Typical chilean dishes
There is a large variety of typical dishes of Chile, which is being lost little by little in gastronomy.
Ajiaco (Meat soup)
This is not strictly speaking a Chilean dish; for instance, it is also found in Bogotá, Colombia. However, the Chilean version is generally done with the meat leftovers of a big barbecue, and it is good when you have a somehow mild hangover. Into the broth with the barbecued meat cut into dice, add potatoes, chopped onions, green hot chili peppers, parsley, salt, pepper, cumin and oregano. This tasty soup helps to mend the body or the hangover and to get one’s strength back, whether it is to go to work or to continue celebrating whatever it is that has to be celebrated.
Arrollado huaso (Pork roll peasant style)
When a pig is ready to be slaughtered after a long fattening up, it means winter is knocking at the door of the homes in the South and so, nothing is wasted and almost everything in the animal is made use of, as to wave away the cold or to celebrate some Saint in the middle of June. To make this pork roll, or arrollado, the ingredients include pork meat pulp, slices of bacon, garlic, pepper and cumin to taste; it is then rolled in pork skin, “painting” the resulting cylinder with chili pepper sauce and tying it with string. It is then cooked in a broth while the relatives begin to arrive attracted by the tasty smell of this meal. The huaso, or peasant style part, comes from the chili pepper sauce, red and cheerful from the stove heat and the wine celebrating some local Saint.
Caldillo de congrio (Conger eel soup)
Pablo Neruda dedicated an ode to it that made it forever famous, especially in Isla Negra, where the poet lived. However, this soup is served all along the coast in Central Chile and even a little farther south of Talcahuano. Invigorating and not at all heavy, there is a variety of ways to prepare it, but it is always steaming hot and served in a clay dish, accompanied with mussels and clams in addition to a good white wine to honor it.
Carbonada (Vegetables and meat minestrone-like soup)
It is a very traditional winter stew of the Chilean cuisine. There are versions of this soup in other cuisines of Latin America and here in Chile, it is prepared with potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, green beans and varied seasonings, plus meat cut into small pieces. It is served in a soup dish with abundant broth sprinkled with parsley.
Cazuela nogada (Cazuela stew with walnut sauce)
The cazuela is not an exclusively Chilean dish, but in the El Almendral area, in the province of Chacabuco and close to Los Andes, they make the Poultry Cazuela with Walnut Sauce. It is an ingenious and invigorating dish to help survive lovesickness or too long celebrations, or otherwise to recover from a long trip.
Chancho en piedra (“Pig on stone” spicy tomato sauce)
Originated in the Maule region of the Central zone of Chile, it contains crushed tomatoes, onion, garlic, oil and salt. It was created out of farm work, when laborers ended their farming activities and washed their shovels in a canal in order to crush the tomatoes and the other ingredients with a stone. In this mixture, a large biscuit given by the ranch was dunked. One bread per laborer together with the snack at the ranch entrance every morning. The crushed mix on a stone was then brought to a table on a concave volcanic stone. The phonetic deformation of the crushing (chanco) slipped into pig (chancho). It is served all over the Maule region, in some cases accompanying sopaipillas (see description), kneaded bread and fresh or white cheese.
Chapalele (Potato bread with flour)
Although another typically Chiloe Island preparation, it can be found in many of the meals of austral Chile due to the migrations of the Grand Island people to the mainland in the Magallanes region. Very similar to Milcao, the difference is that you have to add two eggs and flour, next the mixture is cut into squares and cooked in the curanto clambake or deep-fried in copious pork lard.
Charqui de caballo (Dried horsemeat)
Charqui is dried and salted horsemeat. The Spaniards came to America bringing garlic and charqui, and in Chile, it was prepared with the meat of the oldest horses during the Conquest, especially for the winter, when the cattle was too thin to be slaughtered.
Born in the harbor of Valparaiso, this dish is made with French fries, finely cut onion, spicy sausage, beefsteak and, crowning it all, one or two fried eggs. At the “J Cruz M” traditional restaurant of the harbor, this cholesterol-rich meal is served on Saturdays and Sundays, very appropriate if afterwards you are planning to climb up one of the hills of Valparaiso. Don’t cheat, go up by foot and then come down in a funicular.
Chunchules con harina tostada (Intestines with toasted wheat flour)
Made with the innards of cow or pork, stuffed with meat paste and animal fat, the chunchules are braided and then fried with hot chili peppers and served with steamed potatoes. The ones with toasted flour are first sprinkled with the flour before frying; they are crisp and tasty. A dish overflowing with cholesterol prepared only in the coldest of winter days.
Curanto en hoyo (Clambake)
A typical meal from Chiloe Island, curanto “in the hole”, means hot or cooked stone. This is precisely the way to make this preparation: make a hole on the land in which you light up a fire to heat the stones. Then layer by layer, you put different kinds of meat, fish, seafood and potatoes, coating everything with large gunnera leaves and sealing the whole thing with more hot stones. The recipe is a traditional one, but there are no exact or precise indications about quantities or ingredients because, as it is a collective meal usually used to celebrate mingas or community tasks to help each other, it depends on the number of participants.
Empanadas de pino (Traditional baked turnover pie with a meat and onion filling)
Originated in the Arabic gastronomy and passed on to the Spanish peninsula, empanadas cover almost every Latin American gastronomy; however, it is in Chile where the pino filling was born, containing finely chopped onion, diced meat, hard-boiled egg and raisins. The Sunday empanada is a tradition very few Chileans can resist, even less if it is caldúa (a somehow soaked filling) and spicy, juices oozing down to the elbow, served with a good red wine of the year, young and bright like the pino
Ensalada a la chilena (Chilean style tomato salad)
With a couple of ripe tomatoes and a medium size onion cut in juliennes or fine slices you can make this typical dish that accompanies the potatoes and meat of a barbecue, and when the budget is a little on the feeble side, this savior salad makes sadness and hunger to go, as well. It is not served in fine restaurants, only in well-crowded typical eateries called “picadas”, where patrons eat their meals with a generous, fresh fermented young wine called “pipeño”.
Ensalada de digüeñes (Cyttaria fungus salad)
The digüeñe fungus (cyttaria) grows in the southern beech trees from August to September, mainly in the South of Chile. It is white and round. The salad includes coriander, oil, onion, salt and optional lemon. It has a gelatinous texture and it can be served with beans-and-spaghetti or some other stew at the end of a long winter.
Gambas al Pil Pil (Shrimps in garlic)
The gamba shrimp comes from Spain, however the Chilean way of preparation transformed it. It is not a well-known dish and it is served only in some selected places. It consists of shrimp tails baked in oil, garlic and salt.
Humitas (Mashed corn wrapped in cornhusks and steamed)
The Humita is one of the oldest Chilean dishes, though there are some similar preparations in the Peruvian and Ecuadorian cooking. They are the consequence of the abundance of corn during the summer plus a little ingenuity and a lot of taste in a natural pack, using the very husks to wrap the corn pulp, onion, garlic and basil that give it its flavor and its contagious joy. The humita used to be served with sugar sprinkled on it or otherwise with fresh tomatoes from the plant and not only as lunch, but also at mid-afternoon, together with Chancho en piedra (see description) or at tea time (see Onces), or even as supper in the evening. At any time, humitas is welcomed on the tables of Central Chile homes.
Lengua de vaca
The cow’s tongue, cooked in salted water, is tender and soft and can be served as starters with mashed avocado and lots of fresh lettuce. It is not a dish destined to be part of the top gastronomy of the nation, maybe for the generalized ignorance about its preparation, or maybe because it is sold in neighborhoods butcher’s shop, ready to be served with no shame.
Lisa a la teja (Striped mullet on the tile)
The Carreño sisters from Constitución prepared the mullet over a red clay tile, as told by the verses of poet Pablo de Rokha. A tradition from the Maule that still exists today, served by the riverside and you can travel to sample it at the Rancho del Astillero train station, the last stop on the Ramal Constitución train, the very last railcar still in service in Chile.
Locos (Concholepas abalone)
The loco is a hard white shellfish that needs to be pounded over ashes to soften it up before cooking it. Due to overfishing, it has endured fishing prohibition in the last years and so eating it is a treat reserved only for those who try really hard to find it during the times when the prohibition is lifted. Cooked in water, it is served generally garnished with diced potatoes in mayonnaise and lettuce salad. It is a delicate and soft treat for the palate and it justifies waiting for another year to eat it again.
Longanizas de Chillán (Sausages from Chillán)
Although they are prepared in many places in the Center and South of Chile, no doubt the most traditional ones come from Chillán. Made of pig meat pulp, oregano, garlic, paprika and vinegar, everything is ground together and stuffed into a long tripe that is rolled in order to dry it in open air or to smoke it with thorn tree coal. It served over a generous plate of beans-and-spaghetti or with spicy mashed potatoes or simply with steamed potatoes.
Malaya (Rose meat)
Cumin, pepper, oregano and parsley, boiled egg, onion and carrots rolled with the rose meat of a young beef and cooked slowly, the malaya is served hot or cold, with mashed potatoes or a generous Chilean style tomato salad.
Milcao (Native potato bread)
Milcado, Milcao or Melcao is a preparation of raw and steamed potatoes, lard and pork crackling, and it is the obliged companion of a good curanto (clambake). It is recommended to eat it with caution the first time lest you end up full and cannot continue enjoying the minga collective task. Originated in Chiloe, it allows potatoes to get out of their more traditional uses and come up as a very tasty potato bread.
Mote de maíz or Motemei (Boiled maize hominy)
The delicious hot Motemei is done with wood ash lye. This preparation dates back to the times of the Colony. It is served with water and sugar, or with something more nourishing to make hot and salted dishes.
Mote con huesillos (Hominy-like wheat with cooked dried peaches)
During summer, when the heat in the Central zone gives the fields a golden gleam and ripens the grapevines, any good Chilean knows how to quell his hunger, thirst and the heat, by having a glass of cool Mote con huesillos, made with rehydrated dried peaches, wheat, water and solid dark-brown sugar called chancaca (see description). This preparation exists since the times of the Colony when it was served cool at mid-afternoon. In more republican times, it appeared the King of the Mote con huesillos. Today, there are plenty of these kings, but the ancestor of this peculiar royalty can still be found at the exit of the Club Hípico, Santiago’s horse race track.
Pancutras or Pantrucas (Dumpling-like dough soup)
White and washed out as a pantruca , like being for a year into the soup dish, this popular Chilean soup is made with dough cut in fine slices and then into squares cooked with meat in a tasty and invigorating wintertime broth. It used to be served to skinny misses so they wouldn’t feel faint at praying time, and it was also served to farm laborers, without meat, but invigorating anyways so they would go on working.
Papa con chuchoca (Potatoes with coarse corn flour)
Chuchoca is cooked corn, dried and ground that accompanies well-cooked potatoes and paprika. It is a meal that comes from the Central and South zones of the country.
Pastel de jaiba (Crab pie)
Crab legs are carefully broken and with their white, delicate meat a pie is prepared that in addition contains bread soaked in milk and onion. It is offered from Pichilemu to the south of the Maule region coastline, but the best ones come from Iloca and Pellines.
Pataska (spicy stew)
The altiplanic people from the North of Chile make this spicy stew from charqui (salted/dried meat), mote (boiled maize) and potatoes. It is part of the tradition of Chiu-Chiu, a village in the Atacama, where it is prepared for typical festivities in honor of the Pachamama, for the harvests and cattle.
Pebre (Hot chili pepper sauce)
Pebre must be cuchareao, i.e., spooned or scooped up with a spoon, so as not to lose its essence of being a sauce made with onions, coriander, garlic, oil and salt to the taste, green hot chili pepper, and using cooking water taken from the saucepan where the potatoes for the barbecue are being prepared it has a better taste. Its name comes from the Latin piper (pepper). It is served on the table, in the Central zone, with some variations like using tomatoes or not, depending on the location where it is prepared.
Pernil (Boiled whole pork hock ham)
Steaming and with potatoes sautéed in oil, garlic and paprika, the pernil is eaten in the winter in the Central-South zone of Chile. It is also served with pickled onions while the heat from the old kitchen stove helps to make us forget the cold outside.
Picante de guatitas (Spicy tripe stew)
Tripe is the stomach of animals, cooked in abundant salted water and prepared with onions, potatoes, milk-soaked bread, grated cheese, chili pepper and pepper. It is a homemade dish and it is found only in restaurants that still offer clery and borgoña wine beverages. It belongs to the most traditional Chilean gastronomy and despite time and modernity, it never goes away from the national recipe books.
This low profile, unpretentious dish do not belong to the gastronomical circles and is kept at bay in the more traditional eateries. It is made of diced meat, olives, pickles, cheese, tomatoes and avocadoes. The idea is to nibble this appetizer while you wait for the main course; as such, it is an opportunity to share with friends.
Plateada (Long-baked meat)
One of the great Chilean meals, it consists of very tender and tasty meat. It is first prepared on a saucepan with garlic, salt and pepper, strong red wine and a few spoonfuls of vinegar. Sometimes it is then transferred to the oven to continue the slow cooking. Water should never be added, it is just cooked on a low flame with lots of patience and it is usually served with spicy mashed potatoes and accompanied with Chilean style tomato salad. After this succulent meal, it is impossible to deny the body a good nap under the shadow of a grapevine, where the bunches hang playing possum.
Pollo al barro (Chicken in the mud)
Take a young, tender chicken, hopefully one not much ran around in the vegetables garden. Wash it, smear it with garlic salt and wrap it in plastic. Then, make a paste with mud and cover the chicken. Take the preparation to an earth oven and wait with infinite patience, as the chicken will cook in its own juices.
Porotos granados (Fresh beans stew)
Although in some cases we share meals and preparations with other Latin-American nations, in the case of Porotos Granados the invention is absolutely Chilean. With fresh coscorrones variety beans, corn, pumpkin, onion, garlic and basil this is a summertime dish. It can be made with mashed fresh corn, called mazamorra, where you can stand the spoon on the dish, or with whole fresh corn, called pilco, a more liquid version, if you are expecting more guests.
Prietas (Blood and onion sausage)
The prieta from the South is served with steamed potatoes and under the homely heat of a brazier. It is a wintry dish found in traditional butcher’s shops. It is possible to find it in some very typical restaurant or in some eatery, because, as with other national meals, it doesn’t succeed into penetrating the more exclusive gastronomical circles.
Sopa de mariscos (Seafood soup)
Chile is a country favored with a long coast; however, the dishes of marine origins in the Chilean gastronomy are not that many. Even if fried fish is the king in restaurants during the summer, you can enjoy an invigorating Seafood Soup year-round, made with hake, mussels, onion, garlic and if you come to El Membrillo bay in the Central coastline of Chile, it has in addition bread slices, milk and parsley.
Sopaipillas (Pumpkin flat scones)
This is a typically Chilean type of flat circular deep-fried bread or scone, made from flour, cooked pumpkin, a pinch of salt and lard. In the beginnings, it was called sopaipa and it originated back during the Arabic invasion of Spain, where it was a kind of dough dunked in oil. The Spanish conquistadores brought it with them and it took root in our land where it accompanies the cold, rainy days in the South or a well-spiced Chancho en Piedra (see description) in the Central zone. Nowadays, the sopaipilla is available from north to south in those street vendor kiosks that are usually located at bus stations, busy corners in any city and even at sport events in our land.
Always ready for the winter, the sopaipilla pasá is a sopaipilla dunked in a viscous mixture of dark-brown sugar called chancaca (see description) with orange peel, clove and chuño (dried potato flour). Delicious in a rainy winter evening.
Valdiviano (Meat and vegetables soup)
A meal originated in the Santiago garrison. In the trip by train from the Capital city to the South of Chile, before getting to the train station in Valdivia and after a long night, this thick soup was served that contained egg, onion, meat and mixed vegetables. When getting off the train in Valdivia, the body had already recovered and acclimatized to the change of temperature there.