Savor the Flavors of Chile: A Backpacker’s Guide to Must-Try Dishes and Street Foods

Savor the Flavors of Chile: A Backpacker’s Guide to Must-Try Dishes and Street Foods

There’s a unique thrill that comes with backpacking through a country, and Chile, with its diverse landscapes and rich cultural tapestry, offers an unforgettable culinary adventure. From the bustling streets of Santiago to the serene coastlines of Valparaíso, the flavors of Chile are as varied and vibrant as its geography. This guide will introduce you to some must-try dishes and street foods that will enhance your journey through this South American gem.

A Culinary Journey Through Chile

1. Empanadas

No visit to Chile is complete without sampling an empanada. These savory pastries come filled with a variety of ingredients, but the most traditional is the Empanada de Pino, stuffed with minced beef, onions, hard-boiled egg, olives, and sometimes raisins. Perfect for a quick snack on the go, empanadas are a staple at street fairs and markets.

2. Completo

The Completo is Chile’s answer to the hot dog, but with a twist. It’s a hot dog topped with a generous amount of fresh avocado, mayonnaise, sauerkraut, tomatoes, and other condiments. The Completo Italiano, named so for its colors resembling the Italian flag, is a popular variation. This hearty street food is a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

3. Pastel de Choclo

A truly traditional Chilean dish, Pastel de Choclo is a comforting casserole made with a blend of sweetcorn, ground beef, chicken, and a mix of vegetables. Topped with a layer of caramelized corn dough, this dish is baked to perfection and is a must-try for those seeking an authentic taste of Chilean home cooking.

4. Cazuela

Cazuela is a hearty and flavorful soup that’s perfect for colder days. Made with beef or chicken, the soup is packed with a variety of vegetables like potatoes, corn, pumpkin, green beans, and rice. It’s often served with a side of pebre, a spicy chili sauce, to add an extra kick. This dish is a testament to the comfort and warmth of Chilean cuisine.

5. Curanto

Originating from the Chiloé Archipelago, Curanto is a traditional dish that is both a meal and an event. The preparation involves cooking a variety of seafood, meats, and vegetables in a pit lined with hot stones and covered with large leaves. While it’s best experienced in Chiloé, many restaurants across the country serve versions of this iconic dish.

6. Sopaipillas

Sopaipillas are a popular street food, especially during the colder months. These fried dough pastries are made from pumpkin or squash and can be enjoyed sweet, with a dusting of powdered sugar or honey, or savory, accompanied by pebre or mustard. They are perfect for a quick and inexpensive snack.

7. Humitas

Similar to Mexican tamales, Humitas are made from fresh corn dough mixed with onions, basil, and sometimes cheese, then wrapped in corn husks and steamed. This dish highlights the importance of corn in Chilean cuisine and is a delightful treat, especially when paired with a cup of Chilean wine.

8. Churrasco Sandwich

For those craving a substantial meal, the Churrasco Sandwich is a go-to option. It features thinly sliced beef, avocado, tomato, and mayonnaise, all packed into a crusty roll. Some variations include cheese and fried eggs, making it a fulfilling and delicious option for a meal on the move.

9. Mote con Huesillo

For a refreshing drink, try Mote con Huesillo. This traditional Chilean beverage is made from dried peaches (huesillo) and husked wheat (mote) cooked in a sweet syrup made of sugar, water, and cinnamon. Served cold, it’s a perfect way to cool down on a hot day while enjoying a unique local flavor.

10. Chilean Seafood

Chile’s extensive coastline offers an abundance of fresh seafood. From ceviche made with the catch of the day to Machas a la Parmesana (razor clams grilled with parmesan cheese), the ocean’s bounty is a cornerstone of Chilean cuisine. Be sure to visit local fish markets and seaside restaurants to experience the freshest flavors.

Recreating the Chilean Culinary Experience at Home

Traveling through Chile and tasting its diverse culinary offerings is an adventure in itself, but recreating these flavors at home can be just as rewarding. Here are some tips and recipes to bring a taste of Chile to your kitchen.

Empanadas Recipe


– 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

– 1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cubed

– 1/2 cup cold water

– 1 tsp salt

– 1 egg (for egg wash)

For the filling:

– 1 lb ground beef

– 1 onion, finely chopped

– 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

– 1/4 cup olives, chopped

– 1/4 cup raisins (optional)

– 1 tbsp cumin

– Salt and pepper to taste


1. In a large bowl, mix flour and salt. Add butter and mix until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Gradually add cold water and mix until dough forms. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. In a skillet, cook ground beef and onions over medium heat until beef is browned. Add cumin, salt, and pepper.

3. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

4. Roll out the dough on a floured surface and cut into circles. Place a spoonful of the filling in the center, add a few pieces of hard-boiled egg, olives, and raisins if using.

5. Fold the dough over the filling and crimp the edges to seal. Brush with beaten egg.

6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Mote con Huesillo Recipe


– 1 cup dried peaches

– 1 cup mote (husked wheat)

– 1 cup sugar

– 4 cups water

– Cinnamon sticks


1. Cook the mote in water until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. In another pot, combine sugar, water, cinnamon, and dried peaches. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until the peaches are soft and the syrup is fragrant.

3. Combine the mote and peaches in a glass and pour the syrup over. Chill and serve cold.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: Are Chilean street foods safe to eat?

A: Chilean street foods are generally safe to eat, especially from vendors with high turnover and good hygiene practices. Look for busy stalls with plenty of locals, as this is often a sign of quality and freshness.

Q: What are some vegetarian-friendly options in Chilean cuisine?

A: While Chilean cuisine is often meat-centric, there are plenty of vegetarian-friendly options. Sopaipillas, Humitas, and fresh salads are widely available. Also, many restaurants offer vegetarian versions of traditional dishes.

Q: Can I find Chilean ingredients outside of Chile?

A: Many Chilean ingredients, such as corn flour for Humitas or dried peaches for Mote con Huesillo, can be found in Latin American grocery stores or online. Fresh produce like avocados, tomatoes, and onions are widely available.

Q: Is Chilean food spicy?

A: Chilean food is generally not very spicy compared to other Latin American cuisines. However, you can add pebre or aji sauce to your dishes if you prefer more heat.

Q: What beverages pair well with Chilean food?

A: Chilean wines, especially those from the renowned wine regions like Maipo Valley and Colchagua Valley, are excellent pairings for many dishes. Pisco Sour, a traditional Chilean cocktail, is also a great option.

In conclusion, the culinary landscape of Chile is a vibrant mix of flavors and traditions that any backpacker or food enthusiast would love to explore. From savory empanadas to refreshing Mote con Huesillo, Chile offers a rich tapestry of tastes that reflect its diverse culture and geography. Whether you’re planning a trip or wanting to recreate these dishes at home, this guide provides a delicious introduction to the flavors of Chile. Bon appétit!

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