Argentina is known for its steak. Peru for its ceviche. But Chile? If you’re curious to learn more about the signature dishes of this South American nation, plan a day trip from Santiago to the port city of Valparaiso, just 90 minutes to the west.
Not only can you explore this picturesque town’s street art and literary heritage as you wander up and down its more than 40 hills, but you can also immerse yourself in local food on a chef-led market tour and hands-on cooking workshop.
Here’s how to cook up the perfect Chilean culinary adventure.
To Market, To Market
After a restful night’s sleep, take the 90-minute trek to the picture-perfect port city of Valparaiso to begin your culinary excursion. Local organization Chilean Cuisine can introduce you to traditional and contemporary fare with cooking classes led by professional chefs.
The half-day workshop, scheduled so you can enjoy either lunch or dinner, starts with a visit to the city’s central market. Your chef-guide will point out typical ingredients, working with you to plan the day’s menu based on the freshest seafood, vegetables and other provisions on offer.
From Pisco to Pebre
Back at the cooking school, the chef will hand you an apron and toque before you start working on your meal. You’ll learn to prepare pebre, a tomato-and-onion salsa spiced with merkén (a local smoked chili) that accompanies most Chilean meals. Then you’ll roll, fill and bake empanadas, those popular savory turnovers that Chileans commonly stuff with a mix of ground beef, eggs and olives.
To drink, you’ll craft a pisco sour, similar to the Peruvian cocktail of the same name.
Depending on your interest and the ingredients you found at the market, you’ll choose an appetizer, main dish and dessert to assemble. You might start with mochas a la Parmesana (saltwater clams topped with cheese) or palta rellena (Chilean avocados stuffed with crab).
For the main, options could include charquicán (a hearty stew of ground beef, potatoes, squash and corn), caldillo de congrio (conger eel soup) or pastel de choclo, (a casserole with a filling of chicken or beef and hard-cooked eggs, topped with a corn-based crust).
Opt to finish off your meal with something light — if tropical fruit cherimoya is in season, you might serve it simply, sauced with fresh-squeezed orange juice. Or you might make alfajores, cookies filled with sweet caramel or dulce de leche.
By the end of the meal, you’ll not only have eaten your fill, but you’ll have learned about a variety of typical Chilean dishes to seek out on your travels or re-create in your kitchen back home.
Experience Chilean Culture
Before or after your cooking class, take time to explore the city. One of Valparaiso’s most striking features, beyond its expansive bay with steep hills rising beyond, is the local street art. Colorful murals cover walls throughout the narrow sloped lanes, creating a backdrop for a stunning selfie.
For a more traditional cultural experience, visit Valparaiso’s art museum, the Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes de Valparaiso. The city’s grand gallery houses Chilean and European exhibits in the historic Palacio Baburizza, a mansion built in 1916.
High on a hill is another local landmark, the home of author Pablo Neruda. The late Chilean Nobel laureate had three residences, and his Valparaiso house, La Sebastiana, now serves as a museum full of quirky, curved spaces and artifacts from the writer’s life. The view from the top-floor studio of his former writing retreat is not to be missed — it extends all the way to the sea.