As many Santiago neighborhoods are compact and easily walkable, street food can be found all over the city, from the wealthiest districts to the poorest. Stalls, carts and roving vendors are located inside plazas and parks or beside train stations.
Some foods appear early in the morning, such as baked empanadas filled with any number of ingredients, while others, like the completo, a thin hot dog dripping with toppings, are sold all day and the smoke is still coming off the grill well into the night outside popular nightspots.
Other street foods are seasonal, like mote con huesillos, an icy cold, sweet snack of sundried peaches and wheat husks to quench the summer heat.
Most street food in Santiago tends to be cheap enough that anyone can afford it, and will have enough calories to make for a full meal. Markets, like the sprawling La Vega Central north of the Plaza de Armas, are an especially fine place to sample an array of Santiago street eats, where permanent stalls sling out pastel de choclo to the masses. Regardless of where you eat your street food, be on the lookout for the ubiquitous made-from-scratch condiment, pebre, a spicy sauce of chilli peppers, onions, garlic and coriander, which is served alongside snacks such as sopaipillas, a fried pastry made of flour and pumpkin.
One of the first signs that summer has arrived to Santiago is the street carts and stands that set up around the city to sell moté con huesillos. The sweet snack, served chilled, is one of the best ways to beat the heat.
The preparation is simple: simmer sundried peaches (huesillos), which have been soaked the night before to rehydrate, in water with some sugar and cinnamon to make sweet nectar, which is then cooled and chilled.
The sugar should be caramelised in a pan to give the liquid a rich, golden hue. Moté (husked wheat), which has been soaked and cooked, is then added to the cold mixture, which is served ice-cold in a tall glass, usually with a little spoon.
Variations swap out the dried peaches for peach preserves or the sugar for honey. In Santiago, you’ll find moté con huesillos being sold from stalls in parks, downtown sidewalks and farmers’ markets.
Popular vendors include those at tourist attraction Cerro San Cristóbal, where you can take your moté con huesillos with a view of the entire city, or Ramón Palacios, the self-proclaimed “El Rey (the king) del moté con huesillos” near the entrance of the Club Hípico horse track.
Translated as ‘complete’, these thin hot dogs on a stout bun may seem like any other hot dog you might find elsewhere in the world, but they have become an essential snack on the streets of Santiago.
They tend to be piled high with toppings, most commonly avocado and mayo, but sometimes with diced tomatoes or sauerkraut. Special versions like the Italiano (piled with tomatoes, avocadoes and mayo and resembling the colours of the Italian flag) or A lo Pobre (with fried onions, a fried egg and sometimes French fries) can be ordered from even the most basic street stall or fuente de soda. At 60-year-old institution Domino, which calls them Vienesas, completos are prepared in more than a dozen different variations, ranging from the Rodeo (BBQ, melted cheese, and bacon) to the Chacarera, a riff on the sandwich of the same name that’s topped with green beans, tomatoes, and ají verde (green pepper).
The toppings are usually so overloaded that they drip out of the sides of the bun, making this a messy snack for eating on the go. The trick is to lean over when you bite, so when the inevitable happens, you don’t walk away with avocado on your shoes. www.domino.cl
There’s no need to seek out empanadas in Santiago.
They’ll come to you. Step off a bus or a train and there’s probably a woman with a blanket-lined basket filled with them. Walk down a commercial street and they’ll be staring at you from the windows of panaderias (bakeries).
They are occasionally fried, though baked in the oven in an egg wash until golden brown is standard.
Open since 1930 and set in an exterior storefront of Mercado Central, the bakery El Zunino has been using the same empanada recipe from the start. Founded by Italian immigrants, their most traditional variation is the empanada de pino, which is filled with a mixture of beef, onions, black olives and a boiled egg (the same filling as some of the raviolis they sell, too). Cheese empanadas, which are smaller and fried, are also available and common among street vendors as well. In general, Chilean empanadas tend to be limited with fillings, though occasionally you might find unusual versions stuffed with shrimp or sweet ingredients like pears. www.empanadaszunino.com/
Soulful and filling, pastel de choclo is a symbol of traditional Chilean food. This is the dish that Chilean grandmothers specialise in, as do the picadas, no-frills traditional restaurants. However in Santiago most will go direct to the Mercado de la Vega Chica, on the eastern side of the La Vega complex, where a dozen cramped stalls hawk the piping hot corn casserole to shoppers, often alongside other home-style foods like humitas (corn dough steamed inside a husk) or cazuelas (a thin stew with rice, corn and squash). Served in shallow, round clay pots, the sweet and savoury pastel de choclo has the texture of a coarse pudding with a top layer that gets caramelised in the oven. The signature ingredient is choclo, an Andean corn with large, starchy kernels that are not nearly as sweet as corn in North America. Beef is most commonly added to flavour pastel de choclo, though seasonings such as cumin and paprika or other ingredients like onions, raisins, olives and roasted chicken can be used as well. While pastel de choclo is served year round at La Vega Chica, it is best during the summer months when corn is in season. www.lavegacentral.com