As well as great wines, Chile produces some great food. You can eat spectacularly well in most of the central part of Chile, most notably in Santiago though the small town of Puerto Varas also has some first rate restaurants.
Food in Chile
What makes Chilean food so good are the raw materials. The fish and shellfish come in from Chile’s enormously long coastline every day to the markets in Santiago. Go to the central market in Santiago to see sparkling fresh fish and shellfish piled high. To give you an idea of the quality, much of the Sushi you will find in Tokyo comes from Chile.
From the pure mountain streams of Patagonia and the Chilean Lakes come trout and salmon. From the fertile central valley to the south of Santiago come abundant fruit and vegetables. From the wide open plains of Patagonia comes lamb and beef equal to the best in the world. Add a glass of wine and you’re all set to enjoy your holiday to Chile.
The food available is very much a factor of which region you are in: don’t expect too much in the way of fruits and vegetables in Patagonia. Meats, fish and seafood are excellent throughout.
Vegetarians are well catered for in Santiago and in the Atacama. Things are getting better for vegetarians in places like Pucon, Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt.
You will find choices in the more remote area of Paatagonia are going to be fairly limited.
Cazuela is simple but Chile’s most typical dish. It is a meat stew with vegetables including potatoes, pumpkin and green beans.
Pastel de choclo a delicious summer dish that reflects Chile’s Andean tradition (it is also served in Peru and Ecuador). Basically it looks a bit like a cottage pie but the crust is ground corn with a lightly spiced meat and onion filling. It can also be chicken. It’s simply but delicious. You can find this dish everywhere in Chile, from north to south.
Empanada basically a meat and onion pasty with raisins, a trademark slice of egg at one end and a single, unpitted olive lurking inside. One of the most typical Chilean dishes. It can also be prepared with cheese and shellfish.
Humitas is made with ground corn, some chopped herbs, a little bit of milk and that’s it.
Beans often seasoned with a touch of chilli pepper in the winter, sometimes with noodles and ground corn, and almost always come with a type of delicious sausage.
Asado Chilean barbeque is a rite starting from the time the charcoal is first lit. Everybody becomes a chef and tries to take over. The Chilean barbeque generally features chicken, pork and beef though in Patagonia lamb is the norm.
Cocimiento is a motley variety of sea food all cooked together in a stew.
Curanto is a form of stew traditionally served on the island of Chiloe. Simply dig a hole in the ground, fill it with glowing embers. Lower in your ceramic pot filled to the brim with all sorts of seafood, potatoes and sausages. Fill in the hole and leave for 24 hours or so.
Of course, most restaurants do not go to quite such lengths but an authentic traditional curanto is quite something!
Chile’s cuisine features a wide range of sea food with a wide variety of recipes, so much so that it deserves a heading of its own.
Locos (abalone) a tasty bivalve that only exists in Chile. Usually served with mayonnaise.
Corvina is Chilean sea bass and famous around the world for its quality.
Centolla (king crab) from Patagonia is a serious delicacy.
Langosta (lobster) from the Juan Fernández islands is another highly sought after delicacy.
Machas (South American razor clams) baked with fresh parmesan cheese melted over the top.
Ceviche is fish marinated in lemon with onions and coriander, delicious.
Machas (pink clams) baked in the oven with parmesan are a very popular and delicious dish.
Congrio (conger eel) usually served fried.
In case we have left anything out, the full range of seafood from Chile’s abundant Pacific territories include: salmon, sea bass, sea eel, abalone clams (almejas), mussels (choritos), crab (cangrejo), sea urchin (erizos), calamari, octopus (pulpo), and scallops (ostiones).
Drinks in Chile
Coffee in Chile, as is the case in much of South America, is usually instant, be prepared. When you ask for a coffee, you will usually be brought a cup of hot water and there on the table is a jar of Nescafe.
If you are tea drinker be careful not to ask for tea with milk. Firstly, you are likely to be met with a slightly surprised look. Secondly, you may be presented with a cup of warm milk with a teabag floating in it. Our advice is that you ask for tea and only once they have brought it to you should you ask for some milk.
Local beers and soft drinks are obtainable everywhere.
The wine is world class and includes many which never make it out of the country. For more unusual reds you should try a carmenere and a malbec as well as the more usual Cabernet Sauvignons & Merlots.
Whenever in a restaurant, ask for their recommendation. White wine is ‘blanco’, red ‘tinto’.
Pisco Sour is another popular drink, a brandy based drink mixed with lime, sugar, egg white and cinnamon.
Cristal, Polar and Kunstmann brands are the most widely available lagers, along with one darker beer, Malta. To order a large draught beer, ask for a ‘schop’ (pron. ‘chop’).
Coffee in liquid form is often brought to the table in a small jug accompanied by a mug of hot water to which you add the coffee essence and milk (leche).
Going against popular belief, food, rather than water, is usually the culprit of intestinal problems. Eating well cooked, piping hot food, is possibly the best way to avoid problems.
Salads in particular should be avoided until you are used to the country. Fruits that must be peeled before being eaten, such as bananas, pineapples, and oranges are a safe bet.
Fish and shellfish in restaurants and markets are generally safe.