Traditional Chile food you need to try (and some you don’t!)

I’ve lived in Chile for just over a year and yet there is still so much food I need to try. Traditional Chilean food isn’t well known around the world, and I’ll be honest I was really disappointed with the cuisine when we first arrived. However the more I explore, the more I discover wonderful street food, delicious local delicacies and exciting new dishes.

For anyone new to the country, or eager to discover Chile food from afar, here’s what I’ve learnt so far…

Chile restaurant

What type of food is Chile known for? 

Chilean food isn’t so famous on the world stage, but in terms of traditional cuisine there are a lot of hearty stews, barbecued meats and filling salads on offer.

I think the main strong point Chile has is the quality of its fruit and vegetables. When bought in season from the market, you simply won’t find any better.

Chile strawberries

What is the national dish of Chile? 

The national dish of Chile is a slow baked stew called curanto (see below). It’s quite an experience!

Tell me about Chile’s street food and Chilean snacks

A typical street food snack would be doughy fried pancakes called sopaipillas (see below).

Nuts and seeds are a common snack here in Chile, too. Chilean hazelnuts (avellano chileno) are sold throughout dried fruit shops (tostaduria) along with pistachios, peanuts, cashews and various types of seeds.

However if you’re stuck in traffic, perhaps the most common snack you’ll see is the Super Ocho. It’s a chocolate bar that seems to be sold on every street corner.

Is food in Chile expensive? 

Yes and no. A lot of restaurants are very overpriced in my eyes, so you need to do your research before you dine out.

Restaurants in Santiago like 99, 040, Borago, Naoki, Mestizo, De Patio and Europeo are some of the best in town. Sure, they’re expensive, but at least they’re worth it. Unfortunately there are also many mediocre restaurants which overcharge and make me wish I’d stayed at home. Cream cheese in soggy warm sushi, anyone?

Of course there are also some fabulous smaller cheaper restaurants and bistros scattered about. Head to providencia, barrio lastarria and bellavista for the best picks. I also really like Bistro Silvestre in Nunoa.

As for raw ingredients, the quality of the seasonal fruit and vegetables is brilliant when shopping at local market or via a vegetable delivery service. However the quality in supermarkets is very, very depressing. For meat, cheese and other groceries, you need to hunt all over the city for the best foodie finds.

040 restaurante food

What about Chilean desserts? 

Chile gets very hot and it’s no surprise that ice cream is a big thing here. El Todo Azul, Moritz Eis and Emporio La Rosa are some of our favourite haunts in Santiago.

Tres leche cake is a vanilla sponge soaked in three types of milk – evaporated, whole and condensed. Accompanied by a toffee sauce, it’s incredibly rich.

If you thought ‘Kuchen’ sounded more like a German treat than a Chilean delicacy, you’d be forgiven. Chile is home to many generations of German immigrants, and the southern island of Chiloe is famous for its German ancestry. Here you can find all sorts of German style pastries, including apple cakes, tarts and cheesecakes.

And of course, no childhood in Chile is complete without a good dose of cuchufli. Cuchufli are wafer cigarettes, sometimes filled with chocolate or a toffee like sauce (see below).

Tres leches cake

And Chile breakfast food? 

If you want a traditional breakfast, go for sopaipilla. My favourite breakfast has to be sopaipilla with a strong cup of tea of the side.

However Chile breakfasts aren’t all about traditional food. Acai bowls, chia puddings and fruit salads with coconut yoghurt are popular at vegetarian restaurants. For a great start to the day try Quinoa or Cafe Cajou if you’re in Santiago.

Let us spread great tablecloths, put salt in lakes of the world, set up planetary bakeries, tables with strawberries in snow, and a plate like the moon itself from which we can all eat.

– Pablo Neruda

A Chile food directory 

Snacks & quick bites:

Empanadas

Empanadas are a savoury pastry envelope, either baked or fried. South Americans tend to argue who made them first, but who cares? They taste great.

Most Chilean empanadas are made with shortcrust pastry, but empanada hoja are made with a flakier puff pastry.

The traditional Chilean version is filled with minced meat (‘pino’), olives, onion and egg, but flavours like cheese and prawns, as well chicken are also popular.

Aside from the traditional fillings, I’ve seen oriental vegetable, spicy tofu as well as pizza mix stuffings. Personally, I love the vegan cheese with mushroom and spinach versions that some health food stock.

The pastries are shaped with a code so you know the filling. So in some stores, for example, a folded edge will mean meat, and a forked edge will mean cheese. I don’t know the code however and generally cut them in half to check or get my husband to take a bite and tell me!

Here’s a good recipe, but if you live in Santiago you can just order some from Lo Saldes.

Chile empanadas

Completo

Yuck. Sorry, but this one’s not for me.

‘Completo’ means full and this Chilean hot dog is full on. Love them or hate them, these hot dogs come laden with just about every condiment imaginable : garlicky mayonnaise, avocado, diced tomato, sauerkraut and chilli sauce.

Friends tell me they’re a guilty pleasure, but I think they look gross. Sorry.

Sopaipilla

When served fresh, sopaipilla are delicious. They’re light doughy pancakes, often served as an aperitif with chanco en piedra or pebre (see below).

These small, fat pancakes are made with pumpkin in the batter, although cheaper copycats might cheat you with food colouring.

In the winter months, a version with a treacly sugar cane sauce make a popular breakfast or midday snack. Called sopaipilla pasada con chancaca, they’re a super sweet delicious treat.

Here’s a recipe, or again you can order from Lo Saldes. Even better, grab some downtown in the street.

sopaipilla

Salads:

Chancho en piedra

Chancho en piedra is a wonderfully refreshing tomato salsa. Tomatoes, onion, garlic, lemon, oil and salt are pummeled together to make this delicious side dish. It’s often served with sopaipilla, as part of an aperitif.

Pebre

Pebre is very similar to chanco en piedra, but it’s made with a lot of fresh coriander and green pepper too. It’s also chopped up finely, not pummeled, and is a more of a side salad, rather than a dipping salsa.

I love a good spoonful of this zingy salad alongside an empanada (or a Venezuelan arepa!).

pebre salad

Breads:

The typical bread roll found all over Chile is the marraqueta. It’s a tear apart roll divided into four parts, but oddly, one roll equals two marraqueta. I find marraqueta a bit rubbery, especially if they’re not super fresh from the oven.

I prefer pan amasado, which is a country bread roll, with a crunchy crust to it.

Masa madre, meanwhile is sourdough bread. Having said that, of all the masa madre bread I’ve tried in Chile, it’s nothing like as sour or crunchy as the versions you’ll find in Europe.

Most bread in Chile comes in the form of white rolls. There’s the hallullla, a round flat roll with form marks on the top, the doblada which is a bread roll which has been folded on itself to make a triangle shape and the pita is really popular too.

French bread is very popular, and we regular opt for baguettes if we’re not making our own bread at home. You can find my favourite bakeries here.

marraqueta bread in Chile

Starters & mains:

Chorrillana

Chorrillana is a not a healthy option, but hey, my kids love it! It’s a food which reminds me of when we first moved to Chile, as my kids ate it a lot when we dined out.

It’s a plate of chips (french fries to my dear American readers!) topped with meat strips, sausage then topped with a fried egg. It always seems to come in a huge portion so one serving is easily enough for my kids to share as a main, or for a few adults to share as a snack or starter.

Ceviche

Peruvians reading this will be furiously typing into the comments section ‘ceviche is from Peru!’ Truth is, you’re probably right. The only difference is perhaps that ceviche in Chile tends to be a bit heartier, I reckon.

In case you’re new to Chilean ceviche, it’s raw fish cured with lemon, onion and herbs. The traditional Chilean ceviche I’ve tried has been made with a mix of diced white fish, finely sliced onions, fresh coriander and lots of lemon.

Ceviche is both light and incredibly rich. It’s low in calories but super filling. I don’t eat as much fish as I used to, but I could only ever eat a small amount of ceviche as a first course. Go easy when ordering!

Mestizo in Santiago’s Vitacura district makes a mean tuna ceviche, while Hotel Verso in Valparaiso serves a truly elegant white fish version (pictured below).

Chile ceviche

Pastel de choclo

Pastel de choclo translates as corn cake, but it’s not sweet. It’s a bit like a Chilean version of the British cottage pie.

This traditional Chile food favourite is a hearty casserole of beef, onions and beef stock, topped off with creamy sweetcorn puree. Every grandmother will have her own recipe, incorporating eggs, olives, raisins and leftover vegetables in varying quantities.

Humitas

Sweetcorn is blended until it resembles a wet flour, then seasoned, wrapped up in corn leaves and steamed. Some people here in Chile eat them with sugar, and even add sugar to the recipe. Personally I don’t like them sweet, but I love the more savoury version.

They’re a lot of work to make, so either make a big batch if you have time to spare, or do like me and just buy them. Life is too short! You can find them in the supermarket, but they’re typically sold on the go, on roadsides.

Humitas make a filling and healthy cheap meal. They’re one of my favourite foods in Chile.

traditional Chilean food - humitas

Stews:

Charquican

Charquican is a drier stew, which was traditionally made with dried beef (charqui). Beef, sweetcorn, beans, potato, pumpkin and any leftover vegetables are slow cooked then piled high and served with a fried egg on top.

I don’t eat meat, so I haven’t tried it, but my kids have and they enjoyed it.

Porotos granados

‘Porotos granados’ are cranberry beans – white and pink beans encased in bright pink shells.

This traditional Chilean dish is a hearty, healthy bean stew – peasant food at its very best. Slow cooked with sweetcorn, pumpkin and a rich vegetable broth, it can be found throughout Chile.

You can find it all year round, but more so in the summer when pumpkin are in season. I ate the best porotos granados ever at Lo Pirque.

Porotos con riendas

‘Porotos con riendas’ translates as beans with spaghetti cuts. This stew tends to be served in winter and is generally made with chorizo, onion and pumpkin. I’ve tried some great vegetarian options, too.

Cazuela

Cazuela means casserole or stew and you’ll find all sorts of different variations in Chile. Most commonly, it’s a steaming broth with carrots, pumpkin, potatoes, a chunk of sweetcorn and chicken or beef, sprinkled over with fresh coriander.

Like many of these traditional Chile foods, other countries in Latin America make their own versions. Here in Chile, I’ve tried a fish cazuela variation which felt light, healthy and comforting.

Curanto

It’s perhaps worth ordering this meaty dish for the experience alone. Curanto is the national food of Chile, and is typically found on an island in the south called Chiloe.

Meat, shellfish, fish, potato pancakes (milcao) and potato dumplings (chapeleles) are carefully buried in the earth, covered with hot coals and topped with leaves. After a few hours, everyone takes a turn at unearthing the goodies. My kids had a ball helping out.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t like it, but I have friends who say this would be their last supper. So there you go.

curanto

Desserts & sweets:

Manjar

Known in other parts of the world as dulce de leche, this is a sickly sweet sauce made with condensed milk. It’s ubiquitous here in Chile and my kids can’t seem to go a day without it.

You’ll find it in biscuits, cakes, donuts, as a spread and even in breakfast cereals.

Cuchufli

For me, Cuchufli are the iconic food of Chile. They’re sweet cigarette wafers, often filled with manjar or chocolate. I see them for sale on the roadside, outside church and on the go.

Often collected together in a bundle to form a cake, they were the centrepiece of any birthday at my kids’ school. Cuchufli remind me of my kids’ wonderful school and their seemingly weekly birthday parties.

If ever my kids get homesick for Chile, I’ll be tracking down cuchuflis to make them smile again.

Have you tried any traditional Chilean foods? Got any other favourites I should try? Leave me a comment below!


2 Comments

  1. Vikki Kay
    July 25, 2020 / 12:08 am

    Northern Chile is famous for chumbeque, but I never saw it anywhere else. Our kids loved their meals ‘a lo pobre’ – meat (mostly steak) with rice, chips, caramelised onion and topped with two fried eggs. Choripan for snacks while you wait around the asado. And the carbonada stew was a traditional (with local variations) that we had in different parts of Chile. I would respectfully disagree about pastel de choclo – I’ve often eaten it with a caramelised sugar crust (just like a creme brulee!) or without the crust but with added sweetener throughout.

    • Nina
      Author
      July 25, 2020 / 7:31 pm

      I am so gutted that I never got a chance to see northern Chile, but I do hope to visit someday. I’ll but chumbeque on my list then! I do love a (vegan) version of the pastel de choclo ( I know a lot of traditionalists will hate the idea of a vegan version, but hey!) I have tried humitas with sugar, and I’ll agree to disagree on the adding of sugar there 🙂 Now I’m hungry for humitas!

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