11 Tips about Chilean Food

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Ceviche

11 Tips about Chilean Food

Being such a long country (4,270 km or 2,647 miles of coastline) stretched over a variety of landscapes (from deserts to glaciers), Chile has a vast range of food.

Yet, every now and then you will hear a foreigner say that Chilean food is boring.
Well, I’d like to say that whoever says Chilean food is bland or boring isn’t eating in the right places! OK, so it isn’t spicy, and doesn’t often have those interesting concoctions that explode the taste buds in your mouth but still, I quite like Chilean food.

What you will find is that you need to try some traditional meals outside of the typical restaurants dotting Santiago and the touristy places (which are only ho-hum). Have you ever tried a real curanto that has just come out of the ground in Chiloé? It’s nothing like the one they make in a pot. The wet earthen smells and smoky taste are great!

There are of course some eating habits that take some getting used to but it is all a part of the idiosyncrasies of Chile and what makes it so different and interesting.

1. Would you like some salt on your salt?
What amazes me is that Chileans automatically put salt on their food before they have even tried it! What’s with that? Are they already assuming that it’s tasteless? The thing is, when you watch them cook, they shake the life out of the salt shaker so there’s plenty of it already in the food.

2. Salads
The first salad I had in Chile took me by surprise. My eyes watered, my jaw dropped and I cringed, all because they had put lemon on my salad. It was like the lettuce had bitten back. We don’t put lemon juice on our salads in NZ, if anything we put a dressing on it which is more to the sweet side than acidic. I actually don’t mind it now but when you aren’t expecting it, it can be a shock to the system.

3. Seafood
Chile, with its long coastline, is proud of the large variety of seafood it has available. Problem is that his is true mostly outside of Santiago. (What do you expect, it’s not a coastal city). To try the best seafood you will need to go to the local fish markets down at the wharves of coastal towns for the freshest and most interesting variety. Remember that it should always be cooked unless you don’t mind being hospitalized for intoxication.

4. Fruit and Vegetables
You will find that the best fruit and vegetables get exported and we are left with the dregs at the supermarket. I still cringe at the bruised and blemished fruit on display that make it look like it is already half-rotten. Probably the best place to buy your fruit and vegies is not at the supermarket but at the local Ferias or temporary markets that line a street for the day in different neighbourhoods. The produce on display is usually quite good and much cheaper than the supermarket. Now that I think about it, we should start a list of where and when these markets are. Anyone know of any of these Ferias near them?

Another alternative in Santiago is the famous La Vega which is across the river from the Mercado Central (Central Market) at the Cal y Canto Metro Station. Prices are good, as is the variety. I used to go there all the time when I lived downtown.
You must remember to wash AND peel all fruit and vegetables. If the locals do it, you had better too. Also make sure you check the lettuce for any creepy crawlies.

5. Bread
What Chileans normally have are Hallullas (disc-shaped bread) or Marraquetas (a roll that’s fluffy inside) that are baked that same day. I find the loaves of sliced bread drier and sometimes a little stale (yes, I do check the dates) since they aren’t a normal part of the Chilean diet and sit on the shelf for a longer period of time.

6. Manjar
No, it’s not a jar filled with diced up men. Manjar is a sweet brown spread that is used in almost every dessert or pastry that you will find in Chile. It’s nice at first though can become sickly after the first kilo or so. You are guaranteed to come across this while you are here.

7. Street Food
My iron-clad stomach allows me to eat off the street though I wouldn’t recommend it to foreigners that are new to Chile unless they want to pass a couple of days hugging a toilet bowl.

A typical food found on the streets are Sopaipillas. A Sopaipilla is a flat circular fried bread made from pumpkin and flour and are best when smothered in Pebre or mustard. The sopaipillas stands are great in winter. You can find many of them on corners down in the center of the city and again the locals themselves say I shouldn’t eat at them since they are a health risk. Fortunately I have never had a problem and actually look forward to them after work.

8. Curry is not hot
It’s hard to find a decent curry here, even at ‘Indian’ restaurants since they are normally run by Chileans. Curry here is very mild, sometimes bordering on the sweet side at times. If you like hot burn-you-mouth-and-your-butt curries, you may have to bring your own jar of it.

9. Fast Food
Like the rest of the unhealthy world, Chileans love their fast food. You can easily get your doses of MierDonalds (a play on words for those that know Spanish), Pizza Hut, KFC etc as well as your Starbucks for your caffeine cravings. But why travel thousands of miles to eat something you can get back home? Chile has their own fast food places such as Fritz (German burgers), Pagoda (Chinese food) and Lomitón (more burgers and hotdogs). Notice that there are none that serve local dishes. Your best bet for that type of food are the ‘Healthy’ fast food buffets where you pick and mix.

10. Vegetarian Food
Vegetarians go hungry. If you ask for a vegetarian meal you will 9 times out of 10 be given some lettuce with some slices of tomato on the side (and maybe a quarter of a lemon). How original! Little by little there is a growing awareness that vegetarian dishes don’t have to be boring but it is not as wide spread as in other countries. The only decent vegetarian café that immediately comes to mind (in this city of 6 million people) is El Huerto which is at Orrego Luco 54, Providencia, Santiago (Metro Pedro de Valdivia) www.elhuerto.cl. Since Vegetarian food is not my forté, do you know of any other good vegetarian cafés, hangouts or tips in general?

11. My favourite dish
Since I am a carnivore, my favourite dish is Bife a lo Pobre or ‘Poor Beef’. It is anything but poor and if you are seriously hungry, it is guaranteed to fill you up. It contains steak smothered in caramelized onions, French fries and a couple of fried eggs on top. Not the best for your cholesterol but oh so yummy! The ones they make at Eladio restaurant (in Providencia) are divine.

And on the subject of restaurants if one of them doesn’t serve pebre, (a seasoning of tomatoes with chopped onion, chili, coriander, and chives that you smother over the bread they give you while you wait) then I don’t usually go back there. I love the stuff.

For a complete list of Chilean Food with its name in Spanish and what it is in English, check out: Typical Chilean Food.

What’s your favourite Chilean dish?
Do you have any more tips to share?

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46 Responses to “11 Tips about Chilean Food”

  1. Emily August 17, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    I would include all the sandwiches/hot dogs in your fast food category – and what’s more Chilean than a completo or a Barros Luco?!

    • woodward August 18, 2010 at 12:05 am #

      You reminded me of another tip…

      A hamburger is not a hamburger.
      If you order an ‘hamburguesa’ you just get a meat patty sitting all by its lonesome self on a plate. The first time I got served this I thought I was getting ripped off.
      If you are looking for a hamburger-ish experience in Chile then you usually need to order a Sandwich which is bread or buns crammed with as much as possible in between.

      Hotdogs can also be a little different here. I don’t often eat completos unless I can scarp the chucrut out of it. My favourite Chilean hotdog is an ‘Italiano’ brimming with avocado. Yum!

      I really love homemade Barros Lucos!

  2. Matia September 8, 2010 at 11:29 am #

    I’m Chilean but I don’t eat my food with salt.
    My whole family does and I mean when I ask my grandma to make a healthy salad with no salt.. the first thing she does is put a litre of oil, then a good “PINCH” of salt and lemon. Salt is second nature to everyone.. it’s just normal. Just like using alot of oil, garlic, we love lemons and our MEAT!!
    To the foreigners the Chilean way probs looks like its very excessive.
    Bread is a must!… No way would we be able to eat without our bread at the table.
    Curry.. Lets just say we’re not in India sooo of course we r not going to be good at it.. plus Indians use a billion spices so how are we mean’t to get it right.
    I know we have a major SWEET TOOTH lol I gotta say our sweets and cakes are veryyyyyyy yummmm!!
    Vegetarian??… I don’t even think in Chile we know what that means. Chileans eat meat and alot of it. On our Independence day or a celebration must likely your gonna see a whole cow cooking.

    • woodward September 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm #

      Hi Matia,
      You’re not the only one that has a sweet tooth! I live on chocolate (and berlines y pasteles y tortas y…)

      “the first thing she does is put a litre of oil” made me laugh because I can imagine it happening.

      It’s interesting how you mentioned both salt and bread in your comments as the same topic was in the news today about a government initiative to reduce the amount of salt in bread by 50% before 2014.

      A fact about Chileans love of salt:
      (A loose translation of part of an Article in La Hora Newspaper today)

      Chile is one of the countries which the highest consumption of salt in the world. According to Eliana Reyes nutritionist of the U de los Andes “We consume double the recommendation, that is, between 8 and 12 grams of salt per day when the optimal amount is no more than 4 grams”.

  3. Frances September 8, 2010 at 10:11 pm #

    I’ve heard through the grapevine that there’s a great place for, vegetarian empanadas in Santiago (if you’re into that sort of thing). It’s called En Arte Vegetal and you can find it in Amunátegui 1415, near metro station Moneda.

    • woodward September 9, 2010 at 10:49 am #

      Thanks for the tip Frances!

  4. Margaret September 9, 2010 at 10:14 am #

    1. Salt- yes, tons. (Un)fortunately, I’ve adapted
    2. Salads- love the lemon juice-olive oil combination. Still have a hard time with eating all vegetables cold.
    6. Manjar- I’ll leave that to the Chileans. just way too sweet!
    9. Chilean fast food: empanadas & pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken to go)
    10. Vegetarian dishes often include ham because “carne” (meat) is more often than not is equated with beef. Chilean home cooking, however, includes lots of meatless dishes (lots of beans and tortillas)
    11. Favorite Chilean dish: cazuela de vacuno! (in the US we eat steak & eggs after the bars close!)

    • woodward September 9, 2010 at 10:56 am #

      2. Funny, It’s so normal to have cold vegetables here that I had actually forgotten that they’re normally served heated back in NZ.
      9. Pollo a la brasa YUM!
      10. You are right that there are many vegetarian dishes in Chilean homes (Porotos, Guiso de Zapallo Italiano…) and despite being a serious meat-eater myself I love them (more than salads that don’t do anything for me).

      Oh, I love September because its BBQ season!

  5. Tim Vincent September 26, 2010 at 4:42 am #

    I would agree with you that the best food in any country is always found in the smaller side street places where it is more likely to be specific to the people in that area.

  6. Laura October 1, 2010 at 6:38 pm #

    Hmm… the salads are confusing here. In the States, you can get such yummy salads with all of the ingredients mixed together. But here, the vegetables shall not mix. Ever. I went to Oh! Salad Garden, hoping to have a Cosi-like experience, but my salad was made in layers, not mixed. Why is it that Chileans like to mix their own food, and not have it mixed for them?

  7. Keko Gerlach October 13, 2010 at 4:32 pm #

    I don’t like your comments much. The main reason chilean food is “boring” is because the country is so generous with a plenty sources of food, that you don’t have to add sauces or differents ingredients to hide anything.
    So, you eat it natural, which means you don’t put a tonne of chile pepper or else.
    By the way, europeans love chilean sausages.

    • woodward October 13, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

      Hi Keko, I think you misunderstood what I wrote. I said “whoever says it is boring isn’t eating in the right places!”
      I wonder how Germans compare their sausages to the Chilean ones. No misinterpretations please! :)
      Saludos
      Rob W

  8. roclafamilia October 21, 2010 at 8:11 am #

    Helpful blog, bookmarked the website with hopes to read more!

    • woodward October 21, 2010 at 8:58 am #

      Thanks RoclaFamilia!

  9. susanna December 7, 2010 at 4:28 pm #

    This a true story!!

    I was living in Chile and working at a factory as a translator. When we would go for lunch everyone would grab bread and have it with there food except for me. Then when it was cold out a little old lady would come to the office and sell freshly baked warm bread and everyone would run out to buy some and come by my office and ask if I wanted one. I would say no. So one day we are all sitting down at lunch and one lady says, can you believe that Susanna doesn’t like bread? All the ladies looked at me and echoed, really? strange? why not? and finally one of the ladies who had a very high HR position in the company looks at me and says……….. Ohhh your one of those vegetarians! haha i thought it was sooo funny so I agree most people don’t even know what a vegetarian is!! Great blog have had fun reading it.

    • woodward December 9, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

      Thanks for the story susanna. It made me chuckle! The comment of the HR person doesn’t surprise me.
      Saludos.

      On a side note, is there such a thing as a breadatarian?

  10. Sora December 27, 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    great blog – have written down the names of the two veggie restaurants, so thanks to Woodward and Frances.
    Perhaps a strange question – I’m allergic to Capsaicin (active compound in chilli peppers) – So how much are chillies used in Chile??
    (mind you as a vegetarian, looks like I’ll be mostly eating lettuce anyway!)
    thanks

    • woodward January 12, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

      Chillies are not used as much in the cooking as in other Latin-American countries. The most common use is in Pebre (a favourite of mine) though that usually comes in its own little dish at entreé time (or others). You might want to keep away from anything that contains Ají (Chilean Spanish for Chilli)

      You may also find it in some salads too in the form of slices of Capsicum. Caspsicum is used more than the Chilli peppers I think.

      Can anyone else help with this response?

  11. Maureen February 6, 2011 at 4:51 am #

    I laughed at your story of the hamburger/ hamburguesa.

    I’m married to a Chilean. One day mu husband asked for hamburger at the counter at the butcher, the person looked at him weird…he ended up buying minced meat to make his own hamburguesas.

    I later told him the meat is known as a meat patty…

    He also always complains that they dont serve bread or bredsticks at restaurants here in Australia while you wait for your meal like in Chile & doesnt understand why not.

    I enjoyed the blog.

    • woodward February 6, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

      The bread at the start of the meal is a great “fill their stomach before the main course” tactic which you think they would do more in Restaurants downunder.
      I just LOVE the slapping some Pebre on buttered bread at the start of a meal.

      I have learnt to be suspicious of the contents of Meat Patties in every country so I also do my own version of minced meat patty.
      Then again, you can’t be too sure of what’s in the mince either.

      How did your husband find the lemonless salads?

  12. lorena February 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    So funny.. I’m Chilean and all the facts stated in this article are seriously truth!!! LOL.. Thanks for taking your time describing so accurately about our dishes!

  13. tiff beck February 28, 2011 at 12:59 am #

    Cool Tips about Chilian foods.

  14. Tia February 28, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

    Loved this post! So true! I’m Chilena, but grew up in the States. I LOVE comida chilena, especially all the fresh veggies! I grew up with lemon as salad dressing, so that’s normal, but the salt situation is a little much for me!

    I’m also Vegan. I don’t normally spend much time in Santiago, my family lives more south, so I’m not familiar with veg-friendly places in the city. Although a cousin-in-law took me to one great place near Uni once, but I don’t remember the name or where it was! jaja But the great thing about Santiago is that I could find “queso de soya” (tofu) at the cheese counter of most supermercados!

    True that most people don’t know what vegetarian means (and certainly not vegan), but most everyone is very respectful of my needs. As long as I listed what I could NOT eat, explaining that I was “allergic”, family, friends and restaurant cooks would put together some fantastically huge veggie plates for me! The usual lettuce & tomato, of course, but also rice, beans, boiled potatoes, onions, palta, corn, palmitos, olives, and tons of aji/pebre (all neatly separated, of course!) One of my favorite Chilean dishes is Porotos Granados! *drool* Now I’m hungry.

    • woodward March 2, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

      Hi Tía,
      Saying you are “allergic” is a good tip. That way they will be more careful about what they prepare.
      In the States do you get funny looks for putting lemon on your salad?
      Rob

      • Tia March 14, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

        Jaja, yes I do get funny looks when I use lemon! Although I haven’t figured out if it’s because I decline regular salad dressing or because I’m using lemon instead.

  15. ginaisabel April 22, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    Ah, so true! As a Chilean-American, I tend to get pissed when Americans assume all Latin American foods are spicy. Chileans can’t STAND spicy, and it’s only through some hard work that I’ve been able to get used to curry, which I L-O-V-E.

    I also spent a few days traveling around Chile with a vegetarian. I can’t imagine being a vegetarian, since Chilean meat is so delicious, and it certainly is a pain to find anything that isn’t lettuce, tomato, or avocado. Sometimes we would spend an hour hunting down a restaurant where she could eat (and tack that onto how utterly slow the service is at restaurants, and you’ve got a 2-3 hour almuerzo). She basically ate sandwiches for most of the trip. A good alternative is just to buy your food at the market instead of eating out, even if you’re on vacation. I would say the one plus I saw about being vegetarian in Chile is the great PALMITOS! I’ve rarely seen these in the States, and they are so, so good.

  16. Calver April 29, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

    This might be late but have you tried La Fuente Alemana?.
    Lomito Completo it’s my favourite. (Lomito, chucrut, salsa de tomates y mayonesa casera)

    • Rob W. April 29, 2011 at 5:56 pm #

      Hi Calver,
      La Fuente Alemana… SI!
      But I prefer Lomito Italiano more than the Completo version… I love the Chilean habit of Avocado in many things. What makes me laugh is that the Brazilians consider the avocado a fruit (is it?) and have it with sugar or as a dessert and look at Chilean completos as though it was alien or something.
      Saludos
      Rob

  17. blanca June 12, 2011 at 8:18 pm #

    I am Chilean and I cook pastel the choclo, empanadas, once a year, and pebre, but the real pebre not tomatoes and very spicy. My pebre is very popular where I work. That’s the only thing they ask me to bring for the parties. They like everything I cook, but everyone prefer my pebre and nobody can make it like mine. Many times I prepare it at the office so everyone can learn.
    I have intruced erizos to my friends, I have a group of international friend that when my husband go diving we have a see urchin (erizos) party.

    • Sonia May 22, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

      Dear Blanca. I am chilean with 42 years residing in this country. Believe me, I missed my chilean food almost every day, I have try to cook some of it recipes but for some reason I don’t get the some flavour. I tried to make pebre, but I must have done something wrong, because I get a bitter taste, please can you help. Love. Sonia.

  18. holly lee November 18, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    my daughter going to val pariso chile to study abroad for 5 months what do the local homes eat daily? and where can she go safely alone?

  19. angeles November 29, 2011 at 2:20 am #

    i am Chilean, i have been living out of my country for a while, and the things that i really miss the most, bacause you dont find in other country and because they are great are>
    1) Carne al jugo con Pure> Really soft meat with smash potatoe, served usually in what we call ” Parada de camionero” (Track drivers high way lunch stops)… usually really cheap and always good!.
    2) hamburguer, lomito, hotdog, or whatever ITALIANO> with avocado, tomato and home made mayoneesse!!
    3) something ” a lo pobre” as you already explained… fish or meat….
    4) Pisco! with coke or pisco sour…
    5) the most important… CHIRIMOYA, this fruit is almost impossible to get in other countries…
    6)Machas a la salsa verde o parmesana…. the best sea food on the world, (the best place ever, in cobquecura, really cheap and really good)….

    • Rob W. November 29, 2011 at 8:24 am #

      You may be surprised to hear that home-made mayonnaise has now been banned in Chile after so many “intoxications” this year.
      Chirimoya, you are right, it’s very hard to get outside of Chile.
      I LOVE “a lo pobre” too!

  20. sara cortes jimenez February 21, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

    Jajajajajajaja no pense que comieran los vegetales las verduras con esa convinacion desde Colombia solo sopita que lastima que sea solo aca jajajaja

  21. Bruce Constuble May 28, 2012 at 12:18 am #

    what city are you in?

    • Rob W. May 28, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

      We live in Santiago (Chile).

  22. Teresa June 14, 2012 at 11:07 pm #

    I’m looking for someone that makes Chilean pastries, like pastel de mil hojas en San Francisco / Sonoma area. I just want to buy it. I do not know how to make it, it does look like a lot of work.
    Muchas Gracias

  23. Dawn Stenson December 17, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    we are lookin for a simple recipe for my sons 6th grade spanish class If you have one that kids might like I’d love to have it Thank you

    • Rob W. December 19, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

      You might want to check out an easy recipe here: .
      The kids will probably find the name funny too.

  24. dara July 12, 2014 at 8:45 pm #

    Hey there! I’m an American who lived in and got married to a Chilean in Santiago. I’m a vegan and my hubs is a vegetarian and whenever we wanted to skip the papas rellados y arroz at home, we used Happycow to help us find some vegetarian places and boy did we! There are also plenty of places (tips for veg readers) in those shopping centers downtown that have healthfood stores. Most sell soy grounds, veggie dogs, and other meat substitues. We lived in La florida and right down the street from us, in front of a Hiper Lider, there was a place that made vegan empanadas that were to die for!!!

    • Rob W. May 13, 2015 at 9:10 am #

      Thanks for sharing Dara!

  25. Helen December 26, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

    I am traveling to Chile for a 10 day stay.
    What are my chances of finding “gluten free” foods in restaurants, hotels, markets?
    How do I ask in Spanish?
    Thanks

  26. Helen December 28, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

    I am traveling to Chile for 10 days and have celiac disease, that is, no gluten allowed.
    Will I be able to find gluten free foods in restaurants?
    Can you tell me how to explain it to my server? I do not speak Spanish, but hope to learn some key phrases.
    I appreciate your response.
    M

  27. Mandy March 30, 2015 at 9:27 pm #

    You asked about Ferias. In Vina del Mar, there is a Feria on Wednesdays and Saturdays near the northern end of Libertad. And in Renaca (alta), there is a Feria every Sunday (take the 606 bus from downtown). Those are the only 2 that I know of because I live in Renaca right now :)

    • Rob W. May 13, 2015 at 9:05 am #

      Thanks for sharing that Mandy.

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