named by the indigenous Araucanian people after a regional bird. Other popular topping options include chili, mustard, cheese, sugar, honey, or chancaca (a molasses sauce). Many Chileans have it during teatime, especially during rainy winter months.
Pastel de Jaiba
Known as a crab casserole, crab cake, or a savory crab pie, pastel de jaiba, is a traditional Chilean dish common in the restaurants of Santiago. Similar to Patagonian chupe de centolla, pastel de jaiba combines soft, white crab meat sourced from Chile’s coastline with onions, milk, chili pepper, fish stock, cream, and spices. Generally topped with cheese and baked in a clay pot, some chefs transfer it into crab shells before serving for extra pizazz.
An unaged brandy distilled in copper pots, pisco is the national spirit in Chile. The history of pisco dates back to the 1500s and involves conquistadors, Jesuit missionaries, industrious farmers, and rowdy sailors. Earthy and sweet, the most common way to try it is neat or in a pisco sour, a frothy cocktail with lime juice, egg whites, and sugar. The flavor combines perfectly with the citrus tones of the lime, making it easy to drink one or four, if you’re not careful. Pisco of both high and low quality is everywhere in Chile, but ask for pisco from the Elqui region, if you want to try the best in the land.
A cazuela is a kind of pot used for cooking stew, but the name applies to the stew itself, originally a staple of the Mapuche people. Cazuelas can be beef, chicken, turkey, or seafood-based, and the other ingredients will depend on what is seasonably available. In winter, potatoes, pumpkins, chard, spinach, and carrots warm the belly and stave off hunger for hours, while summer cazuelas have lighter ingredients like green beans, corn, and tomatoes. Herbs such as thyme, parsley, or oregano infuse the broth, making the dish as fragrant as it is soothing.
Ceviche highlights one of Chile’s most popular kinds of fish: reineta (pomfret). Cut into smaller pieces than in the Peruvian version of this dish, the mild, white flesh gets marinated in lemon juice. After the lemon juice cures the fish, chefs mix it with yellow onion, cilantro, and bell peppers to create a light, but filling dish. Enjoy the tangy flavor as is or to add a spicy punch, sprinkle on some merken—smoked chili pepper with salt and toasted coriander, a classic Mapuche condiment.
Originally from the Mapuche people, porotos granados is a thick stew of seasonal ingredients, traditionally served in the summer. Mashed corn, cranberry beans, onions, basil, and garlic, combine for a rich flavor, while squash is added for thickness and a bit of sweetness. Usually served with Chilean salad (pickled, corn, pumpkin, and tomatoes), the dish is traditionally vegetarian, but can sometimes be prepared with chicken or beef broth. Not commonly found in restaurants, your best bet is to befriend a Chilean that likes cooking and try it in their home during the summer months.
Ah, the chacarero. Is it a cheap lunch special or the answer to a late-night booze-induced hunger craving at the local fuente de soda? You decide. Seemingly incompatible to the untrained eye, this sandwich layers thin strips of grilled steak, sliced tomatoes, green beans, and green chilies between two slices of finca bread. The key ingredient, the green beans, are usually boiled, and the chopped chilies give it an overall mild spicy flavor. Common condiments for it include mayo, cheese, or avocado.
While still a savory pastry packet of meat, the Chilean version of an empanada differs greatly from its Argentine cousin. First off, Chilean empanadas are huge compared to Argentine ones, nearly double the size. Second, they have their own traditional filling: pino, which is a mixture of chopped beef, onion, black olives, hard-boiled egg, and raisins. Baked or fried, they make a great meal or snack to share. Find them in regional varieties throughout the country, including lamb ones in Patagonia and shrimp ones along the coast.
Pastel de Choclo
Similar to shepherd’s pie in its look and consistency, pastel de choclo is a baked Chilean pie, chock full of choclo, a type of corn native to Chile and other South American countries. Pino is the main filler for this dish, which bakers combine with milk and lard, and sometimes chicken, before popping in the oven. The corn and egg make it creamy, while the olives compete with the raisins for a seesawing salty-sweet taste. Known as a comfort food throughout the country, you can find it in farmer’s markets as well as restaurants.
A traditional way of cooking by the Chonos, native people of the Chiloé archipelago in southern Chile, this dish is more than food. Curanto refers to the dish itself and the entire cooking process. Think of it as a Chilean clambake. Dating back to at least 6,000 years ago, the method involves digging a hole in the ground, filling it with hot stones, and cooking clams, meat, sausages, veggies, and milcao (potato bread) inside the pit. Leaves and seaweed are layered inside the pit and giant rhubarb leaves are placed on top to create a seal for the steam to create a stone oven-style of cooking.