What to eat in Chile

While the reputation of Chilean cuisine lags behind that of some its neighbours, there’s plenty for gastronomes to get their teeth stuck into. From hearty stews to tangy ceviche, Chile’s distinctive dishes mix Spanish and indigenous influences. Try fresh seafood along Chile’s never-ending coastline, or the fresh produce and world-renowned wine of its heartlands.

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What to eat and drink

Chilean food has a reputation for being a little traditional, so expect to see soups, casseroles and plenty of meat and potatoes. Look out for picadas (old-fashioned restaurants) serving comida criolla if you want a taste of the countryside. The exception is its coastal towns, where ceviche (fish cured in lime juice and chilli) and other seafood dishes offer a more delicate meal.

Chileans start the day with coffee, tea and pastries or bread, with lunch being the main meal of the day. Evening meals are typically light, with an assortment of breads, cheese and ham served alongside drinks.

The basics

The food you’ll find in Chile will depend on the region you’re in. In the north, the cuisine is influenced by Andean cultures and is high in protein. Expect plenty of asados (barbecues), meat stews and potatoes. In the central valley and coast, expect more vegetables and seafood, with pulses and corn particularly popular. Try cazuela, a stew made of different types of meat and named for the pot in which it’s cooked in. Southern Chilean cuisine is influenced by the indigenous Mapuche culture, with merkén spice (ground smoked red chillis and coriander) a familiar flavouring.

Meat dishes

Meat is central to Chilean cuisine and Chileans are avowed carnivores. From the summertime asado to the more upmarket parillada (a parade of steaks, chops and sausages on a hot grill), most meals are a meaty affair.

In the north, llama and alpaca meat are common, while beef, chicken and pork are popular elsewhere. Try pollo al conac, a chicken stew with brandy and cream, pastel del choclo (mince or chicken pie topped with sweetcorn and sugar) or the snacky empanada (pastries filled with meat, chicken, cheese or vegetables).

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Fish and seafood

With its miles of coastline, it’s unsurprising that Chile offers a wealth of excellent seafood and fish dishes.

Most coastal towns have a seafood market where you can buy fish or sample freshly caught produce. Try ceviche, fried fish, or any number of shellfish, clams and langoustine grilled or steamed.

Try the unusual pastel de jaibas, a pie made with fresh crab meat or look for caldillo marino, a classic seafood soup that is served across the country. Lastly, sushi is popular in Chile, with the quality and freshness of the fish paramount.

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Sweets and desserts

Most Chilean desserts include dulce de leche (a sweetened, thickened cream known locally as manjar). Try tres leches cake (made with condensed, whole and evaporated milk), alfajor (cookies sandwiching a thick layer of manjar) and leche asador (a baked crème caramel lookalike).

What to drink

Chile rightly has a reputation for excellent wine, with its temperate climate, days of sunshine and resistance to pests making it ideal for grape-growing. Wine grapes are grown all over the country, but enthusiasts should look to the routes around Maipo Valley, Casablanca Valley and Colchagua Valley for the better wine routes.

For something stronger, try a pisco sour, a white brandy made with Moscatel grapes mixed with lime and sugar. Chileans regard it as their national drink and are in fierce conflict with Peruvians over its ownership.

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