Being such a long stretched out country covering a variety of landscapes, Chile has a vast range of dishes to offer. While the highlights of Chile food are fish and seafood, we to put a spotlight on the authentic and everyday Chilean dishes you will find across the country.
We discovered and wrote about seafood found along the long Pacific Ocean coastline. In Santiago, at the famous Mercado Central, we experienced locos (abalone) and pastel de jaiba (crab pie). Further north in the city of Valparaiso, we fell in love with Reinata, a white fish and the colorful city.
The high quality Chilean wines are not to be missed. Maipo Valley, considered the ‘Bordeaux of South America’ has exceptional wines. And Maule Valley, the largest and oldest wine region in the country, has several family-owned vineyards, offering small intimate tours.
This article, however, is dedicated to the everyday popular Chilean dishes you will see as you explore the country.
Ready to start eating?
Here are 10 of the most popular Chilean dishes every visitor to Chile should try.
The Completo (Spanish for “complete” or “total”) is a hot dog variation eaten in Chile. After seeing it at practically every street corner, we knew we had to try it. It’s a huge hot dog (bigger than American ones) with all kinds of trimmings; mayonnaise, tomatoes, onions, pickles, sauerkraut, etc.
While this is one of the most popular ones, an equally popular variation is the Italiano. This is the same hotdog but with fewer trimmings – avocado, tomatoes, and mayonnaise. We were tempted by this variation and tried it at the farmers market.
While it was surprising to have a hot dog with mayonnaise, it was actually quite delicious. The hot dog itself was tasty, the bread lightly toasted and the tomatoes and avocado were fresh. It’s not surprising that it is such a popular Chilean food!
2) Pebre (Hot chili pepper sauce)
You will find pebre on any respectable restaurant table. It looks like salsa you would typically find at a Mexican restaurant in the U.S., but it tastes nothing like it. Pebre is a seasoning made with tomatoes at the base and topped off with chopped onions, chili, chives, garlic, coriander, oil, and vinegar. It is usually served in a little clay dish and has a nice spicy bite.
This sauce is typically served with warm bread called pan amasado. We tried several versions and the recipe and ingredients change regularly based on the chef and region. Below are some ways we tried this popular Chilean food.
3) Chilean Empanadas
A favorite snack food in Chile, these baked pies or empanadas are available pretty much everywhere. You will not miss them. In Chile, the most traditional empanada filling is called pino. Pino is a mixture of minced meat, onions, raisins, black olives and hard-boiled eggs.
Having enjoyed discovering Argentina through empanadas, we were quite eager to experience the Chilean version. The empanadas in the two countries are completely different. The most obvious difference is the size.
In Chile the empanadas are huge. Almost double the size you find in Argentina. The second difference is the shape. In Argentina, the empanadas are half-moon shaped, while in Chile they are squared off. In general, you’ll find empanadas typically cooked al horno, which means baked in a wood-burning oven, or deep fried.
We tried several empanadas in different cities. We enjoyed the traditional pino versions which we had cooked al horno. Our absolute favorite traditional Chilean empanadas were the seafood or mariscos empanadas – absolutely divine. They are typically fried. And finally, we enjoyed the vegetarian or verdura versions as well. All in all, don’t expect them to be anything like the ones you would find in Argentina, but they are deserving in their own right.
4) Porotos Granados (Fresh bean stew)
Porotos Granados is a traditional Summer dish made when the ingredients are fresh and in season. The main ingredients are beans, mashed corn, onions, pumpkin, garlic, tomatoes, and basil. It is a time-consuming meal to make (beans are soaked overnight) and may not be easy to find. We had the opportunity to have it with our Airbnb host in Talca (South of Santiago) who made it especially for us.
This traditional Chilean food is a thick and delicious stew that we really enjoyed. Everything was fresh and bursting with flavors.
Although, it was a little counter-intuitive to eat this hot stew on hot Summer days. Nevertheless, if you find yourself in Chile in the Summer months, go for the beans as that is when they are in season. You will not regret it.
5) Pastel de Choclo y Humitas (Corn and beef casserole and Humitas)
Pastel de Choclo and Humitas are both corn based dishes. We saw these Chilean dishes all over in Santiago and especially at the farmers’ markets. Both Claire and I are not big fans of corn. However, knowing these local Chilean specialties are made with corn, we decided to try the Pastel de Choclo and not the Humitas.
Pastel de Choclo is like a corn pie made with sweet corn or choclo the Quechua word for “tender corn” or new corn of the season. The filling or stuffing used is called pino (like the one in empanadas). This dish has garlic, onion, minced meat, hard-boiled eggs, and olives. We had a version that also included boiled chicken as well.
We ordered the dish from the market to eat at home for dinner and eagerly anticipated the meal. Given that we are not huge fans of corn, let alone sweet corn, we honestly did not enjoy the dish at all.
The combination of the sweet corn and salty ingredients, plus the meat and chicken did not make for a delicious experience. However, given that Pastel de Choclo and Humitas are Chile traditional foods, we recommend that you at least try one of them or the both of them.
6) Churrasco and Chacarero (Chilean Steak Sandwiches)
Churrasco and Chacarero are popular Chilean steak sandwiches that are served all day long. These sandwiches come with the same base ingredients. There is a thin slice of sirloin steak called churrasco cooked a la plancha and two slices of bread called pan amasado.
The Churrasco sandwich comes in different options; either with avocados (con palta) or with tomatoes (con tomatoes), or completo which means with all the everything including tomatoes, avocado, and mayonnaise.
The Chacarero, on the other hand, comes with green beans, tomatoes, and aji verde or green peppers.
We had Churrasco sandwiches and the Churrasco meal a few times while traveling or at corner restaurants. We really enjoyed the Churrasco sandwich for its freshness and its flavorful ingredients. The thin slice of steak is delicious and flavorful. The bread is not too doughy and very tasty. The avocado is fresh and works really well with the steak.
7) Sopaipillas (Pumpkin fritters)
Sopaipillas are simple flat breads that are fried. They are made from a mixture of pumpkins, butter, and flour, flattened into circles. These fritters are popular street foods and are found all over the country. They are a versatile snack that can be eaten sweet or savory.
The most popular way we saw them eaten was savory. Most often, sopaipillas are eaten towards the end of the day and topped with either pebre or mustard and ketchup.
We tried the sopaipillas with pebre and immediately fell in love with them. The pumpkin flour is filling and gives them a really unique taste. Together with the pebre, this is a perfect pair that must be experienced.
9) Lomo a lo pobre (Poor man’s steak)
Many Chilean dishes carry the term “a lo pobre” which literally means “of the poor”. It is not clear where the name comes from. Today, the term “a lo pobre” refers to a dish made with fried eggs.
The lomo a lo pobre consists of a cut of beef tenderloin with fries, a fried egg, and onions. It is also called bife a lo pobre. There are several versions of the dish such as lomito a lo pobre (made with pork meat), pollo a lo pobre (made with chicken meat) or churrasco a lo pobre (made with thin slices of sirloin as seen in #6).
Although we tried lomo at a parilla (BBQ restaurant) in Talca, we refrained from trying the lomo a la pobre for its high calories and poor nutritious content. It is very similar to the Chivito that we enjoyed in Uruguay.
The potatoes in Chile, on the other hand, are delicious and full of flavor. Even when they are fried, they don’t feel as heavy, as they can sometimes be. The red meat in Chile is also very tasty. All in all, the lomo a la pobre is not a bad option if you want to try one of the most popular Chilean dishes.
9) Cazuelas – Vacuno (beef) or Seafood (mariscos)
Cazuelas are basically soups or stews. Think of it as home-cooked nourishing, inexpensive, everyday comfort food. Cazuelas or stews are part of Chile’s national and traditional cuisine.
These simple Chilean dishes come in many variations. The beef, pork, lamb or chicken (preferably with bone and meat) is simmered in water or broth with garlic, onions, oregano, paprika. When tender, seasonal vegetables are added. This includes potatoes, corn on the cob, pumpkins, onions and other vegetables.
The seafood or mariscos cazuelas are just as simple. Made with an assortment of seafood such as clams, shrimps, oysters and then cooked with seasonal vegetables.
We tried both the beef (vacuno) and seafood (marisco) cazuelas and we really enjoyed them. We loved the simplicity of the dishes. Just the meat, poultry or fish cooked with fresh vegetables yielding rich flavors. Simple and delicious!
Be aware that you may not find always cazuelas at upscale restaurants. However, you will find these stews on every menu at corner restaurants or cafes. The cazuelas are a “sure bet”, try them and you will not be disappointed.
This popular Chilean favorite consists of a large plate of sliced beef with french fries covered with either scrambled or fried eggs and fried onions. It is a typical dish from Valparaiso, and many say “it is not to be missed.” It is not fancy or exotic and is typically served with beers. The servings are huge and it is meant to be shared.
Honestly, this is one of the popular Chilean food that did not tempt us as at all. Looking at this huge plate (mess) of fries topped eggs and onions was not tempting.There was nothing particularly healthy about it and the high calories were off-putting.
While we are quite fond of all of these ingredients separately; fries, onions, and eggs, we didn’t have “the stomach courage” to try them together.
Chile has a lot to offer in terms of food and wine. If you’ve never considered Chilean food before, this is an invitation to put Chilean cuisine on your radar. Here we have highlighted 10 popular Chilean dishes that we saw everywhere including those we tried. Note, this is not an exhaustive list, there are other Chilean dishes that exist as well.
In addition to the food, Chile is a beautiful country to explore. The landscapes and sights are diverse and this list of the 15 best places to visit in Chile give you a great starting point.
Regardless of which part of Chile you visit, give the local Chilean dishes a chance. See our previous articles about discovering Chilean seafood as well as the six famous Chilean drinks to experience like a local.
Up next, the Atacama desert. See what food we discovered in the driest desert in the world.
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Good To Know
If you’re interested in learning more about the flavors and products that best represent Chilean dishes, check out chef Rodolfo Guzmán’s book – Boragó: Coming from the South filled with stories and recipes about the traditional food in Chile.
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Rosemary is a writer and culinary explorer. Together with her partner, Claire, they created Authentic Food Quest to inspire people to travel deeper through authentic food. Through food, they believe, people can have more meaningful connections on their travels. Prior to creating Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary worked as a director of strategy in advertising for over 15 years. Take the quiz and find out your Food Traveler Profile.