One of the most popular question after our trip in Chile was: how’s the food there. It was also one of our main concerns as traditional food is an easy and effective gateway to get to know the local culture. After few days in the country and many kilos more, here’s our answer to that question, conveniently organized in thematic areas.
There’s no proper meal that doesn’t start with a Pisco Sour, and so does our feast of food and words on the Chilean cousine. The pisco sour is a traditional drink whose origins are disputed between Chile and Peru, and it’s a very common feature on the restaurant tables. It’s a cocktail
- 3 parts Pisco (a strong local brandy)
- 1 part lime juice (the original recipe requires the use of limon ,a variety of lime that can only be found in South America)
- 1 part simple (sugar) syrup
All is mixed and shaken with egg white and ice. The cocktail is very refreshing and, as the name suggests, quite sour even if the sugar syrup takes the edges off it. It also seems way less strong than it actually is, drink 3 or 4 and you’ll know what I mean.
Walking on the streets of Santiago – or visiting a market – in a warm day, you’ll notice countless people holding a cup of mote huesillo, usually sold at small and usually improvised corner stalls and carts. It’s a soft drink, a sugary juice made by boiling dried peaches (huesillos) with added wheat (mote) which is previously cooked until tender.
It’s a very distinctive and traditional Chilean drink and should be tried at least once.
Beer and Wine
The local beers, or at least those sold everywhere, are less than memorable… but good all the same! Escudo and Cristal are a safe choice for lager, whereas I wouldn’t order Austral again: it’s more expensive than all the others (at least in Santiago) and tastes more like our supermarkets own brand value beer.
Living in England I got immediately accustomed with the rich range of Chilean wine. I felt home browsing through those Maipo and Aconcagua and, if you are staying around Santiago or Valparaiso, you can actually go and see where the wine that drenches your parties comes from.
Pebre can’t miss on any respectable table. It’s usually served with warm bread and the recipe changes according to the chef. However it’s not the ingredients to change but their proportions. Roughly a bowl of pebre contains:
- Chopped tomato
- Oil and Vinegar
- Coriander (this gives me the impression I’m eating spicy soap, if you feel the same you can replace it with parsley)
- Chilli pepper (just a pinch for a little kick)
King of the festivals, the choripan is the Chilean version of a hot dog. A much tastier version. It’s easy to find, you just have to follow the sweet smell of roasting meat and you’ll find some guy BBQing the hell out of a pile of soft chorizos, which will be then served in a bun. If you dare you can ask for the full experience and get the choripan covered with a sprinkle of marinated chopped onions.
This snack is not so unique, it’s not much different to the cornish pasties or the Italian panzerotti, but they are so good that you should use them to fill any empty moment between a meal and the next one. They can be found in many bar or, even better, directly in bakeries, their fillings are variations on the themes of cheese, meat or vegetables.
Cordero and Lomo
I wish I could quote here the entire passionate description Ramon – our guide to the land of the Emperor penguins – gave us when asked “what is a cordero?” All I remember is that it’s a lamb, but when does a lamb stop being a lamb and grows into a sheep? Well, Ramon knows that, all I know is that whatever is labelled as “cordero” is utterly delicious.
The next good thing you’ll find on a menu is lomo, which is the loin of mainly an animal that’s halfway between a veal and a beef. Always according to Ramon, of course.
All the meat I tasted here had a taste I almost forgot, the taste of the meat my mum used to buy at the butcher round the corner who named his animals before woefully killing them, their meat tasty and soft. Maybe because those animals in Chile can live, run and love on nearly endless pastures?
You’ll see them mindlessly strolling the Patagonian prairie, jumping fences, munching grass and occasionally stopping to graze you with their sleepy dumb eyes, like cute little llamas. You can’t help loving those funny little llamas.
But as we sat in a traditional restaurant in Patagonia we found it: the guanaco. We felt a bit guilty, I’ll admit, but we couldn’t miss this chance of eating such an unusual meat. The texture is quite dry yet juicy, a bit like game, with that wild touch, usually served as in a stew.
We’ve been warmly recommended this as the typical dish from Valparaiso, “not to be missed” they said. Our people in Valpo also made sure that we went to the “Best restaurant for chorillana” in town, so to get the most out of this experience. Actually it’s just a big dish of chips covered with meat scratchings, onions and fried eggs. Nothing too exotic, nor that could be put together at my local pub.
The word “chupe” is a term used for the south american stew and it can be done with any kind of ingredients. The one we tried at the Central Market in Santiago is chupe marisco, a thick soup with varieties of seafood I’ve never seen before in my life, topped with breadcrumbs and a bit of grated cheese. The best dish I’ve tried in Chile.
Each mollusc in this concoction keeps its distinguished flavour which makes it an incredible experience for your tasting buds.
Translated as scallops, the locos we tried, recommended by the energetic lady running the show at the little restaurant in the Central Market in Santiago, are different than their European counterparts. Big as an apricot and meaty like an octopus, they’re served in the simplest way: boiled with boiled potatoes a side. We couldn’t stop at the fist serving but we wisely followed the lady’s suggestion who told us not to overdo, and come back the next day. As we did.
They can’t be found any time of the year so it’s always better to ask for the freshest fish and hope that locos are amongst them.
The name is misleading, in fact this is nothing like the more famous spanish paella. It’s a soup of fish and seafood, including cockles, locos and mussels bigger than I have ever seen. All soaked in a fire hot broth sparkled with parsley. I found the red molluscs a bit weird, both the texture and taste were quite…unpleasant.
After such a long list of savoury food it’s finally time for dessert. It’s impossible to resist the chocolate in South America, we couldn’t leave without having tasted it. There are lots of bars, some with an unexpected central European look, where to sit down and enjoy a piping hot chocolate, or some of the countless pralines.
Also find a patisserie or a bakery and follow your instinct: we haven’t tried anything we didn’t like!