The weekend of Sept. 18 marked Chile’s Fiestas Patrias, which feel like a mix of 4th of July, Carnival, and Thanksgiving. There was a huge fair (ramada) set up in the soccer stadium close to my house. In addition to an amusement park, a drag show, two live bands playing next to each other simultaneously, and a small casino, the ramada also featured a ton of street food. Most tourists are warned by their Lonely Planet travel guides that street food will make them sick, and thus avoid this Chilean staple. While street food is definitely not as hygienic as food from a restaurant, it is a great way to get to know Chilean culture and a lot cheaper too. I think I ate my weight in empanadas at the Patrias.
Chilean street food is some of the greasiest food around, often deep fried and covered in lard. While the two-story McDonalds in the neighboring city of Viña del Mar is always packed, day and night, (I’ve been told it’s a very popular site for dates), Chile doesn’t need North American fast food to satisfy the sugar and carb cravings of its citizens. You don’t have to look any farther than the nearest street corner to find something fried and delicious to add a couple of pounds to your “guatita” (belly).
First of all, there is a plethora of street food on every corner and in every plaza, a huge change from Middletown. These street carts aren’t the same as the gourmet food carts that have been popping up all over New York City, or anything near the quality of the Whey Station, which parks itself outside of Psi U on the weekends. While the amount of lard in Chilean street food is sure to make you feel slightly nauseous, it is still a delicious part of everyday life in Valpo.
A popular example of street food is sopaipillas. They’re nothing like the “Mexican” version you can find in restaurants in the U.S., which is a puff-pastry served warm with honey. Instead, Chilean sopaipillas are similar to really thick tortillas, except fried and served very, very hot with ketchup and/or mustard. Everyone loves these, especially because they’re easy to eat on the go.
Another common fried dish is empanadas. I know my fellow foreign food correspondent Cordelia has already tackled this delicious Latin American carb-bomb, but I have to add the Chilean side of the story. There are no “empanadas de carne” in Chile. Instead, we have “empanadas de pino.” At first, I was confused, because pino is also a type of tree. The empanada de pino is really just meat, cheese, and sometimes potatoes and olives. I was once told that many years ago, when Chileans were trying to differentiate themselves from Argentines (as they are still trying to do today), they decided to make their empanadas not with beef but with horse meat (pino). Today, it is no longer horse meat, but the name has stayed. You can find empanadas de pino in the same place as the sopaipillas. They are heavily fried and contain even more lard, which is why they taste so good!
Chileans also love meat. You can usually find a person grilling kebabs of every different kind of pork, beef, or chicken in downtown Valpo.
The dessert staple of Chilean street food is the churro. The churro is more fried dough but this time coated in sugar, and sometimes granulated and powdered at the same time. You can buy them plain or filled with “manjar,” which is the same as dulce de leche but with the distinction that it is Chilean and not Argentine. Like sopaipillas and empanadas, churros are best served burn-your-mouth hot.