Due to its historical background, Chile’s gastronomy offers a unique fusion of traditional and modern delicacies. The following are the 10 most traditional and famous foods from Chile.
Sopaipillas / Chilean-Style Sopaipillas
Sopaipilla is a kind of bread that has been present in Chilean cuisine since 1726. It is a wheat dough that is left to ferment, and then lard or animal fat is added. It is an inheritance left by the Spaniards in several Latin American regions.
Once the dough has risen, it must be flattened with a rolling pin and cut into small circles, triangles, or squares. They are approximately three inches long when prepared for dessert and about six or eight inches when filled and served as the main dish.
When fried in oil, they increase their size a little more, forming a hollow in the center as a kind of pocket. In the center of Chile, it is customary to add ground pumpkin to the mace, but not in the south.
This depends on whether it is a dessert or as a main dish. The sopaipilla, which should be crunchy on the outside, but soft on the inside, can be decorated with various ingredients. They are traditionally served with Pebre, or boiled in chancaca sauce.
Chicken in mud / Pollo al barro
Pollo al barro is an ancient and traditional dish of Chilean cuisine. It comes from the skillful hands of farmworkers, who, with ingenuity, effort, intelligence and passion, managed to mix several ingredients that resulted in this dish that is part of the Chilean idiosyncrasy.
It is the kind of dish that requires some expertise to prepare, but it is worth the effort because it is just delicious, and the meat is incredibly juicy. After only a few minutes of cooking, the juices of the chicken meat intermingle with the marinade to provide an aromatic and flavorful experience.
The chicken should be washed very well, rubbed with garlic salt, and then wrapped in plastic. Then, cover the chicken with a paste of soil and water. Put the chicken in the clay oven and wait a short time to enjoy this excellent dish.
According to each person’s taste, some prefer to stuff the chicken with apples and even add lemon juice to the meat. The secret of the exquisite flavor of this dish lies precisely in the clay, which petrifies when it heats up, so the chicken keeps all of its juices and flavors.
Pantruca or Pancutra is a Chilean broth prepared with wheat flour, water, and a touch of oil. It is kneaded, cut, and cooked in vegetable or meat soups.
This dish, generally eaten in winter, has an uncertain origin. However, some experts assure that its roots are Inca. This food is part of the culinary tradition throughout Chile, although it is very popular in the south, including the southern provinces of Argentina.
In Argentina, it is customary to prepare Pantruca with small pieces of meat, while in Chile, ground meat is used. In some Chilean regions, the meat is replaced by dried fish or beef jerky.
Humitas / steamed fresh corn cakes
Humita, which in Quechua means cornbread, is one of Chile’s typical dishes in pre-Hispanic times. It retains some resemblance to the Mexican tamale but differs greatly in the ingredients: Mexicans add highly seasoned beef, pork, or chicken, while in Chile, it is prepared with basil, onion, and lard.
The preparation of this dish is effortless. In essence, it is a paste of cooked corn dough, seasoned according to taste, and wrapped in corn leaves before toasting. This food can be eaten sweet if sugar is added or salty with chili sauce. There is a sweet and sour version in which the sweet humita is mixed with tomato.
The corn that is generally used to prepare humitas is characterized by its large size. It is sweeter and starchier than those used to prepare Mexican tortillas or polenta.
Pichanga / Chilean appetizer
Pichanga is a Chilean dish that can be enjoyed cold and hot. The cold version is a mixture of pork meat, to which pickles, carrots, onions, and pickled vegetables are added. The hot version, very popular in southern Chile, is composed of French fries, sausage, hard-boiled egg, chopped beef, melted cheese, avocado, and tomatoes, among other vegetables. It often also includes pickles and sliced gherkins.
It is a dish usually prepared at family or friends’ gatherings. The purpose is to spend a pleasant time with people around while enjoying a succulent meal that is also an important source of calories, excellent to combat the low winter temperatures.
Curanto in Hoyo
In ancient times, the high temperatures in Patagonia made it challenging to cook food. In addition, the scarcity of firewood, the continuous rain, and the excessive wind made it even more difficult. They say that necessity is the mother of invention and, according to historians, the Curanto in Hoyo is a worthy example.
For this reason, the Mapuches (also called Araucanians) created a system that consisted of creating heat underground to cook food. Essentially, a hole is dug (not very deep), heated stones are added to the fire, and several nalca leaves are placed on top of them.
Vegetables, sausages, and various types of meat are placed on these leaves. Once all the ingredients are added, they are covered with more leaves, branches, and stones that serve as insulators. With this kind of natural oven, the heat is not only preserved but enhanced. Nowadays, the food is covered with aluminum foil. This way, it cooks much better, and the meat retains its juices.
The most frequently used vegetables are potatoes, peas, sweet potatoes, eggplants, carrots, and apples. An unforgettable experience is watching it cook slowly. Once the leaves and the stones are removed, the steaming food appears, ready to be enjoyed.
Chilean Salsa / Chancho en piedra
Chancho en piedra is a Chilean sauce that originated during the independence struggles. According to studies, the word chancho likely derives from chanco or chancar, which in Quechua means to grind ore. This dish received its name because the ingredients must be ground in a mortar.
The preparation of this sauce takes some time, so it is somewhat difficult to find in restaurants. In addition, once prepared, it should be consumed immediately. It is essential to use tomatoes, salt, cumin, oil, pepper, and green chili for its preparation. However, the ingredients generally vary according to the region of Chile where the chacho en piedra is prepared.
This sauce is the ideal accompaniment to any main dishes or can also be used as a dip with bread, tortillas, black or kneaded bread.
Caldillo de congrio (conger eel stew)
Caldillo de congrio is a very famous dish of Chilean gastronomy. This delicacy is made from golden conger eel, a fish that abounds on the southern Pacific coast. It is one of the most representative recipes of Chilean culinary art since Pablo Neruda dedicated one of his famous poems.
The caldillo de congrio is a semi-fatty, invigorating, strong, and resistant dish, especially for times of low temperature. It is a simple dish that dates back to the middle of the last century in the coves of the center of the country.
It is usually served in deep plates, with lemon juice, coriander, and chili according to the diners’ taste. Caldillo de congrio goes very well with a glass of cool white wine. To keep it hotter, they prefer to serve it in clay dishes in some areas.
Empanadas were brought to Latin America by the Spaniards, who, in turn, got this idea from the Arabs as part of their culinary heritage after they left the Hispanic territory. It is a fundamental dish in the cuisine of this part of the world.
With the arrival of the Europeans in America, many changes took place, including in culinary matters, thanks to the mixture of old and new ingredients. The Chilean empanada, among many other foods, was a result of this mixture.
Beef, olives, onions, eggs, and raisins are the main ingredients for the preparation of the empanada de pino, a reliable sample of the inclusion of native ingredients with foreign ones, which we now know as pino.
Scholars assure that the Mapuche indigenous people gave the name of Pirro to this mixture of ingredients and, later, it obtained the title of pino.
Chorrillana is a dish in which various types of meat are mixed with eggs, fried onions, viennoiseries, salt and seasoning. It originated during the Pacific War when the Chilean army had to devise a dish with whatever they had on hand while in battle.
Another theory says that this meal was invented in 1970 in a non-commissioned officers’ casino. The establishment owner asked for a snack dish to be prepared for the young people who were going to consume alcohol in the establishment. The idea was a cheap but hearty dish that could be shared.
There are several recipes for this dish. However, it should not be confused with the hot pichanga, typical of southern Chile. Chorrillana is made with the same ingredients as bistec a lo pobre, but chopped, and is intended for several people (approximately four to six).
The different versions of this dish vary according to the region where it is made. In some areas they add chorizos, instead of scrambled eggs on top of the meat.
Some fast-food chains have incorporated the Chorrillana in their menu in Chile but in slightly reduced sizes. In Canada, there is a very similar dish called Poutine. This is made of fried potatoes, meat sauce, and cheese in small pieces.
Chile is a country that, throughout its territory, has almost all climates. This has favored the production of fruits and vegetables throughout the nation with undeniable export quality. This geographical variation is also noticeable in its gastronomy, which has been greatly strengthened by the contribution of the Europeans who arrived in these lands hundreds of years ago.
This was fused with the ingredients contributed by the region’s indigenous people, such as potatoes and corn, among others. In addition, the combination of cooking styles resulted in the famous and representative dishes of Chilean food that we know and love today.