Now that I’ve had about six weeks to dive into Chilean culture and food, I think it’s time to write a post about some of the Chilean food I’ve discovered in Santiago. Obviously, there are some things I really like, and other things I don’t like. A lot of people are not going to like this, but generally, I am definitely NOT a fan. Why?
- Bland. Everything is so very bland. Chile is in South America, so you’d expect there to be lots of flavor and spice. Wrong. I’ve found Chilean food typically comes in two flavors – bland and oversalted. After over three years in Turkey, this is not easy to adjust to. At most restaurants in the world, you’ll have a salt and pepper shaker at the table, but that’s not necessarily true in Chile. I’ve even eaten at some restaurants that only have a salt shaker, because pepper is considered too spicy!
- What’s with all the mayo????!!! Chileans seem to slather mayonnaise on EVERYTHING! Not just a dab here and there. I’m talking somewhere close to half a jar. Chile is the world’s 3rd largest consumer of mayo per capita! That’s a huge accomplishment for a country of only 17 million! Learn how to say the phrase “sin mayonesa” (without mayo).
- Where’s the seafood? With such a long coastline and fish and shellfish that can’t be found anywhere else in the world, Chilean food typically consists of lots of meat. My Chilean friend couldn’t find an explanation for this. (Update! Read my post about my Chilean seafood experience!)
- And what about the vegetables? The climate is perfect for growing all kinds of fruits and vegetables, but I see meat everywhere!
So what do I like about Chilean food?
- Avocado is used just as liberally as mayo. I can do avocado. It’s one of my favorites.
- Some of the fast food is ok. I’ll explain below.
- Pebre. For most sit down meals, you will get a portion of pebre with bread. Pebre is a spicy salsa you can eat with the bread.
Here’s what I typically eat:
- You can’t go wrong with empanadas. If you don’t know what an empanada is, think Hot Pockets. I’ve seen a place with over 60 varieties of empanadas. You can get them fried or baked. I prefer fried. My favorite filling is jamon y queso (ham and cheese).
- Choripán is good. Maybe because it isn’t Chilean in origin (too harsh?). It’s chorizo in bread. Chorizo has some spice to it, so it’s easily one of my favorites.
- Cazuela – a broth with huge chunks of vegetables and a big chunk of meat, topped with cilantro. See below for a photo.
- Pastel de choclo – think shepherd’s pie with corn meal instead of potatoes. Very tasty.
- Churrasco Italiano is below average. It’s a thinly sliced, tasteless, rubbery meat sandwich with a slice of tomato. They overcompensate for the blandness of the meat by smothering excessive amounts of avocado and mayo on it. That makes it pretty messy. I still haven’t figured out what avocado and mayo have to do with the Italians. I’m sure they’re wondering, too. (Note: the colors of the toppings make it look like an Italian flag.)
- The Chacarero is a little better than the Churrasco Italiano. It has tomato, green beans, and chili pepper on it, and not the disgusting amounts of mayo (at least when I tried it).
- Chileans LOVE hot dogs. Sometimes they taste good, most of the time they don’t. You can get many versions and many toppings, but you will mostly see the Italiano or the completo. I always get the Italiano, which has, you guessed it, liberal amounts of avocado and mayo, with a little tomato on it. Without the mayo, it’s not technically an Italiano. Go figure. I’ve never had a completo. It doesn’t look very “complete”. It just looks like an Italiano without the avocado, but it does contain pickled vegetables and sauerkraut. I hate sauerkraut, so I avoid the completo.
- Chorillana. It’s thinly sliced tasteless beef served over a bed of fries and onions, and topped with fried eggs. Not perfect, especially spice-wise, but filling. I love fries and eggs, and it’s hard to screw those up. It’s so huge they usually serve it for two or more people. You can also find a vegetarian option in some places.
- Lomo a lo pobre. Another dish with a good concept, but sometimes falls short on taste. It’s exactly the same as the Chorillana above, but with a steak instead of the thinly sliced beef. I’ve had it mediocre and terrible, but not yet excellent.
Mote con Huesillo
Whenever I’m walking through the city center, I can’t pass up a mote con huesillo. This is a traditional Chilean drink made with a peach and wheat. It really cools you down and tastes great. You can usually get a small, which is enough, for CLP $500.
Is there a restaurant in Santiago with good Chilean food? YES! There is. Recommended by a Chilean friend who knows the tastes of foreigners, I was told to try Galindo. I went with a friend one afternoon. It was actually very good and I was happy with my meal.
I had the arrollado huaso, which was a pork sandwich smothered with avocado. It was very good, even though the meat was a slightly bland (but less bland than I’m used to). The bread did it for me. It was soft and tasty. My friend Brina had the cazuela de pollo. I had a taste and it was excellent.
On a second trip to Galindo, I had the pastel de choclo. It was phenomenal. It was so filling, I couldn’t finish it, so go easy on the appetizers if you plan on ordering it.
Galindo is located on the corner of Dardignac and Constitución in Bellavista, in a colorful building with outdoor seating. Check out my post about non-Chilean restaurants if you’re looking for other choices.