By Karen Snider Leiva
Across Chile in cities such as Valparaiso or Santiago, the culinary scene is exploding and Chileans are exploring different cultures and foods including Thai, Peruvian, American and Japanese. Chilean comfort food, however, remains the main fare.
Newly married into a Chilean family and visiting this South American country for the first time, I was thrilled to explore the traditional food, much like the dishes my in-laws serve when I visit for dinner, which remain vital to the country’s cuisine. It’s not difficult to understand why tradition prevails: Chilean food is simple, but full of flavours and local ingredients, particularly seafood and wines. Chileans are immensely proud of their cuisine, and recipes have been passed on through generations.
What I love most about Chilean comfort food is that it is impossible to find the same dish made the same way from one restaurant to another. Subtle changes in otherwise common recipes result in a completely different experience every time. A perfect example of this is the beloved Chilean empanada.
The most common is the pino empanada with beef, egg, raisins and black olives (it’s most commonly one olive per empanada). However, even this simple dish is never made the same way twice. Some cooks marinate the meat overnight changing the flavor considerably, while others grind the beef rather than serving it cubed. The real magic, however, is said to be in the dough. While some cooks hold their recipes close to their aprons, I discovered the secret ingredient in the dough is often white wine, as opposed to milk or water.
Machas A La Parmesan
Another example of subtle changes in flavor on common Chilean dishes, is with machas, small pink razor clams native to this country. Most popularly, machas are served in their individual shells with a layer of parmesan cheese, white wine, or cream. However, every cook has their own twist, changing the wine, the type of cheese or the amount of cream being used. I confess to trying to eat machas almost every day that I spent in Chile and can personally attest to the differences in the restaurants!
The best part is that regardless of the changes, you just can’t go wrong when it comes to comfort food in Chile.