Located in the South American continent, Chile is a beautiful country with a rich culture. A big part of that culture is their cuisine. It stems mainly from both traditional Spanish cuisine and Chilean Mapuche (native Chilean) culture.
Later on in the country’s history, there were important influences from other European cuisines like German, Italian, British and French.
Chilean recipes have a variety of flavors, with a lot of dishes using local ingredients. Due to the country’s diverse geography, and their hotter climate, it’s perfect for growing an array of different fruits and vegetables.
In addition, the long coastline, which spans over 4000 miles, is home to an immense variety of seafood – which are a massive part of local cuisine.
The country is also one of the world’s largest producers of wine, and a lot of dishes are enhanced and accompanied with locally produced wines.
National Dish of Chile
A common misconception is that Chilli con Carne (chilli peppers and meat) is the national dish of Chile. However, Chili con Carne actually originated from San Antonio, Texas, which is a far cry from the South American country.
The national dish of Chile is actually Cazuela de Ave, which is a type of chicken stew. When cooked properly, the chicken should be tender enough that it falls off of the bone when served.
The vegetables should be soft and sweet, and the mix of spices sit perfectly on your palate for a hearty and warming dish. All in all it’s a pretty inexpensive dish with some of the key ingredients being chicken, potatoes, butternut squash, corncobs, carrots, garlic, onion and rice.
For spices and herbs, Cazuela de Ave includes salt, black pepper, coriander and paprika.
Cazuelas (or stews) are pretty popular in Chilean cuisine. They’re often referred to as comfort dishes thanks to their warming flavors. Meat is an essential part of cazuelas, and you can use chicken, beef, pork or lamb.
It’s also pretty popular to use seafood for cazuela. Traditionally, Chileans drink the soup first, and finish off the meal by eating the tender meat and vegetables.
This is a perfect dish to try on Chile’s Independence Day which falls on September 18th. The national holiday is such a big celebration that it’s just as important as Christmas. The celebrations include parades, dancing, music and (of course) food.
Also known locally as Fiestas Patrias, another popular Chilean dish which is served on independence day (and all year round) is Empanadas de Pino.
Empanadas de Pino are a flavorful beef empanada filled with an array of unexpected ingredients like raisins, olives and hard boiled eggs. Although these sound like an odd flavor combination the raisins add a light sweetness that perfectly compliments the smoky, spicy filling.
Historically, agriculture was one of the key bases of Chile’s economy. Nowadays, agriculture and fishing only make up around 4.9% of Chile’s GDP, however, it’s still important to the country’s cuisine.
- Maize: Known in Chile as choclo, maize (or corn) has long been a staple for humans, dating back to the Mayan, Aztec and Inca empires. Unlike Northern American corn, choclo is slightly different due to its larger kernels. It has a savoury, nutty flavor.
- Potatoes: These are a key ingredient in Chilean cazuela (stews), and is used widely across an array of dishes.
- Avocado: Although avocado originated in Peru and Mexico, it has been consumed in Chile long before Hispanic settlement ever occured.
- Aji Verde: Aji verde is green chilli, and is one of the most common varieties used in Chilean cuisine.
- Nalca/Pangue: This is a rhubarb species that is native to southern Chile. It’s leaves are used for Curanto (more on this later).
More major agricultural products include apples, pears, grapes, wheat, oats, peaches, garlic, beans, beef, poultry, fish and wool.
This traditional food originated in the Chilean islands of Chiloé Archipelago. The dish consists of meat, seafood, vegetables and potatoes and is traditionally prepared in the ground.
A hole is dug around a meter and a half deep and stones are added to the bottom, and are heated like a bonfire. Each layer is covered with nalca leaves.
Wet sacks, and chunks of dirt/grass are placed over the top to create a giant pressure cooker. After about an hour the curanto is ready.
Alternatively, curanto is prepared in large stew pots or pressure cookers heated over bonfires.
Pebre is a spicy Chilean salsa typically served on bread. It’s not too dissimilar to pico de gallo, and uses onions, cilantro and chili peppers. It’s a versatile sauce which is a perfect addition to beans, rice, salads and empanadas.
Just finely chop all the ingredients up together, or blend them to create a runnier sauce.
Asado is more than just a cooking technique and is thought of as a social event, as everyone gathers together for a barbecue.
In Chile, asado consists of beef, chicken, pork, chorizo and morcilla (sausage) cooked on a grill or open fire. Salads are served with the barbecued meats, along with the perfect wine pairing.
In southern Chile, it’s normal to have cordero al palo (whole roast lamb). The lamb is spit roasted for five hours, and served hot with salad and pebre.
Lamb is not widely eaten in Chile, but is more popular in Patagonia – a region governed by both Chile and Argentina.
Fish and Shellfish
Due to its vast coastline, Chileans enjoy eating all kinds of seafood. It’s sometimes prepared raw and served with lemon, coriander and onions.
The Patagonian Toothfish (or Chilean sea bass) is a popular high-end fish meat which can set you back a pretty penny. Also, oysters and scallops are used a lot in Chilean recipes.
Chileans are known for their sweet tooths and enjoy serving pastries. Some popular Chilean desserts are alfajores, cuchuflis, torta de mil hojas and sopaipilla.
As such a wide variety of fruits and herbs are grown in Chile, there is an interesting variety of ice cream flavors.
Two ingredients you should try are rica-rica (which is an aromatic herb native to the region) and chañar (a sweet fruit often used to make syrup).