Food. One of the most defining attributes of any culture and one of the most important aspects of any trip. The general diet of any country allows for fascinating insights into many fundamental aspects of a community that may not be easily seen otherwise. What foods are eaten by the wealthy? What foods are affordable to the middle and lower classes? What role does food play in the lives of Chileans? Chilean food was not something I had really looked into before arriving in Santiago, and my adjustment to their diet was probably one of the biggest obstacles I have had to overcome.
The first thing anyone would notice about Chilean cuisine is bread. Chileans LOVE bread. The country boasts the third highest consumption of bread in the world, and this staple starch is served at almost every single meal throughout the country. Because the entire country eats bread, it has become a symbol of unity for the Chileans. Every social class enjoys a piece of bread with their meals. In addition to that, there are maybe three to four different types of bread which are usually sold in every possible store in Chile.
The root of my digestive problems in Chile was the amount of oil used in cooking, most notably in the dishes my host mama cooked. Chileans tend to fry things–sopaipillas, fried empanadas, fried fish, you name it. Even the salads are often eaten with oil, salt, and lemon juice. Thus the general diet in Chile is not the healthiest. It is also noteworthy that the tap water in Chile is drinkable, but it contains higher amounts of minerals and chlorine than in the United States, which may also lead to temporary stomach issues.
Despite these factors, Chileans do not have a problem with obesity, and I believe that this is partly because of the portions of meals. Lunch in Chile is the most important and largest meal; my host mother usually serves soup, fruit, and a salad with the main entree. Comparatively, dinner is usually much lighter, consisting only of the entree and sometimes bread.
While a little unhealthy, Chilean food is not unpleasant at all, and there are many dishes, desserts, and snacks that have been absolutely delicious. Manjar (dulce de leche) is a part of almost every dessert and tastes like chocolate and caramel had a baby; completos, a hotdog with avocado, tomatoes, and mayonnaise, is the best late night munchie food; and cazuela is the perfect light soup for any cloudy day.
One can easily confront any food issues by talking with your host mother about the amount of oil used or the type of food cooked. More often than not, she will be more than happy to change some of the dishes. I would also recommend consuming a lot of fruit to offset the amount of starch, or take fiber supplements. And most importantly, be open minded in your approach to Chile’s cuisine!
Want to read more about Chile? Check out “Pinochet: a Forgotten Part of Chilean History”