Travel anywhere in the world, and people will ask you about your country’s most traditional food. Continue on, and they might ask about your dance, your flag, or your flower. In Chile the answers to most of these questions is simple. The dance? The cueca, a coquettish coupled folk dance, where dancers hold and twirl white kerchiefs. The flag? Not dissimilar to that of Texas, red, white, and blue, with a lone white star on a blue background in the upper left corner. Our flower is the copihue, or Chilean bellflower, a waxy pinkish bloom that hangs from a climbing vine that prefers the Valdivian rainforest in the mid-south of Chile.
But what about our food? You might know Chile best for wine, or maybe the bulk of your fruit that comes in the off-season—berries, and apples, and maybe avocado, depending on where you live. But these products tell the tiniest sliver of the story. There is no simple answer to describe our food, but this book is a good start. Reading it and preparing these meals will give you a better understanding of Chile’s dishes, history, culture, and language, and how they are all braided together to give us what we call comida chilena (Chilean food).
Chilean food traces its roots through our history, from indigenous cultures, pre-Columbian settlements, Spanish colonization, and waves of immigration since then. In the larger context of Latin American food, it can be described as criolla, a word used to mean the mix of Spanish and indigenous influences. Chilean cuisine has been in a huge state of flux in recent decades. The introduction of new agricultural products is likely to continue to change the face of Chilean food, as will other global influences. Chileans who travel or live abroad and then come back to visit will introduce innovation, and importantly, the influx of people from other countries, such as the recent arrival of many Venezuelans and Haitians to Chile, will change the face of Chilean food.
What we present here in The Chilean Kitchen is a snapshot of comida chilena that you could find in Chilean kitchens from approximately the 1980s through today. It is the food we seek out in restaurants and cook at home. It is the food of grandparents and weekends in the country, of comfort food and así un plato (a serving thiiiis big).
We are so excited for you to use this book to learn about the homey, timeless classics of Chile, those to which we gravitate when the very best ingredients are in season. We are a culture of stews. Of squash and corn and tomatoes. Of meat (but not that much) and salads, so many salads. Of bread. Of celebrating with desserts and empanadas and completos (Chilean-style hot dogs).
This book of Chilean recipes is about so much more than just the foods we eat. It is an invitation to understand Chilean culture. For each dish, we have looked at the historical, linguistic, and cultural roots and written about what it means to Chileans.
The Chilean Kitchen is our love letter to the food of a country that has molded who we are today. We are so excited for you to cook these traditional recipes, to fill your kitchens with the enticing smells and warmth, and share Chilean food with your own communities, new and old. We can’t wait to hear how it goes.