Similar but New Foods

Isabel Morales León, ISA Spanish and Latin American Studies in Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, Chile Summer 2022

I love traveling for many reasons, but one that is instantly exciting is trying new food because I am not a picky eater. In my house, my family and I eat a lot of Colombian dishes that have traditional ingredients like beans, rice, and plantains, which are also very commonly found in places like Mexico or Puerto Rico. But Latin America is a very diverse region, and I knew before going to Chile that what a lot of countries in Central America or the northern part of South America eat was probably very different from what countries in the southern parts of South America eat. I knew this, but being in Chile and having to adapt to their cuisine was something I did not quite understand as I thought I did. 
The first few days I was in Chile, I was traveling around Santiago, the capital. During those days, I was able to try many different new foods that were very distinct from what I was used to eating my whole life. One of the first things I tried was “mote con huesillo”, which is technically a drink. It is often sold by street vendors in the summer, but even though I was there during the winter, they were selling them. The drink looks a bit unappealing because at first it just looks like black tea with an orange blob in the middle, but I gave it a try. It was sweet and had a dry peach with wheat flakes, which they call “mote de trigo”. It was actually pretty good! Some other things I tried that week were the famous cheese empanadas that I bought at a well-known market in downtown Santiago called Mercado Central. The empanadas I got were filled with cheese and fish. Chile is a country with a long coastline, so a lot of their dishes are made of seafood. I am not a huge fan of seafood but the empanada was great. 
After I arrived in Valparaíso and stayed with my host family, most of my meals were prepared by my host mom. She was a great cook and made a variety of dishes, but she made sure to make traditional Chilean dishes for my roommate and I to try. The first day my roommate and I arrived at our host family’s house, they had Chilean hotdogs, called “completos”, made for us. They are a little similar to American hotdogs because they put ketchup and mustard on them, but the thing that made them unique was that besides these two things, they add mashed avocados, diced tomatoes, and mayonnaise on them. Even though they are filling because of the avocado, I ate two because they were delicious! 
Besides these dishes, something particularly interesting I noticed about Chilean cuisine is that people eat a lot of bread. They usually have light breakfasts, for example, some of my host family members would eat bread with jam and tea or others would eat granola and yogurt. This was something I had to get used to because I am used to eating big breakfasts. Lunch is their biggest meal and they technically do not have dinner, because they eat at around 6pm and have “onces”, which is like a light dinner. Usually at “onces”, families will eat different types of bread with “palta” which is just mashed avocados, or with “pebre”, which is similar to pico de gallo. There are times when they will eat bigger meals at “onces” depending on the day, but on average, it is very light and mostly includes bread of some sort. Beans and corn are also ingredients they use, just as in other Latin American countries, but they are prepared in a different way. For example, Chilean beans are called “porotos”, but instead of being red or black, they are white and served with sausage. Also, to many of their dishes made out of corn, they mostly put sugar on it instead of salt, or add “merken”, which is a traditional smoked chili pepper condiment, which comes from the Indigenous Mapuche people of Chile. 
In my opinion, the food that Chileans eat has a lot less seasoning and strong flavors than what I am normally used to when eating Colombian food or food that is commonly eaten in America. This is not a bad thing, it is just different. Also, having to eat Chilean food gave me a lot of information about their culture, like how seafood is important because they have a long coastline, or how their more earthy foods are tied to their Indigenous roots. I have to say that my favorite Chilean dish was probably empanadas (especially cheese!), or “charquicán”–a beef stew which is also representative of Indigenous tribes throughout the Andean region. If anyone ever goes to Chile, I would for sure recommend trying all these dishes, so they can experience the variety of flavors and cultural aspects tied to the food, not only within the country, but also within the Latin American region.