TASTE OF CHILE
Chilean Food 101
Top Things to Try
- Pastel de Choclo y Humitas (Corn and beef casserole and Humitas)
- Leche asada
- Mote con huesillo
Greetings fellow Chronicfoodie!
For over a year now, I’ve had a stop on my Kensington Market International Food Tour that showcases two popular tastings of Chile: Humitas and Empanadas. I’ve been trying to keep up with the global attention Chile has been receiving when it comes to their food and I can’t wait to taste my way through this country that is essentially all ocean coast.
I remember my first trip to Jumbo Empanadas as a student in University back in the mid 90’s and I’m so thrilled to showcase the foods from this place and the relationship I’ve built with Irene, the owner of Jumbo. Unless you grew up in a Latin American home, Chilean food has really just been under the radar but there are flavours that I believe need to be on everyone’s menu of tastes and discovering first hand, Chileans are a very proud people, especially when it comes to their food. Toronto being as diverse as it is, you often have to do a bit of homework to find Latin American cuisine that is specific to a country or region. Most people I know are familiar with Mexican but there is so much to discover South of Mexico, especially throughout South America.
Below is a beginner’s list of things to try and like all my blogs, this is simply just a start and does not by any means cover some of the essential eats in Chile. No country is defined by one dish or one drink and a country cannot be defined by a city or region. Chile has gone through challenging times over its long history. A place that is often in the news due to natural disasters or political unrest but one thing you will learn quickly when you get to know folks from this coastal country is that they are strong, proud and they love their food!
Taste of Chile
The first thing most people would be familiar with when it comes to most Latin American food is the humble yet incredibly popular empanada. As with most things that have a common name, regions do their own take on a popular dish and Chile is no different. Empanadas can be found throughout South America, however, Chilean empanadas do have a few key features that are unique to them. First, they are large! One empanada is meant to be a meal and I can attest that this foodie is quite satisfied when one of these bad boys are consumed. Of course, with anything that is “wrapped” and “stuffed with” can be quite creative but there is a favourite that makes their filling even more special and unique. Pino Empanadas is the combination of things each empanada has: ground beef, hard boiled egg, olive and raisin. Another feature that distinguishes Chilean empanadas is the shape they come in. Chileans, unlike their Argentinian neighbours, prefer theirs in a rectangular shape while Argentinians prefer theirs in a shape of a half moon. Paired with “pebre” which can be described as Chilean salsa, makes the tasting experience that much more delicious. Not sure where it all began but there isn’t a country in the world that doesn’t seem to have something that resembles an empanada. Whether it is a dumpling, perogies, ravioli or samosa, I know that everyone can appreciate the concept and I hope that you will learn to appreciate the yumminess of Chilean empanadas.
Another feature on my food tour that I absolutely love is humitas. I often describe the look to be similar to Mexican tamales but they taste nothing like it. Unlike the Mexican tamale that is made with masa or dough, humitas foundation is corn. The wonderful thing about humitas is that they are indigenous to Chile which makes this dish at least 500+ years old and has been around way before any European ever set foot on the continent. On my food tour, it definitely looks more like a tamale as I’ve arranged for Irene at Jumbo Empanadas to have small versions of this dish for my guests to try but ordinarily, they are the size of a small brick and is a meal to itself. This vegan-friendly dish is a combination of mashed corn with spices and herbs that is then stuffed into a corn husk, wrapped and steamed. Complimented with the pebre, this is a pretty big hit on my tour and a delicious taste into Chilean cuisine.
Completo – Magical hot dog… Chilean Style
I LOVE regional takes on the humble hot dog and Chileans take it to a whole different level. Completo, a Spanish word that means “complete” or “total”, literally describes what is thrown on this hot dog. There are variations found in Chile but the most common is a hot dog that has chopped tomatoes, avocado, mayonnaise, sauerkraut, cheese, chilis and other sauces. This hot dog is clearly a meal meant to subdue any hunger one may have and for someone who loves all things hot dogs, I found the avocado on my hot dog makes the taste experience one to write home about. I’ve become quite a fan of pebre so I’m quite partial to adding that on my Completo! I look forward to actually eating one of these bad boys when I find myself in Chile in the not so distant future.
Pastel de Choclo – Corn and Beef Pie
I’m a big fan of all things corn and this corn pie dish is something that I discovered only in the last two years. The one I have been eating is quite sweet from the corn which is most common and it compliments the savoury beef mixed with spices. Similar to Chilean empanadas, the ingredients added could include hard boiled eggs, olives and raisins (pino). Like most dishes, there will be nuances but this staple casserole style meal is a favourite amongst Chileans but variations of this can be found in neighbouring countries like Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. If you haven’t figured it out yet, if anyone is not a fan of corn or anything made from corn, you will be missing out on a lot of great eats throughout South America although I’m sure most will be able to manage. Me on the other hand, it is not always about how the food tastes, rather, to taste the foods that matter to those who treasure the foods of their land. You can find this at Jumbo Empanadas if you’re interested and in Toronto.
Sopaipillas – Pumpkin Fritters
These deep-fried delicious treats are something to be enjoyed by the dozens. The first time I had these, it was just fun as I love all things deep-fried. However, I have come to appreciate these little morsels of yumminess when you add the “pebre” to it. I have to admit that pebre is just something that can be thrown on pretty much anything but I sure do like the sweetness of the sopaipillas with the tangy and spice of the pebre. A common thing to find in any Chilean bakery or restaurant for that matter and definitely something that needs to be tried. Kid friendly and just plain old deep-fried goodness. I’ve been told that it is pretty common to add ketchup and/or mustard which I’ve personally not tried, simply because I just love having it with the pebre.
Move over poutine because chorillana is a french fries dish that will certainly give anyone that moment of pause before attempting to dig into this beloved meal in Chile. Imagine if you will, a huge pile of fries covered in sliced meat (generally beef), sausage, fried onions and then topped with either scrambled eggs or fried eggs. You read right… This is a dish not for the faint of heart and a defibrillator may be in order after consuming a whole pile of this delicious goodness. Please note, this is not ordinarily made to be eaten by one person. It is a dish that is commonly shared but I would sure like to see someone attempt to finish this all in one sitting. Meat and potatoes packaged in a whole different kind of way!
The last dish to cover is by far the one that I love the most as I am quite partial to all things seafood. However, it is the brine of ceviche that makes me the most happy. Chileans take pride in their ceviche although there are other countries who also take enormous pride on their take and who makes the best? I have no answer to that as I am a ceviche agnostic who believes in all and each path you chose will all lead to a happy conclusion. Now, being Korean, eating seafood raw is not something new while for many who are not accustomed to such delicacies may find this something that requires a bit of bravery. If you are new to the whole “raw fish” world, ceviche actually may be one of the easier ways of diving into that segment of the culinary world. Marinated usually with lime and grapefruit juice, minced garlic, chilli peppers and cilantro, the flavours and textures to me are absolutely divine. Halibut and Patagonian Toothfish are the fish of choice in Chile but up to this point, I’ve only had the halibut variety. One should note that the acids from the citrus technically does cook the fish so it is not really completely raw but for those who are generally averse to raw fish may still want put this on the shelf.
Leche asada – Literally means “roasted milk”
This may look like a little like crème caramel or a flan and it may even taste a bit like it but be clear, it is not crème caramel or a flan. At least not to a Chilean and the one clear distinction is how it is cooked. Rather than being put in a heated bath (bain-marie), leche asada is baked which allows it to have a firmer top. Also, the choice dairy used is condensed milk which makes all things baked that much happier. I’ve had this once at a restaurant in Toronto and with a hot cup of coffee, it was the sweetest of endings.
Mote con huesillo
Not sure if this should officially be called a beverage as it really is a meal in a cup. A non-alcoholic Summertime drink, this Chilean favourite is a beverage that is loaded with all sorts of goodies. The make-up is based on dried peaches that are rehydrated through soaking overnight. Then the next day, it is boiled with sugar and water with some cinnamon. Separately, they will carmelize sugar till orange burnt which is then added to the mix which gives the colour of the drink a nice honey like appearance. Another aspect is boiling “mote” or husked wheat till tender which is what you will see in the bottom of your glass when served. Let all this cool and served chilled but make sure you have a spoon as you’ll need it to drink your mote con huesillo.
Needless to say, this is just a small glimpse into the world of food in Chile. I’ve only scratched the surface and hopefully, in the near future, I will find myself in this amazing coastal country and eat my way through it to get an up close and personal experience of the food and culture but more importantly, to meet the people behind the yummy eats. This is my first entry where I have not been to the country but I do have a soft spot for this South American country. I’m a big fan of Jumbo Empanadas and the owner Irene who has become a dear colleague and friend but one of my earliest memories as a child, I remember having a friend in school who was from Chile which is probably why I have an affinity to the country and her food.
Till next time my Chronicfoodie friends…
Jusep, the Chronicfoodie
Chopsticks+Forks is a Toronto Food Tour company that celebrates the great ethnic diversity of Toronto by taking guests on food adventures tasting the flavours of the world, one delicious bite at a time.