The food scene in Chile is like a wild ride through flavors. Chilean food culture is rich and diverse, influenced by indigenous traditions, Spanish colonial history, European immigrants, Chile’s neighboring countries, as well as its geography. And I consider it the best cuisine outside of the EU!
If you thought Chile was one of those South American countries where Hispanic dishes take the lead, you’re wrong. First and foremost, Chile is the second longest country in the world. Why am I telling you that? Well, because it has a great impact on the food culture in Chile. With all that crazy range of climates, soils, and ecosystems, it’s a flavor playground.
I for one, am not always eager to spend several weeks in South American countries, and the only reason is the lack of food variations. However, Chile has a silver lining for us folks who sometimes find Hispanic food a bit overwhelming (my apologies, Hispanic readers, but it’s the truth—Hispanic food can be too much for some). I, for instance, had one of the best Italian meals in Santiago, and just a couple minutes from the Italian restaurant, you can get a traditional German meal and a delicious cold beer. What more can you wish for? Believe me, when you’re traveling for several weeks through one country, it’s the same as with the landscape, you’ll be grateful for any diversity that country has to offer.
If you don’t have weeks to spend traveling around Chile and you want to eat good while there, go to Lake District. This region has the best food and since it’s the home for the Mapuche people, you get to eat a lot of the traditional meals of the indigenous people. Also, if you have a sweet tooth like I do, this region is perfect for chocolate tasting.
But first, let’s take a look at the Chilean food facts so we don’t make fools out of ourselves when dining. Then, we’ll put Chile’s food under a microscope and talk about the good, the weird, and the ones you have to try no matter how bad they sound!
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Every country has its own traditions and habits when it comes to eating and drinking culture, and Chile is no exception. So, before you do something that is considered unacceptable in Chile, continue reading. For other tips and tricks about traveling in Chile, read my other article.
The Chileans are having lunch together
Sharing meals with friends and family is an important aspect of Chilean culture. Lunch is often considered the main meal of the day and is typically enjoyed with family members or colleagues. It's a time for socializing and connecting with loved ones.
Breakfast in Chile is usually a light meal and often consists of bread, cheese, ham, avocado, and coffee or tea.
Lunch is the main meal of the day, that is typically served between 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm. It often includes multiple courses, such as a soup, main course, and dessert.
Dinner is generally a lighter meal and is eaten later in the evening, usually between 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm.
Tip: Ask for the bill after your meal at a restaurant, as the waiter most likely won’t bring the bill until you ask for it since it is considered rude. You heard that, Americans?
Fiestas Patrias in Chile
Chile hosts various food festivals and celebrations that highlight the diversity of its cuisine. These events often bring people together to enjoy local dishes, street food, and traditional recipes from different regions of the country.
The biggest national festival is called Fiestas Patrias, during which Chile celebrates its independence and cultural heritage. The festival takes place on September 18 and 19. Most schools and businesses are closed at that time, and everybody celebrates with a lot of dancing, eating and drinking. It involves a lot of traditional food including empanadas and a lot of barbecued meat so if you’re in Chile in September, make sure to stay long enough to join the celebrations.
Chile is known for its street food, which represents an easy and affordable way to eat when traveling around, when don’t want to spend a couple of hours in a restaurant. One of the most typical foods in Chile is the so-called comida tipica, which is the style of eating of the working class. It might not blow your taste buds away with fancy twists, but trust me, it’s budget-friendly, and it hits the spot from time to time. You’ll find little stands serving common foods in the streets all around the country.
Keep your hands on the table and your wine always in the right hand!
Putting your hands under the table while eating is considered rude in Chile, so be so kind and leave your hands on the table at all times—none of that sneaky lap business, okay?
When invited to a meal, it is expected that you’ll arrive 15 minutes later than the scheduled time. It's the polite thing to do—not to catch the host off guard. You should also never eat with your hands, as it is considered rude. Chileans are big on manners.
Chileans are very proud of their wine traditions, so of course there is a rule about wine pouring. You’re supposed to pour wine only with your right hand. Pouring wine with your left hand means that you don’t like the person whose glass you’re filling up. Interesting, right? And here's the golden rule: hold off on the sips until someone busts out a toast, but I hope that’s just common sense. Cheers to keeping it classy!
The Chileans are masters of street food!
Street food is very popular in Chile, offering a wide range of affordable and delicious options, though mostly deep-fried so prepare your gall bladders, this will be a wild ride! From traditional snacks like completos and sopaipillas to more exotic choices, street vendors play a significant role in Chilean food culture.
Mote con huesillo, a sweet drink made with dried peaches and wheat, is a typical Chilean street food companion, especially during the summer months. Street food holds a special place in Chilean food culture, offering convenient and flavorful choices for locals and tourists alike.
As the most traditional food in Chile, empanadas must be at the top of the street food list. I mean, who doesn’t love pastries? Sweet or salty, whoever came up with the first dough deserves a medal!
Empanadas are such a treat and come in so many variations that you could eat a different kind of empanada for a month and still have plenty left to try. They look so simply, and yet, when you bite into one, it is like an explosion of different flavors.
The traditional empanada in Chile is called pino, made of ground beef, onions, a hardboiled egg, and sometimes olives and raisins. As I said though, Chileans can put anything in their empanadas: cheese, potatoes, fish, veggies, fruits, you name it. So, try as many as you can!
The completo is a Chilean-style hotdog mixed with any other foreign influence you can possibly think of. Imagine a heavy-loaded hotdog bun with sausage, tomatoes, mashed avocado, sauerkraut, mustard, and enormous amounts of mayonnaise. I know it sounds a bit too much, am I right? Though, try it after a beer tasting night and suddenly you get it. It is nasty, it is dirty, it is GOOD!
Sopaipillas are made from pumpkin and flour and fried into a thin round bread. You can either dip them in syrup and powdered sugar, or you can eat them with mustard, cheese, and/or salsa. They make for a great snack when you’re out and about and are very popular among the Chileans.
Frutas del mar
Chile has an extensive coastline, providing one of the best seafood (or, as they like to call it—frutas del mar) selections I have ever encountered. Chile has cultivated a strong seafood culinary heritage that emphasizes the freshness of its seafood. Thanks to the coast reaching from the super cold waters of Patagonia all the way to the warmer currents of northern Chile, the seafood selection ranges from various kinds of fish through clams, sea urchins, and squids, all the way to the gigantic king crab. Trust me, you’ll definitely try some sea creatures you’ve never eaten before. On top of that, the combinations they come up with are just mouth-watering!
There aren’t that many countries in the world that get to serve the freshest king crab, so when in Chile, you definitely need to try it here! I tried king crab in Sotito’s restaurant, located in Punta Arenas. The crab was DELISH, just skip the mayo and ask for butter, as it pairs much nicer with the meat. Chuppe de centola, otherwise known as a crab dip, makes for a great appetizer. They have plenty of other dishes with crab meat, so it’s just up to you what you prefer.
Machas a la Parmesana
Another seafood appetizer you need to try is Machas a la parmesana, razor clams with butter, wine, and a parmesan crust on top. Add a salad to it, and you have a main course. Machas a la parmesana pair best with a crisp white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc.
This casserole style dish is made out of crab meat, various spices, and veggies. But most importantly, a lot of butter and cream blend the casserole into a perfect mixture of flavors that fills you up real quick. Don’t be shy, though, pig out as much as you can, even if this is the only meal you’ll eat today. It´s worth it!
Caldillo de Congrio
This seafood soup is probably one of the very few that has its own ode written to it, and rightfully so. It is made from eel meat, veggies, and some restaurants add cream to it, so it can get pretty heavy.
Pablo Neruda dedicated one of his odes to caldillo de congrio soup. The ode is basically a recipe for the soup, but of course it has a double meaning, so if you’re into literature, get into the reading and find the underlining purpose of the ode. I’ll just keep eating this deliciousness.
It wouldn’t be a full list of the best seafood worth trying when in Chile without the seafood empanadas. Chileans stuff empanadas with just any kind of fish, shrimp, crab, or other sea creature, add herbs, spices, and veggies and turn the pastries into a yummy piece of heaven. Try it baked, try it fried, it doesn’t matter, both will be equally delicious, best served with pebre—a traditional Chilean salsa.
Chile has a lot to offer, including great European food!
I know, you might wonder: what kind of a person would intentionally look for European food when in Chile? Me, buddy! And I promise you, you won’t regret listening to my advice. Thanks to its European immigrants, Santiago is your go-to place. There is a small neighborhood called Barrio Italia, which is the place you want to be. It’s like an outdoor gallery with multiple bars and different kinds of restaurants from all over the world. To put it briefly, it’s a perfect social hub and a little international escape if you have a free afternoon.
Just a couple blocks from Barrio Italia lies the best Italian restaurant I visited in Chile—Le Due Torri. Craving something different than empanadas, this restaurant saved me. Not only is their service top-notch, but they also serve delicious pasta dishes—to name a few, try ravioli de jaiba or fettuccine salmon caviar and top them off with delicious desserts—tiramisu or torta firenze.
Sausages in Chile
The second largest immigrant group that influenced Chilean cuisine, apart for the Spanish, are Germans. I admit that it was a bit weird seeing people put sauerkraut on their hotdogs but to be honest, it was good. Not a 5-star culinary experience, but it wasn’t gross either. In almost every pastry shop, you can find kuchen, a German cake done in various styles that makes for a great sweet snack on the go.
For the best German food in Santiago, go to Tante Marlene, try their sausage platter, Alsatian tartare or goulash, but save some space for the beers! Oh, the beers! They have a huge selection here, so be ready to spend some time beer tasting.
There are several dishes that need to be tried out when in Chile. Some of them are on the following list only because they’re not very common elsewhere, and even though they might not be for everyone, you should at least try them, while others are just fantastic and must definitely be tried.
Cordero al Palo
Cordero al palo, otherwise known as the spit-roasted lamb, this meal is prepared the old-school way. They take the lamb, split it wide open, and let it sizzle away on a metal rack right next to a roaring fire.
Now, I ain’t gonna lie, it might look a bit gruesome, kinda like that scene from the Vikings show with the blood eagle thing. But guess what? It’s all about the experience, and the lamb meat is on point.
As the meat is slowly roasted by the flames, all that juiciness stays right where it should—locked inside. That means you’re getting some seriously tender goodness after it’s been grooving on the fire for a solid 5 hours. After that, they slap on some pebre salsa for that extra zing and pair it with Malbec, the red wine. It’s a match made in foodie heaven, amigos.
Curanto—mix of meat and seafood
The origins of this traditional Chilean food lie with the indigenous Mapuche people, so if you’re exploring the southern parts of Chile, especially Chiloé Island, this is an absolute must-try.
Curanto is a hearty combo of meat and seafood, but the twist is that it’s not whipped up in the kitchen. Nope, this creation comes to life in an earthen pit filled with piping hot stones. Once those rocks are blazing red, they’re layered with all the curanto ingredients—meats, sausages, mussels, clams, potatoes, and veggies all bundled up with oversized Chilean rhubarb leaves. And then, it’s all about the steam show, cooked to perfection by the shellfish and meats’ natural juices for hours. Grab a glass of red wine and enjoy this ultimate feast!
Slimmy Sea Urchins
This is one of the meals that might not sound very enticing, and yep, you’re right, it feels a bit weird to eat these creatures. We’re talking about sea urchins, folks. The flashy orange meat, which is the only edible part of the sea urchin, is none other than its reproductive organs. Sounds yummy, right? Well on top of that, if you’re eating a female sea urchin, you get to eat the roe as well, so that’s one for two. However, I’m not the right person to appreciate this kind of specialty.
Now, how’s the taste, you ask? It’s fresh and briny, but I won’t lie, it’s a bit slimy. If you’re not a big fan of the sliminess, don’t eat it straight from its shell (though it makes for a great picture) and rather order a stew or a seafood tortilla with sea urchins and stay on the safe side. Or don’t order it at all, that’s also an option.
Sandwich de potito
Alright, now we’re getting into some really weird busin-ass. No, it’s not a typo, this sandwich is made out of, ehm, a cow’s rectum. They’re not holding back at Chilean butchers—nope, not just the usual cuts. Genitals and brains? Fair game. And if those bits don’t go to waste, why should a cow’s backside, am I right?
Let me tell you, it’s a bold move for the brave-hearted. This street food is no joke—it’s a chewy, hearty sandwich snuggled inside a marraqueta bun, stacked with fried onions and meat from the cow’s rear-end, or sometimes its intestines, yummy. So, if you’re brave enough and can get over the fact that you’re eating what you’re eating, then yeah, it’s a full-flavored adventure, let’s put it that way.
If you thought that there would be anything left of a cow when Chileans got their hands on it, then you were wrong. This dish gets udderly-weird! Haha, had to get that joke out!
The key when making ubre asada is to use the freshest possible udder from a young cow, get rid of all the milk, and grill the thinly sliced udder until it gets golden brown and crispy on the edges and maintains its spongy texture in the middle. Guys, I’m not going to overhype it, it’s strange, and it looks like burnt mittens on a plate. So, if you want to try it just for the thrill, do it, otherwise, look for something else.
After conquering Villarrica Volcano, I really needed a drink
We’ve covered the most important aspects of food culture in Chile, but what about their drinking culture? Well, Chileans like to socialize over a glass of an alcoholic drink, and they have plenty to choose from.
Cheers with pisco sour!
Chile’s favorite cocktail is called pisco sour, made from pisco brandy, simple syrup, lime juice, egg white, and a few drops of bitters. Be careful though, this cocktail can start a heated debate over the origin of the pisco brandy, as it is generally accepted that it came from Peru, but Chile claims otherwise. In the end, it doesn’t matter who came up with pisco brandy first, the pisco sour cocktail needs to be tried when in Chile.
Chicha chilena is a very popular drink during the Fiestas Patrias
Chicha is another must-try when in Chile. It is either a fermented grape juice, or fermented apple juice, depending on in which region in Chile you currently are. Grape chicha is produced in central Chile and apple chicha is produced in southern regions of Chile. This drink is very popular at national celebrations like the Fiestas Patrias. It’s not super sweet or alcoholic so it’s a great option for when you’re thirsty and don’t want to get drunk super-fast.
Chile is well-known for their wines, and rightfully so—their wines are amazing, and they’ve got the knack of pairing their wines with meals perfectly—it’s like their liquid pride. They’ve been making wine since the Spanish colonization in the 16th century, and trust me, they’re rocking it, and they KNOW it. Chileans are particularly proud of their wines.
There are so many diverse wine regions all over the place. Coastal chill vibes, warm valleys—they’ve got it all covered. Red wine? Oh yeah, their favorites are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carmenere which they thought was extinct. And for the white wine? Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the Chilean stars.
A big hit is wine tourism, when you can explore vineyards, sip, take tours, and even spend a night or two at some wineries. They’re very big on sustainable farming as well, and they will tell you all about it.
I rate the Chilean beer very positively!
Wait, it’s not only about the wines? Hell no, and for a beer lover like me, it’s great news! Beer is like the cool cousin of their wine scene. While vino has been running the show, beer is stepping up its game.
Craft beer is having a moment. Microbreweries are popping up on every corner, making unique and wild flavors that turn heads. The beer styles are all over the place—you get the classic stuff, funky fruit-infused brews, and those bold IPAs that hops lovers dig (me!).
It might be the German influence, but Chileans are big on throwing beer fests that celebrate local and global brews. And guess what? Beer is crashing the food scene too. Beer pairing events are a thing now. Cheers to Chile!
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