Whether trekking the Patagonian glaciers, exploring the Atacama Desert, or beach-hopping along the Pacific coast, you’ll quickly work up an appetite in Chile. Thankfully, you’ll also find plenty of choices when it comes to eating out.
Unlike neighboring countries where there is one star dish (such as Argentina’s asado or Peru’s ceviche), Chilean cuisine is as varied as its landscapes, drawing from its rich history of immigrants. You’ll find Spanish, Italian, German, and French influences, as well as some dishes you might recognize from other South American countries, but all with a Chilean twist.
So, what should you eat first? From ancient Andean recipes to fresh-off-the-boat seafood and tasty street food—here’s our pick of the best food to eat on vacation in Chile.
Chile Street Food and Snacks
If you’re grabbing some food on the go or looking for a budget-friendly lunch, there are plenty of options in Chile. Be sure to try these popular street foods, which you’ll find everywhere from Santiago to Patagonia.
These baked or fried pastries are stuffed with a choice of different fillings, including queso (cheese) and minced meat. You’ll probably find you want to try them all, but top of the list should be empanadas de pino. This classic Chilean flavor includes minced beef, onions, olives, raisins, and hard-boiled eggs. Another bonus? Chilean empanadas are often much bigger and more filling than those you’ll find in other South American countries, making it the ideal choice for lunch on the go.
For a simple, cheap street food snack, you can’t go wrong with a completo—Chile’s take on the classic hot dog. These jumbo-sized hot dogs should fill you up, and they typically come ‘complete’ (hence the name) with mashed avocado, chopped tomatoes, mayonnaise, salsa, and sauerkraut. Keep your napkin to hand as it can get messy!
Another simple yet delicious staple you’ll find at Chilean cafés and street-food kiosks is churrasco, Chile’s take on a steak sandwich. The ‘churrasco’ is a sirloin steak, typically grilled and served in a freshly baked pan amasado (traditional bread roll).
There is often a range of options to choose from, so you might take a ‘churrasco Italiano’, which comes with tomato, avocado, and mayonnaise, or try a ‘churrasco a lo pobre’, which is served with caramelized onion, a fried egg, and a mountain of French fries. Or keep it simple with a plain churrasco clásico and add a dollop of Aji Chileno, a spicy chili pepper ketchup that’s a favorite in Chile.
Not to be confused with tamales, Chilean humitas are made from ground corn steamed in corn leaves. Served as little parcels tied around the middle, these are most popular in the Andean region, but you’ll still find them on sale in Santiago and around the country. Unlike tamales, humitas don’t use meat, so they are a safe bet for vegetarians in Chile, and they make a handy snack to pack for bus journeys and day trips.
Traditional Chile Dishes
Traditional Chilean dishes are often inspired by Spanish cuisine and old Andean recipes. Staples include hearty stews and rich meat dishes, made using locally grown or seasonal ingredients such as beans, corn, and squash. Here are some of the most typical dishes to look out for.
Warm up after hiking through the Andes or exploring Patagonia’s glaciers with a generous portion of cazuela (stew). This traditional Chilean stew takes its name from the ‘cazuela’, the shallow pot it’s cooked in, and comes in many different varieties. The stew is slow-cooked with meat (typically beef, pork, lamb, or chicken), onions, and broth, before adding various vegetables, often potatoes, squash, and sweetcorn.
The best place to find cazuela is at simple cafés or local restaurants, and they make an excellent choice for travelers on a budget or anyone wanting to try authentic Chilean cuisine. Couple it with a glass of Chilean red wine—Carménère is the obvious choice, but you’ll also find some excellent Syrahs and Cabernet Sauvignons throughout Chile.
Pastel de Choclo
Pastel de choclo (corn pie) is native to the Andean regions, but you’ll see it on restaurant menus all around the country. This pie is layered with various ingredients, including minced beef or chicken, onions, olives, raisins, and hard-boiled eggs, all topped with a generous layer of sweet ground corn. This is one of Chile’s most unique dishes, so it’s definitely one to try, and you might be surprised by its mix of sweet and salty flavors.
Another traditional stew, porotos granados is typically eaten during the summertime. While it might seem a little counterintuitive to chow down on a hearty stew in the summer heat, the dish has its roots as a working lunch for farmers during the summer harvest season—and it’s packed with seasonal produce.
A standard porotos granados recipe will have corn, squash, onions, and porotos (cranberry beans), seasoned with cumin, garlic, and basil. Add a spoon of pebre (a Chilean salsa-like sauce made with chopped onions, chili peppers, and herbs) for an extra kick.
Arrollado de Huaso
Arrollado de huaso is a traditional peasant dish that was typically made in the winter season to use up leftover meat. After fattening up the pigs over the summer, they would be slaughtered at the end of the season, and a variety of dishes would be made in order to use up every part of the pig. It’s made from succulent pork stuffed with ‘huaso’, a spicy chili pepper sauce, rolled up in pork fat, then boiled in broth. Primarily found in southern regions, it’s served in slices, often with an extra dollop of chili sauce.
Lomo a Lo Pobre
You can’t beat a generous plate of steak and fries, and this has to be one of Chile’s most ubiquitous meals. Lomo a lo pobre (sometimes called bife a lo pobre) is a steak (typically beef tenderloin) served with caramelized onions, one or two fried eggs, and a big portion of fries.
You’ll see the affix ‘a lo pobre’ used a lot in Chile (and maybe you already ordered the previously mentioned ‘churrasco a lo pobre’). It translates literally to ‘of the poor’ and refers to a cheap yet filling meal that uses simple ingredients—typically some kind of meat with eggs and fries. You might also see lomito a lo pobre (pork) and pollo a lo pobre (chicken), both of which will be served with the same side dishes.
Sopa de Patasca
This traditional soup hails from the highlands of Bolivia and Peru, but you’ll also find it on menus in northern Chile, especially around the Atacama region. Large cuts of beef, lamb, or pork (or sometimes a mixture of all three) are slow-cooked on the bone, along with corn, onion, and a tasty broth. Work up an appetite exploring under the desert sun, then warm up with a generous portion of sopa de patasca during the cold desert evenings.
In Chile, even a plate of French fries comes with a twist, and a chorillana is one of the most popular orders. This uses similar ingredients to a lomo a lo pobre, except that it’s the French fries that take center stage. Expect heaps of fries, topped with various shredded meats, fried onions, and fried eggs. Each chorillana is slightly different, so you might find ones with scrambled eggs or sausage, too. Order a big plate to share with friends and add ketchup, mayo, or Aji Chileno to taste.
Fish and Seafood in Chile
With more than 4,000 miles of coastline, it’s little surprise that Chile is renowned for its fish and seafood. Chilean sea bass (otherwise known as Patagonian toothfish) is famous around the world, but there’s so much more to try on local seafood menus. Look out for ostras (oysters), ostiones (scallops), loco (abalone), choros or choritos (mussels), and centolla (crab), as well as many different types of fish. Here are some popular dishes to try.
The number-one must-try dish for seafood enthusiasts is ceviche. Although it’s a Peruvian dish, you’ll see ceviche on menus throughout coastal Chile. Fresh fish (often halibut or Patagonian toothfish) is served raw, cured in fresh lemon or lime juice, and seasoned with coriander, garlic, and chili. Order this as an appetizer before you tuck into your caldillo de mariscos.
Caldillo de Mariscos
Coastal towns like Viña del Mar, La Serena, and Valparaíso are great places to sample Chile’s fish and seafood, and you won’t have to look far to find this popular dish. Caldillo de mariscos is a seafood soup seasoned with coriander and loaded with mussels, clams, piures (a red-colored shellfish), and chunks of fish.
Machas a la Parmesana
Machas (saltwater clams) are native to Chile, and you’ll see them popping up in numerous seafood dishes (you’ll probably find some in your Caldillo de mariscos). To enjoy them like a local, opt for machas a la parmesana, which are baked clams seasoned with white wine and lemon, then topped with butter and parmesan. You’ll find this indulgent dish at seafood restaurants and cafés at any of Chile’s coastal towns, and it’s ideal as an appetizer or a light lunch.
Pastel de Jaiba
If you’re a fan of photographing your food, this one might just be the break-out star of your Instagram feed. Pastel de Jaiba is a traditional Chilean crab pie, and it’s typically served with a dramatic crab claw or two peeking out of the top. You might even get an entire crab!
It doesn’t just look good, though. This tasty dish is big on flavor, with layers of flaky white crab meat soaked in butter, cream, and white wine, and seasoned with spices including garlic, paprika, cumin, and chili. It’s then topped with a breaded crust and cheese, and baked in a clay pot. Pair it with a glass of white wine and scoop up the last bits with a chunk of marraqueta (crusty Chilean bread).
Fish lovers should also look out for pescado ahumado (smoked fish), which you’ll find sold in markets, by street food vendors, and sometimes even in supermarkets. The type of fish will depend on the region, from Pacific sierra in the north to salmon or trout in the south. If you’re not planning on visiting the coast while in Chile, this is one you’ll find on sale even in inland cities. Pick some up for a picnic or tuck into it as a simple street food snack.
Chile Desserts and Sweet Treats
From sugary cocktails to delicious deserts, Chilean food also provides plenty of ways to indulge your sweet tooth. Here are some of our favorites.
You’ll find these fried snacks on sale at bakeries and street food vendors all around Chile. Sopaipilla are flat, circular bread-like pastries made from pumpkin and flour. You can enjoy them as a savory snack, served with chili sauce or cheese, but for a sweet treat, opt for sopaipillas pasadas. These deliciously sweet sopaipillas are smothered in chancaca, a sugary syrup made with orange zest and cinnamon.
Mote con Huesillo
Summer in Santiago is all about mote con huesillo! The sweet non-alcoholic drink is sold by street vendors all around the country, and it’s particularly popular in the summer months. Made with huesillo (peach) syrup, mote (fresh wheat), and iced water, it’s a refreshing beverage that doubles up as a dessert (you’ll be given a spoon to scoop out all the sweet wheat at the end).
Tres Leches Cake
Torta de Tres Leches (three milks cake) is a favorite throughout South and Central America, and Chile’s version rarely disappoints. This light spongey cake is soaked in cream, evaporated milk, and condensed milk (hence the name), then topped off with vanilla whipped cream. If your idea of dessert is sweet, creamy, and indulgent, this one is for you!
This cocktail might have its origins in Peru, but it’s also a staple on drink menus throughout Chile. The Chilean version uses limon de pica (limes from the Atacama town of Pica) and Chilean pisco (a local brandy), but omits the egg white included in the Peruvian recipe. A safer choice if you’re squeamish about eating raw eggs.
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Zoë Smith is a freelance travel writer who has lived, worked, and traveled over six continents—including six months backpacking across South America and living in Argentina for more than a year. She has written for the Rough Guides, TripAdvisor, CNN, and Culture Trip.
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