Measure a city’s might by its music or arts scene, its cultural diversity, its public spaces, but one die-hard barometer for street culture is undoubtedly the wealth and variety of a city’s street food.
How far can a beggar stretch his spare change? How well can a handful of fading club-goers absorb their imminent hangovers? How quickly can a burnt-out businessman grab a snack before catching the train to the burbs? Only street food can tell.
Santiago, as one might imagine, is no exception to this rule. Here’s The Squeeze on eats that any street food fanatic can’t leave Santiago without sampling.
The sopaipilla is debatably the king of Santiago street food. A palm-sized disc of orange-hued dough, these simple circles get fried up in massive gong-like woks of sizzling oil. The greasy-faced momma manning her station spears fully cooked sopaipillas with a tireless prong and invites the line of hungry customers forward. Beside her industrial-sized wok you’ll find a cornucopia of spicy sauces with which to season your sopaipilla. Falling under the generic category of ‘pebre,’ these tomato and onion based sauces range from fiery hot to more moderately so.
Historically sopaipillas garnered their orange hue from the ‘zapallo’ or squash that mixed in with flour dough. If you’re squatted on a curb, eating your sopaipilla clasped between leaves of grease-induced translucent paper, its safe to say the orange color is just food coloring.
A sweet Santiago street food treat, Mote con Huesillos arrives in the city with the region’s warmer and longer spring days and is a staple of summer afternoons all across central Chile. Swimming in an icy cold, syrupy peach juice floats ‘mote’ or cracked wheat alongside ‘huesillos’ or hunks of dried peaches. Seems strange at first but The Squeeze assures you it’s well worth your while.
While the Spanish-speaking world calls hot dogs perro caliente, perrito, jocho, or panchos, Chile has taken the commonplace item to a whole new level, and thus deservedly given this beloved snack a more apt name: completo or complete.
Let’s begin with the fact that completos are a good handful larger than your average hotdog. But the true beauty of the completo comes in topping form, the most popular of which is Chile’s national fruit/vegetable ‘palta’ or avocado. Smear anything with garlic mayonnaise, tomato, and avocado, and I’d be complete, than add a roasting porkster beneath. Now we’re talking.
In Santiago street food lineage, the Empanada de Queso is a close relative of the sopaipilla seeing that they’re often peddled from the same wok station and sizzled in the same bubbling oil. Empanadas, if you’ve had the rare misfortune of never meeting one, are pastry pockets stuffed with cheese, meet, vegetables, seafood or what have you.
While empanadas can be dolled up for the most dapper of occasions, and baked or made from puff pastry, the ones sold on the streets are always fried and always riddled with gooey cheese filling.
The Squeeze recommends the empanada station near Cal y Canto metro stop, on the south side of the pedestrian bridge that crosses to Mercado Central. A hard-faced fryer panders fried spinach and cheese, mushroom, and a multitude of other stuffing in her empanadas, making for a rare treat for the Santiago streets. Make sure to go at peak rush hour in the morning or evening; on the off hours you might have the bad luck to get a cold one.
It might feel like a leap of faith, but eating raw fish on the street is not unheard of in Santiago. Look no further than La Paz bridge, where you will find a handful of families touting their marinading fish which they soak in lime juice for as long as it takes the next punter to come along.
Extras include sweet potato, regular potato, and you can top it with softened red onion, cilantro and crunchy corn. It’s a shame they don’t serve ready-made pisco sour for the ultimate street pick-me-up but there is coca cola and Gatorade aplenty!
The smell of roasting meat will come in wafts from many street corners of the city. These long brochettes of meat are a typical street food staple in the Andean communities and Santiago is no exception. Usually marinaded in a chili pepper, cumin and garlic vinegar, you’ll find beef, chicken and even pork being served up occasionally with a chunk of diced onion or even sausage between meat cubes.
Some vendors set up a BBQ outside their store, others wheel around kitted out kiosks, but the most grassroots of all are curiously enough served in re-appropriated shopping trolleys. You’ll find these spikes of meat at the most popular fast food, street food spots: between Cal y Canto and La Vega market, at the bus stations, and in Recoleta neighbourhood.
Probably the healthiest of all the street food options, if you are a fan of something a bit brighter and lighter, you might want to give the fresh-made juices a whirl.
Usually quite well installed street spots, these juice booths will offer all the local fruits from native chirimoya to papaya, raspberry, pineapple, banana and strawberry all blitzed up with water or milk.
A fresh juice is the best way to reboost your energy to keep working through Chile’s many street foods!
Where to taste
Highly transited metro stops like Baquedano, Cal y Canto, and Santa Ana are good places to start your street food search. Come evening hours Pio Nono in Bellavista is street food central until the wee hours of the morn.
By Gwynne Hogan & Amanda Barnes