15 Delicious Traditional Chilean Food Dishes You Have to Try in Chile
The food in Chile is about as diverse as everything else in the second longest country in the world, which makes sense given the enormous range of climates, soil, and ecosystems at play. And of course, the amount of coastline the country occupies, which offers up some of the best Chilean food of all - succulent seafood. It's interesting to understand and actually taste the unique flavors in both the food and of course the famous Chilean wines as you move from north to south. Chilean cuisine is largely based on the frutas del mar, or fruits of the sea, but head further south to Patagonia where baqueanos ride their horses on the open range and meat is also on the menu in a big way.
The Traditional Chilean Food Dishes
Given the vast size of the country, it’s no surprise there are quite a few traditional Chilean dishes to try. It's just not possible for a sizable country to have just one or two dishes they're known for. Italy is a good example, and the notion of Italian food. No, food is regional, no matter where you go. And when you're in Chile, be sure and try these 15 dishes, some of the most popular dishes in Chile!
Food of the Atacama Desert (Northern Chile)
The Atacama Desert is the world's driest non-polar desert with a stunning lunar landscape to explore. The high elevation and lack of ambient light and well-driven roads can make it tricky to drive, but there's so much to see discover on your own. The desert's lack of rain, high salt concentration, volcanic thermal activity, and hyper-arid micro-climates are several reasons you'll love San Pedro de Atacama and the surrounding landscape that you may not think of as fertile. But surprisingly it yields an abundance of fresh produce and original foods.
Not surprisingly, you’ll find lots of quinoa dishes in the Atacama desert in the northern altiplano region of Chile. This superfood has recently grown in popularity and availability in the US, but has been grown in this region since time began. If you’ve never tried quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) it’s a light and tasty seed that's soft when cooked and served in salads, risotto, soups, and stews. You'll also see puffed quinoa pops for breakfast and foods made from quinoa flour including some delicious pastries.
The native stew of northern Chile which derives its name from the kernels of white corn that “pop” open when stewed long enough. Besides corn, this delicious dish usually includes potatoes, onions, pork, and beef. Don’t pass up the chance to try this authentic Chilean dish when you’re in San Pedro de Atacama.
Sopaipilla with Pebre
An authentic fried pastry made with a pumpkin and flour dough. Small and round, these are great to pack along for a hike or just for a snack. They should be flaky and crisp, the fresher the better, and are usually served with pebre on the side, a fresh and spicy condiment made from ahi peppers.
For more original flavors in the Atacama, look for foods made with rica rica, lucuma, and chañar. These native plants impart a distinct flavor to Atacameño dishes including ice cream. You'll want to try Heladeria Tierra de Sol after dinner one night in San Pedro de Atacama for ice cream made with many of these native plants and herbs.
Food of Santiago and the Central Valley
South of the Atacama, Chile's fertile valleys stretch out from the Andes mountain range toward the sea. This is where you'll find the country's capital city of Santiago and its most popular winery destinations. Here's some good food to go with all that amazing wine.
We had this dish in Valparaiso, the colorful port city on the coast of central Chile, and found it to be somewhat similar to the Pichanga we had in Patagonia, but more diner-like: the meat was sauteed and less chargrilled than with the Pichanga, with sautéed onions and cheese melted over the fries. It's indigestion on a plate, but that's what makes it so tasty!
Hot dog lovers will love the Chilean version of their favorite food, the Completo. Like any good garbage dog, you’ll find them loaded with any combo of mustard, ketchup, and fried onions, but usually topped with a heap of avocado sauce and mayo. Yum!
Los Pasteles de Choclo
You’ll see this traditional corn casserole everywhere in Chile and in many variations and shapes from individual portions to large family-style casseroles. Pastele is typically made with meat, potatoes, olives and vegetables. It’s the comfort food of Chile.
Mote de Huesillo
I tasted this drink at a farmers market in Santiago, and then saw vendors selling it all around the city. It’s an interesting mixture of sugary syrup made from boiled dried peaches (huesillos) and herbs, with cooked wheat (mote) and a rehydrated peach floating in the middle. Eat it with a spoon in between sips - it’s like dessert in a cup!
Derived from the Quechua word for “sea plant”, Cochayuyo is a seaweed that’s found in abundance all along the shores of Chile with lengths reaching up to 15 meters. The kelp is salty with a heavy fish flavor, even after it’s cooked. Once it’s gathered and dried, it’s sold at market in dried bundles and must be soaked for hours before it can be used in traditional Chilean dishes like stews, though some people enjoy it with just a spritz of lemon. Many restaurants even use it in ceviche. Today, kelp is also used in the making of cosmetics, fertilizers, and even fuel.
Ceviche is popular all over Central and South America, and the national dish of Peru. We’ve eaten it in many countries and find slight variations depending on the citrus acid used (lemon, lime, even orange juice) and accompanying ingredients. But we’ve never met a ceviche we didn’t love. We took the Hop On, Hop Off bus in Santiago to the seafood market downtown and had two kinds of ceviche - freshly made with a blend of seafood like squid, octopus, shrimp, flaked fish, and mussels.
If you like clams, razor clams are some of the sweetest you’ll ever have, and one of Chile’s native delicacies. Pink razor clams, called machas, are indigenous to Chilean shores and one of the country’s most popular shellfish. And yes, Parmesan is a typical way to serve them. To my surprise, it was tasty!
Food of Patagonia
Outdoor adventure lovers head to Patagonia for its raw and wild landscape, the kind of unspoiled natural beauty that's rarely seen and yet so accessible, even to first timers. And there's so many ways to see the incredible scenery of Patagonia: on horseback, trekking the famed W trek through Torred del Paine, on top of an icey blue glacier, or driving through the wilderness on Chile's Carretera Austral. The cold Antarctic waters off the southern coast and the wide open plains produce the rich foods of Patagonia. And perhaps because of all the days we spent exploring, the food we ate at the end of the day perfected suited the environment, and was delicious.
Chupe de Centolla
Chupe refers to the “stew” you’ll see on menus throughout Chile, and like most dishes in Patagonia, the centolla or King Crab is the ingredient of choice. Chupe de centolla is similar to a Crab Imperial, baked with a thick and hearty cheese sauce.
If you like your seafood served unadulterated, order a big pile of native King Crab to savor on its own. You’ll find restaurants in Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales who serve it with fresh lemon or lime, and mayo on the side. There's no better way to taste the freshest king crab than straight from the ocean. By the way, I think this huge pile of crab meat cost us less than US $5!
Traditional in just about every Latin American culture, empanadas take on the flavor of their country with the dough used to make them, ingredients stuffed inside, and their preparation. We had delicious empanadas in Patagonia, made with lamb (a specialty), beef and king crab - and they were baked not fried. Heaven!
This typical dish is a mixture of cubes of ham, chorizo, beef, or chicken, cheese, olives, avocados, onions, cucumber, and salami, or any mixture of these. It's a throw-together kind of dish, perfect for "leftovers" and many countries have their own version, like the Bolivian Pique a lo Macho. It's hearty and popular at bars washed down with a good Austral beer.
Cordero Al Palo (Spit Roasted Patagonian Lamb)
We saved the best for last - easily the most famous dish in Patagonia. If there's one food you should try in Chile, it’s lamb. Even if you’re not a fan of traditional lamb - the kind so bad it has to be slathered with mint jelly to hide the taste - try the lamb in Patagonia.
The method of preparation tenderizes it beautifully and renders a rich flavor with no gamey taste. I promise you, it just may change your mind about lamb!
Where to Eat - Our Favorite Restaurants in Chile
Here are some of our favorite restaurants to try in Chile:
San Pedro de Atacama - Adobe Restaurant; Las Delicias del Carmen; Heladeria Tierra de Sol
Santiago - Fresh seafood market in downtown Santiago
Patagonia - El Chumanguito, Punta Arenas (Try the King Crab empanadas!); Restaurant Coirón at Hotel Las Torres, Torres del Paine National Park
Planning on adding Ushuaia, Argentina to your Patagonia tip? Read these too:
IF YOU GO
The food of Chile is some of the tastiest I've had in our travels, and I was excited to see how much the food changed as we explored different regions. While I expected to find a lot of meat dishes, we also found some of the most amazing cold water seafood in Santiago and Patagonia, and excellent vegetarian options particularly in the Atacama desert. Foodies will love Chilean food!