Eating and drinking

Food


Chile's cuisine is varied and often delicious. The Mediterranean climate of the central regions is perfect for growing a wide variety of fruit and vegetables - avocados are especially delicious. The semi-tropical climate of northern Chile supplies mangoes, papayas,
lúcumas
and
chirimoyas
(custard apples). In the central valley, grapes, melons and watermelons abound. The lush grasslands of the south are ideal for dairy and beef farming as well as for growing grains, apples, cherries and plums, while in Patagonia, sheep roam the plains and rhubarb grows wild.

Although Chilean cuisine is mostly rooted in the Spanish tradition, it has also been influenced by the immigrant groups who have settled in the country. The pastry-making skills of the Germans have produced '
onces Alemanas
', a kind of high tea with
Küchen
.
Pan de Pascua
, a traditional Christmas fruit loaf, also derives from Germany.

The main meals are breakfast (
desayuno
), lunch (
almuerzo
) and dinner (
cena
). Lunch is eaten any time from 1300 to 1530, and dinner between 2000 and 2230.
Las onces
(literally elevenses) is the name given to a snack usually including tea, bread, cheese, etc, eaten by many Chileans as their evening meal. Breakfast usually consists of bread, butter and jam, served with coffee (usually instant) or tea. Lunch tends to be the main meal of the day, and many restaurants serve a cheaper fixed-price meal at lunch time; when this consists of a single dish it is known as
la colación
, whereas if there is more than one course it is called
el menú
. In more expensive places, this may not be referred to on the menu.

Seafood

Perhaps the most outstanding type of food is the seafood. Although there are good fish restaurants in Santiago, and fine seafood can be found at the Mercado Central, naturally the best seafood and fish is found on the coast. The excellent fish restaurants between Playa Ancha and Concón, near Valparaíso, are especially popular with Santiaguinos. Almost every port on the Chilean coast has a small market or a row of seafood restaurants where excellent seafood can be eaten very cheaply; in smaller harbours, it is often possible to eat with the fishermen. Most of these seafood restaurants receive their supplies of fish and shellfish from local fishing boats that land their catch every morning in the harbours. Watching the unloading at a port such as Talcahuano can be fascinating. If you have the courage to bargain you may be able to pick up some delicious, fresh fish from the boats or from the stalls along the harbour; whole crates of shellfish go for the equivalent of a few dollars.

In the north, great seafood can be had at Caleta Hornos, north of La Serena, and at Huasco. In the centre and south the best seafood is to be had at Concón, Valparaíso, Constitución, Talcahuano, Angelmó (Puerto Montt) and on Chiloé, where you should try the famous
curanto
, a stew of shellfish, pork, chicken and other ingredients. Beware of eating seafood that you have bought unofficially in the far south because of the poisonous
marea roja
.

The most popular fish are
merluza
(a species of hake inferior to European hake),
congrio
(kingclip or ling),
corvina
(bass),
reineta
(a type of bream),
lenguado
(a large kind of sole),
albacora
(sword fish) and
salmón
.
Merluza
, which is usually fried, is an inexpensive fish, found in ordinary restaurants.
Congrio
is very popular, and particularly delicious served as
caldillo de congrio
, a soup containing a large
congrio
steak.
Albacora
is a delicious fish, available mainly in quality restaurants.
Ceviche
, fish marinated in lemon juice, is usually made with
corvina
.

There is an almost bewildering array of shellfish. Look out for
choritos
,
cholgas
and
choros maltón
(varieties of mussel),
ostiones
(queen scallops),
ostras
(oysters) and
erizos
(sea urchins). Prawns are known as
camarones
, but these are often imported from Ecuador and can be tasteless and expensive. Chile's most characteristic products are the delicious
erizos
,
machas, picorocos
and
locos
, which are only found in these seas.
Machas a la parmesana
are a kind of razor clam prepared in their shells with a parmesan cheese sauce, grilled and served as a starter.
Picorocos
(giant barnacles), which are normally boiled or steamed in white wine, are grotesque to look at but have a very intense taste: it may be very disconcerting to be presented with a plate containing a rock with feathery fins but it is well worth taking up the challenge of eating it. Note, only the white fleshy part is edible.
Locos
, a kind of abalone, are the most popular Chilean mollusc, but because of overexploitation its fishing is frequently banned. The main crustaceans are
jaiba
(purple crab),
langosta
(lobster) and the
centolla
, an exquisite king crab from the waters of the south.

Packages of dried seaweed, particularly
cochayuyo
(which looks like a leathery thong), are sold along coastal roads. Both
cochayuyo
and
luche
are made into a cheap, nutritious stew with vegetables, and eaten with potatoes or rice; these dishes are rarely available in restaurants. Until recently salmon was available only in the south where the rivers and lakes are full of 'wild' salmon that has escaped from farms. It is now farmed extensively in the south and can be found on menus in many parts of the country.


Other specialities

Away from seafood, savoury Chilean dishes tend to be creative. Specialities include
humitas
(mashed sweetcorn mixed with butter and spices and baked in sweetcorn leaves),
pastel de papas
(meat pie covered with mashed potatoes), and
cazuela
, either
de ave
(chicken) or
de vacuno
(beef); it's a nutritious stew with pumpkin, potato, coriander and rice, and maybe onions and green peppers - the most common everyday dish. In central and southern Chile stews with beans (
porotos
) are common. A typical (and unhealthy) dish from Valparaíso is the
chorillana
: chips covered with sliced steak, fried onions and scrambled eggs.
Pastel de choclo
is a casserole of chicken, minced beef and onions with olives, topped with polenta, baked in an earthenware bowl.
Prieta
is a blood sausage stuffed with cabbage leaves.
Bife
or
lomo a lo pobre
(a poor man's steak) is just the opposite: it is a steak topped by two fried eggs, chips and onions. A
paila
can take many forms (the
paila
is simply a kind of serving dish), but the most common are made of eggs or
seafood. In the north,
paila de huevos
(scrambled eggs with
hallulla
- a kind of bread) is common for breakfast. A
paila marina
is a delicious shellfish stew.

Snacks

Among the many snacks sold in Chile, the most famous are
empanadas
, pastry turnovers made
de pino
(with meat, onions, egg and an olive),
queso
(cheese) or
mariscos
(shellfish). The quality of
empanadas
varies: many are full of onions rather than meat; by the coast the
empanadas de mariscos
are delicious and usually better value.

Chilean sandwiches tend to be fairly substantial: the
churrasco
is a minute steak in a bun and can be ordered with any variety of fillings.
Chacareros
contain thinly sliced steak and salad;
barros lucos
have steak and grilled cheese; and
barros jarpas
have grilled cheese and ham.

Completos
are the cheapest and most popular snacks: betraying the German influence on everyday food, these are hot dogs served with plenty of extras, including mustard, sauerkraut, tomatoes, mayonnaise and
ají
(hot sauce). An
Italiano
is a
completo
with avocado and without the sauerkraut. Avocado is very popular at family
onces
, mashed up and served on bread. Bread itself is plentiful and cheap, and comes in pairs of fluffy rolls (
marraquetas
) or as a crisper slim roll (
hallullas
). Most large cities also have many ice cream stands doing a roaring trade.

Eating out

Fashionable Chilean society has seen something of a gastronomic boom over the last few years. An increasing number of boutique restaurants have been opening in Santiago (and to a lesser extent in other major cities). Typically, with upper-class Chile's insecurity with its own identity they almost all shun Chilean food in favour of the flavour of the month, whether it be sushi or 'ethnic fusion'. Many of these are cliché copies of northern hemisphere new cuisine. Occasionally there are new restaurants that try to fuse uniquely Chilean ingredients with international styles and these are worth looking out for. The older established elegant restaurants rarely offer typical Chilean food either, tending to stick to Mediterranean fare.

The focal point for life in towns is the plaza, in which there will typically be a number of slightly upmarket cafés, where people tend to have a beer and snacks, but rarely go for a full meal. If you are travelling in small villages off the beaten track, it is usually possible to find someone who will cook for you; ask around. Those on a budget will want to stick to the cheaper eateries, where simple and very tasty meals can be had at a very reasonable price; a
colación
need not cost you more than US$3. The cheapest restaurants in urban areas tend to be by the transport terminals and markets or, in coastal areas, by the port. These restaurants may well have a wide choice of food for very reasonable prices, and often there is very little difference in the quality of the food between cheaper and more expensive places, the main differences being the service and the elegance (or pretensions) of the surroundings. More expensive places will, though, have a wider range of starters and desserts, which are often non-existent in cheaper eateries. Among the cheaper eating places are the
casinos de bomberos
(firemen's canteens) in most towns. Fire stations are not paid for by the state, and firemen are all voluntary. Eating at a canteen helps fund their work, and the food is usually cheap and good.

Although there are
vegetarian restaurants
in major cities, vegetarians will find that their choice of food is severely restricted, especially in smaller towns and away from tourist areas. To confuse matters, '
carne
' is understood to mean red meat, so asking if a dish has meat in it is likely to lead to disaster; or chicken, at the very least. Vegetarians should explain which foods they cannot eat rather than saying '
Soy vegetariano
' (I'm a vegetarian) or '
No como carne
' ('I don't eat meat'). To make matters worse, the bread known as
hallulas
is often made with lard (
manteca
); ask first. There
are fewer problems for vegetarians if they can cook for themselves, and they may be best off looking for accommodation that has cooking facilities.


Drink

While Argentine cafés have excellent coffee, if you ask for coffee in many places in Chile you will get a cup of boiling water and a tin of instant coffee, even in quite high-class restaurants. There are espresso bars in major cities, elsewhere specify
café-café, espresso
. A
cortado
is an expresso with hot frothed milk served in a glass. Tea is usually served with neither milk nor lemon. If you order
café
, or
té, con leche
', it will come with all milk; to have just a little milk ask for your tea or coffee '
con un poco de leche
'. After a meal, instead of coffee, try an
agüita
- hot water in which herbs such as mint, or aromatics such as lemon peel, have been steeped. A wide variety of refreshing herbal teas is available in sachets.


Wine

The international reputation of Chilean wine continues to grow every year. The last 25 years have seen radical modernization and innovation in production techniques and processes putting Chile firmly on the world wine map. Chilean reds tend to be full bodied with lots of tannins and high alcohol content. Production centres around the great Bordeaux grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chilean wine's latest claim to fame, the lost Carmenère grape, wiped out in France over a century ago and rediscovered in Chile a decade ago. Pinot Noir is also now being successfully produced. Chilean whites are also getting better every year. Sauvignon Blancs from Casablanca and San Antonio tend to be crisp and fruity and are excellent when drunk young, while the Chardonnays have been winning awards for years. The very best wines can sell for upwards of US$50 a bottle, while a good reserve wine might set you back around US$10. Anything over US$3 should be perfectly drinkable, and even cheaper wine sold in tetrapacks (US$2.50 a litre) can sometimes be surprisingly good. Anything cheaper than this should be avoided.


Beer

The emergence in recent years of several small independent breweries means that Chilean beer is no longer as bland as it used to be, and makes a fresh change from the previous situation whereby CCU, the country's largest brewery, had bought out the regional competition one by one and either discontinued or standardized their beers. Chile's best-selling beer is the rather insipid
Cristal
.
Escudo
is slightly more full bodied, while
Royal Guard
has a more flowery flavour.
Austral
brewed in Patagonia is good, but mediocre elsewhere.
Báltica
is good, stong and cheap.
Heineken
and
Brahma
are also good, but
Dorada
is best left for the drunks.
Kunstmann
is the best of the nationwide beers.
Malta
, a dark beer, is recommended for those wanting a British-type beer; however, there are different breweries, and the
Malta
north of Temuco is more bitter than that to the south. Of the regional beers,
Cerveza del Puerto
(Valparaíso),
Kross
(Curacaví),
Los Colonos
(Llanquihue) and
Imperial
(Punta Arenas) are all recommended. European beers are increasingly available. A refundable deposit is required for litre beer bottles (about US$0.50). Disposable bottles are sold, but these are more expensive, as are cans and smaller bottles. Draught lager is generically known as
Schop
.


Pisco and other spirits

The most famous spirit is
pisco
, made with grapes, usually drunk with lemon or lime juice as
pisco sour
.
Pisco
is also often mixed with coca cola or sprite.
Pisco
is graded in strength from 30-46°; surprisingly, the stronger versions are much more pleasant and easy to drink, as they have generally had more time to mature in the barrel. Recommended brands of
pisco
are
Alto del Carmen
and
Bauzá
; avoid the ironically named
Pisco Control
, especially at 30°C. Local rum and brandy are very cheap and tend to lead to poisonous hangovers.
Manzanilla
is a local liqueur, made from
licor de oro
(like Galliano). Two delicious drinks are
vaina
, a mixture of brandy, egg and sugar and
cola de mono
, a mixture of
aguardiente
, coffee, milk and vanilla served very cold at Christmas. There are many seasonal fruit liqueurs which are delicious;
eguindado
, made from cherries, is particularly recommended.
Chicha
is any form of alcoholic drink made from fruit;
chicha cocida
is three-day-old fermented grape juice boiled to reduce its volume and then bottled with a tablespoonful of honey, while
chicha fresca
is fresh fermented grape juice. Cider (
chicha de manzana
) is popular in the south.


Other drinks

Away from alcoholic drinks, Chile does not perhaps take as much advantage of its variety of fruits as it should. Unlike in Mexico, say, cheap and freshly squeezed juices are uncommon, though of course there is nothing to stop you buying a job lot of fruit from the market and preparing juices for yourself. Note that a
jugo natural
is fresh fruit liquidized with water and sugar added. If you want a 100% pure fresh juice you should ask for a
vitamina
.
Mote con huesillo
, made from wheat hominy and dried peaches, is very refreshing in summer. Families tend to drink a lot of sugary soft drinks, picking up on the usual international brands.


This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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