Chile is a country that offers it all! Glaciers, mountains, vineyards, beaches, deserts, big cities and cute little towns, you name it, Chile has it. And yet all of this would mean nothing to me if the food was not good, for what better window into the soul of a society than through their cuisine. Well I can safely say that Chile delivers on all fronts, especially when it comes to food. After some pretty dubious and sometimes out-right gross experiences in Argentina and Uruguay I was relieved and overjoyed to find that the food in Chile is anything but gross. Simple, yes, humble, sure, but always delicious! In a month I didn't have a bad meal. I ate at markets, street stalls, nice restaurants and casual pubs in Santiago, Valparaíso, La Serena, Antofagasta and San Pedro de Atacama and found delicious morsels at every turn. My only regret is that I didn't have longer to see more regions and experience more unique dishes and native ingredients.
I thought I would put together a compilation of all the yummiest things I sampled in the hopes of inducing envy in the hearts of all my food loving friends (really I only wish to inspire you to rush to Chile and sample for yourself).
Feast your eyes on these...
Aaaall the ceviche
What can I say? I loooooove ceviche! It's so fresh, zesty, light, flavourful and it always leaves you feeling nourished but wanting more!
The best ceviche I've ever had. I had to go back a second time to Kinsa in the Bellavista suburb of Santiago. THE.BEST!
Delicious and chunky with avocado and corn from Mulato in the Lastarria suburb of Santiago
Classic ceviche entree from Norma's in Valparaíso, Chile.
Even in the middle of the San Pedro de Atacama Desert the ceviche was spot on. This time made with salmon and served with crunchy Peruvian canchitas.
The fresh seafood
Paella from the Mercado Central in Santiago. It was missing the saffron but made up for it with an abundance of fresh seafood. Sitting on top next to the scallop is what's called a piure. Piure are a bizarre little seafood to be found off the coast of Chile and Peru. They are camouflaged to look like rocks and the red thing you can see is an organ from inside. They are very high in iron but I confess I wasn't a big fan as they are very intense in flavour. The cat I was feeding under the table was also not a fan so it wasn't just me.
Caldo de Mariscos, a bubbling hot broth filled with fresh seafood, also from the Mercado Central in Santiago. Simple but satisfying with a pisco sour and some bread with pebre.
Machas a la Parmesana from Taulat in Valparaíso. These delicious morsels are razor clams baked in a creamy white wine sauce topped with parmesan. This classic Chilean entree hails from the seaside city of Viña del Mar.
Seafood with fresh hand made squid ink pasta from Il paparazzo restaurant in Valparaíso. Rather than a classic olive oil or cream sauce it was something of a reduced seafood broth that had a light seafood gravy consistency.
Seafood fettucine from Taulat in Valparaíso. Once again the sauce was like a seafood gravy, unusual (to me) but very delicious.
Other typical Chilean foods
Well first of all these atrocious photos are driving my OCD crazy and I have no idea why I didn't straighten the bowls!! In my defence they were hot and I was probably hungry and eager to get the pesky photo taking business out of the way so I could chow down. What we have here is the sample platter of classic Chilean pastels (pot pies) from Kinsa in Bellavista, Santiago. On the left we have a northern Chilean classic made with dried meat. This was my least favourite as it was essentially just a béchamel with sparse flecks of dried beef in it and it wasn't particularly tasty. Luckily the other two were absolutely delicious. In the middle is a prawn and creamed corn pie and on the right a creamy crab pie. This style of pot pie is typical and ubiquitous in Chile. Classic home cooked soul food, these are usually made and served in individual bowls and they go down a treat in Chile's cool weather. This dish offered an opportunity to sample all three but if I were to go back and pick a main sized one it would be the prawn and creamed corn one for sure. SO GOOD!
Sopapillas! Essentially just dough made with pumpkin then deep fried, these bad boys, while not unique to Chile, are sold by street food vendors all over Chile, particularly at around 5pm on week days anywhere there's a crowd of commuters heading home. A cheap and delicious snack when served with some fresh pebre (Chilean fresh salsa). The ones pictured are from a bar in San Pedro de Atacama but I usually just grabbed one on the street on my way home from days exploring Santiago and Valparaíso.
Up in the north of Chile you find a lot of Andean influences in the cuisine. Here we have one llama burger served with quinoa tabouleh and roasted paprika potatoes. Llama is very common in the north and often comes in an empanada or in lieu of beef (steak, lasagne etc). It's better for the environment than beef and is quite a lean meat...but it's very..meaty.
The most perfectly tender pork ribs I have ever seen on what was essentially a bed of potato risotto. They do magical things with the humble potato up in the Andean regions and this really blew me away. The potato was diced and somehow remained al dente even when mixed with the delicious creamy seasonings. This whole dish was flavour and texture perfection and the pork was just falling off the bones. The restaurant in San Pedro de Atacama was called adobe. What was memorable was that afterwards I inadvertently started a dog fight on the street. You see Chile has a really bad stray dog problem and I want to adopt ALL of them. Obviously I can't do that but I could not bare to see the big slab of fat on the top and several juicy bones from within go to waste when there were hungry dogs all around the streets. So naturally I wrapped the scraps up in many napkins and smuggled them out in my bag. I went looking for a lone ranger who looked hungry and soon found my guy, but I was only half a block away before some other dog was trying to muscle in which led to a scrap. They were about the same size so hopefully it didn't get too ugly but I felt like a prize twit for creating the situation in the first place. The smaller the South American town, the more you notice the stray dog problem and it is truly heartbreaking.
Pork tenderloin served on a bed of mote grain with a plum sauce from Mulato in Lastarria, Santiago. The most interesting thing abut this dish is the mote, a grain similar to barley, which is typically served in an unusual Chilean drink called Mote con Huesillos. The mote sits at the bottom of a cup of fruity syrup and a big preserved apricot or peach floats above it. It's served cold and is sold by street vendors as a refreshment in warm weather. The dish was an interesting play on a local ingredient and it was delicious!
Caldillo de Congrio - Conger eel broth. Conger eel is very common in Chile although I have to admit I wasn't particularly fond of its texture. This dish had a full on smokey flavour thanks to the chunk of smoked pork belly hiding under the conger eel, rendering the broth more salty and smokey than seafood-y. Even the mussels took on the smokey flavour. The potatoes are native to Chiloe, in Chile's south. Mulato restaurant in Lastarria, Santiago builds its menu around classic Chilean cuisine and native ingredients.
A virtual dessert to round out the post. Many an afternoon we stopped in Santiago cafes for a coffee and a cake. This Tres Leches (three milk) cake is very typical in Chile. Layers of sponge, cream and manjar (Chile's answer to Argentina's dulce de leche and in my opinion it's much better) and a nice layer of berry to balance out all the creaminess. Good coffee is pretty hard to come by in South America (ironically) but Santiago proved to be not too shabby on the espresso front.
This barely scratches the surface of the wonderful world of Chilean cuisine but I hope it is enough to encourage people to bump Chile up the bucket list. Do it for the ceviche, you'll be so glad you did!!