In addition to the Europeans bringing over their foods and
techniques, they also brought over entirely new plants and animals that vastly changed
the culinary landscape in Chile. The Europeans are responsible
for bringing over many of the grapes the country is now well-known for as well as
introducing wheat and rice. They also introduced new animals, most particularly
pigs, chicken, and cattle, which led to the meat and dairy diet of the people today.
Other ingredients were also introduced and are now common in Chile, although they
differ in terms of popularity and importance. Some are commonly used like onions,
cilantro, black pepper, garlic, and limes, but others are not as common, including
broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, olives, bananas, apples, and oranges.
More than European influence, the lifestyle in neighboring
Argentina and in some parts of Chile
were focused on ranching and this led to the growth of asado (barbeque).
As many people found jobs as ranchers in these huge open spaces, grilled and smoked
meats became a staple in the diet and this trend continues today as the country
is well known for their grilled meats, which are served at most large gatherings.
Since the late 1800s the diet has been constantly changing, but primarily due to
technological changes. Better transportation and storage techniques allow for the
importation (and exportation) of foreign foods, which are now easily accessible
in large cities. During this time cooking techniques and the eating culture has
also changed as fast food and already prepared frozen foods have been introduced.
Despite the recent changes, most people prefer a home cooked meal or going out to
a restaurant. Again this scene has grown in recent years and large cities, like
Santiago, are now home to various ethnic restaurants, which haven't changed
the local foods, but rather only added to it.
When & Where to Eat
Most Chileans begin the day with breakfast, which is often
small and centered on coffee or tea. Although numerous foods can be served for breakfast,
many people just have a small pastry or bread with their beverage.
Breakfast is small in part because lunch is not. Throughout most of
Chile lunch is the largest meal of the day and many people close shops to
eat at home from about noon to 2:00 or 3:00 pm. This meal generally consists of
multiple courses and usually includes soup, meats, rice, potatoes, vegetables, dessert,
and coffee or tea. In some areas lunch is still followed with a siesta
or nap. In Santiago and other large cities the long lunch at home is almost completely
absent as people tend to work longer hours so lunch is taken at work, from a street
vendor, or from restaurants or cafes. For these people lunch is generally a bit
smaller as dinner has taken the role as the largest meal of the day.
Dinner in most of the country tends to be small and takes place very late, generally
beginning at 9:00 or 10:00 pm. Most people tend to have dinner in the home with
family, but as restaurants are growing in popularity more people seem to be dining
out each year. In the cities, like Santiago, where lunches tend to be smaller, dinners
take on the traditional lunch foods mentioned above. Also in the cities dinners
are more commonly eaten in restaurants, especially on weekends.
Beef: perhaps not a true staple, but beef and other grilled meats
are so common they are the centerpiece of many meals
Bread: breads are served with most meals or are a part of meals,
such as with sandwiches
Pastries: pastries are commonly served for snacks, breakfast, or
dessert as they can be seen throughout the country
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Asado: this is a general term for barbeque, but is an
event with both grilled meats and vegetables
Cazuela: this dish has numerous regional varieties, but
is generally a thick stock with meats and vegetables
Empanada: the most common empanada in Chile consists of
beef, onions, raisins, olives, and egg, but there are other versions as well
Pastel de choclo: corn-based dish filled with meats, raisins,
onions, and other ingredients
The Chileans tend to dress nicely, especially over meals with
new friends or business acquaintances so if you get invited to dine with the locals
be sure to dress nicely and if at a business meeting a jacket and tie are needed
for guys and girls should wear a blouse or skirt. If you are lucky enough to be
invited into a local's home for a meal (or "a drink," which often
means a meal followed by drinks) this is a great sign of affection.
No matter where you're eating, be sure to arrive about 15-30 minutes late as
this is when the Chileans tend to arrive (although for a party
at a local's home arrive at least 30 minutes late so they have time to prepare).
Before sitting down let your host show you a seat as they may have a particular
seating chart and men should wait to sit until women have sat down. Be aware that
men and women also tend to sit on opposite sides of the table so if they insist
you seat yourself, try to follow this rule, but reserve the heads of the table for
the host and hostess. Once you settle in try to avoid any sensitive conversation
topics like politics or religion; also avoid business topics, even if you're
at a business meeting as meals are typically a time to get to know each other, but
some business lunches do focus on business and can go on for a couple hours.
The table setting is similar to that of North America
or Europe so most people are familiar with it, but there
are a couple things to remember when eating. First, always keep your hands above
the table so they are in sight, preferably by resting your wrists on the edge of
the table. Next, don't begin eating or drinking until your host or hostess invites
you to do so. This is usually initiated by the words "buen provecho"
to begin eating and a toast, perhaps as simple as "salud" before
drinking. Also try to avoid pouring wine as there are a number of rules on how wine
should be poured; the two most important being to never pour with your left hand
and you should always pour the bottle forward into the glass.
When the food arrives and you start eating, be sure to eat in the continental style,
meaning the knife stays in the right hand and the fork remains in the left. You
should use your utensils to eat everything except bread, which will often sit on
the table itself or on your main plate as bread plates are uncommon. Also try to
avoid cutting lettuce in a salad and if you pass food it should always go left.
Try everything you are offered as this is considered quite polite, but if possible
take small portions at first as you are expected to finish all the food on your
plate, even if you don't like it.
As you finish your meal, put your fork and knife together on the right side of your
plate, prongs down and handles facing right, with them pointing directly up. After
this you may be offered dessert, coffee, tea, brandy, or another beverage, which
is polite to accept. As you finish your drink and the conversation has ceased summon
the waiter or waitress over (if you invited others out to the restaurant) by making
eye contact and saying "mozo" (you won't get a bill until
you ask for one). The inviter is expected to pay for everyone, but if you are not
the host offer to help pay none-the-less. If you do pay, leave a tip of about 10%,
which is considered a good tip for service at a sit down restaurant.
Celebrations & Events
Every significant event and holiday is celebrated with food, but only a couple have
specific foods or drinks associated with them. None-the-less, visiting
Chile during any of these events is a great opportunity to try the local
foods, whether you visit during a religious or a secular holiday.
The most famous holiday in all of South America is
Carnaval, which is celebrated every year on the Tuesday before the beginning
of Lent, a day that usually falls in late February or early March. Compared to some
neighboring countries, Carnaval in Chile may seem
tame, but it's still a time when many people over consume both food and alcohol
so it's a great time to see the local culture while trying numerous local foods.
Perhaps a larger celebration in Chile is New Year's when
people get out and enjoy a new beginning. There are few particular foods attached
to New Year's celebrations, but champagne with pineapple ice cream seems to
be a favorite for New Year's Eve.
A final festival to consider when it comes to trying the local food is Campeonato
Nacional de Rodeo or the National Rodeo Championships, which takes place
in the city of Rancagua in late March. The ranching and cowboy industry is based
on beef and barbeque so it's no wonder that grilled meats are plentiful during
Cola de mono
Chile has all the well-known non-alcoholic drinks from around
the world including tea, coffee, soft drinks, and juices among others. However the
county also has a couple local drinks not as common elsewhere. These include leche
con platano, which is milk and ice blended with bananas, and mote con huesillo,
which is mate (made from the yerba mate plant like tea) with peaches.
Of course they also have mate, which is made from the yerba mate
plant; this drink is common throughout much of South America.
When it comes to alcoholic beverages in Chile, it starts with
the locally produced wines. Chile has a growing reputation in the wine world and
is well known for its Malbec, but it also grows numerous other varietals. These
wines are also often mixed with other beverages like soft drinks or fruit to make
sangria. There are also a couple local hard liquors in Chile worth a try, including
chicha and aguardiente. Chicha is a fermented drink made
from corn, which was invented by the Incans and was regularly used in religious
festivals. Today the drink has lost much of its popularity, but is still common
in some areas. Aguardiente is similar to rum as it is distilled from sugar
cane; this is a common alcohol to mix, for example with milk, cinnamon, coffee,
and sugar it's called a cola de mono (monkey's tail). Beer is also
popular and readily available.
Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in Chile,
but check with locals for any particular regional differences. Also, many people
may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water as it will most certainly be
different from what your system is used to.