When I first moved to Chile, I remember being told that the country was famous for the three Ws — wine, women, and weather. I can’t speak to the second W, but I can say I understand why the wine and weather are famous in Chile.
What generally isn’t considered famous in Chile is its cuisine. Before moving there, I had no pre-made list of all the foods I wanted to try when I arrived. I don’t even think I would have been able to name a type or style of food that Chile is known for.
However, the country does indeed have a unique cuisine. In this article, I will highlight the five foods and drinks you must sample to eat like a local in Chile, plus where to find them.
1. The Completo
Not exactly a culinary masterpiece, the completo is Chile’s take on the hotdog. Translating to “complete,” the completo is topped with mayonnaise (a Chilean staple in and of itself), diced tomatoes, and of course, palta, or smashed avocado (perhaps even more of a staple than the mayo).
Along with these three necessary ingredients, sauerkraut (a remnant from the many German immigrants who fled to Chile in the 19th century) is sometimes added. Stuff this dog and all its ingredients into a bun, and you have the famous completo.
Where To Order The Completo
The completo is Chilean street food at its best. It is super cheap and easy to take on the go. It can be found at nearly any street vendor, though my favorite place to purchase and eat a completo is downtown at Plaza De Armas. There are plenty of park benches on which to sit and tons of people watching to be had while enjoying this most Chilean of hotdogs.
2. Empanada De Pino
Nearly every country in the world has some version of an empanada — be it a dumpling, a pierogi, or an egg roll. Yumminess stuffed into some kind of breading is always popular. Chile, along with many Latino cultures, has the empanada. The empanada that is specific to and well-known in Chile is the empanada de pino.
This is a baked, handheld empanada filled with ground beef, onions, a hard-boiled egg, raisins, and black olives. I know those ingredients don’t exactly sound like they go together; raisins and beef? But, trust me, you’ve got to try it.
The raisins add an unexpected sweetness that balances the savoriness of the pino mixture. I also love that because it is all hidden inside the baked dough. You get a surprise in every bite.
Where To Order Empanada De Pino
While the empanada de pino is also great street food for on-the-go, it can be found in many sit-down restaurants as well as street vendors. My favorite place to get all types of empanadas is Todo Empanada in Valparaiso, Chile.
I’m a firm believer that condiments make anything better. An empanada de pino dipped into some spicy and delicate pebre is heaven. Pebre can most closely be defined as Chile’s salsa.
Pebre is a mix of tomatoes, cilantro, onions, aji peppers for some spice, and oil and vinegar (it’s this that makes it different than typical salsas). It is most commonly served with bread and is often a starter on any dinner table. However, it is also often served with meats such as choripan.
I don’t have a particular restaurant to suggest to sample this delight. Instead, I encourage you to sample a variety of all the different pebre you may find on your table during your travels in Chile.
Pebre is probably my favorite take away from living in Chile. I still make it at home often. On September 18, Chile’s Independence Day, I always try to make empanadas de pino and pebre to celebrate and remember my time there.
Yes, a terremoto is a natural disaster known as an earthquake and quite infamous in Chile, but it is also a signature cocktail in the country. Not surprisingly, this sweet drink was invented after the 1985 earthquake in Chile. It is very popular during the Independence Day celebrations which tend to last an entire week.
It combines a very young, sweet wine made from either apples or grapes (called “chicha”) with pineapple ice cream and grenadine. Think of an adult root beer float; hold the root beer and add the sweet.
Where To Order Terremoto
The absolute best place to try a classic terremoto is at La Piojera. This is a famous dive bar located near the Mercado Central in Santiago, Chile. The name translates to “the flea house,” and while this might describe some of the clientele, the bar itself is a far cry from this.
My first time in La Piojera, I drank my share of terremotos and ended up dancing la cuaca (a traditional Chilean courting dance that involves a handkerchief) with many of the local men. Come with an adventurous spirit to enjoy the true heart of Santiago.
5. Pisco Sour
Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten the most famous and delicious cocktail in Chile. I mean, I named my cat after this beautiful liquor made from grapes (often a brandy or a grappa), if that tells you anything about how much I love it.
While I usually prefer the easier and less-fancy piscola (pisco and coke, very similar to a rum and coke), a pisco sour is a must-try on any visit to Chile. This is a mixture of Chilean pisco (this is important as there is quite a debate between Chile and Peru over where pisco originated), the juice of a pica lime (a particularly acidic lime found in the Atacama Desert in Chile), and powdered sugar.
You may be familiar with another type of pisco sour, one that comes with egg whites in it. This, along with the pica lime, is generally the main difference between a Chilean and Peruvian pisco sour. Though, I’ve had pisco sours in Chile that had egg whites and others in Peru that didn’t. It will really all depend on the establishment.
The closest drink I can compare this to as far as the taste is a margarita. It’s got that sweet-and-sour balance, all while being one-of-a-kind because of the pisco. If you are not so sure about a terremoto, you could opt for Chile’s national drink, the pisco sour at La Piojera.
Pro Tips: My favorite middle-of-the-road Chilean pisco that can be found in some liquor stores in the U.S. is the brand Capel. This is what I use to make my piscolas at home, but it can also be used to make a pisco sour. Because pica lime is not found in the U.S., or really outside of Chile, use a mix of both lemon and lime juices to achieve the right balance.