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  • Writer's pictureMatias

Empanadas, a staple treat from Chile and Argentina

My home country, Chile, isn't well known for its food heritage, despite having over 4000 km of coastline that provides an incredible array of fish and shellfish, as well as vast land where cattle roam and amazing southern potatoes grow. This leaves us with non-intricate and simple staple dishes like the good old "asados" (BBQ), a Chilean ritual that brings people together for entire days. Other traditional dishes include Pulmay or Curanto en olla (a massive pot or hole in the dirt is made, and shellfish, meat, and potatoes are cooked for a while), Pastel de Choclo (corn pie), Churrascos (meat sandwich), Cazuela (soup), and of course, the famous Chilean empanadas.


I mention the "famous Chilean empanadas" because this staple dish is also found in other places in South America, such as Argentina. However, the Chilean version somehow stands out from the rest, especially for my partner. She is the ultimate empanada lover, and despite this dish being reserved for a few celebratory occasions a year, like Independence Day or something else, this pastry in our household has almost become a regular dish. Recently, we returned from a long trip to Chile, and without exaggeration, we consumed more empanadas than anything else, including a week where we had them five times as often. That tells you something - firstly, my wife is a bit obsessed with these little treats, and secondly, we have become empanada connoisseurs.


Pictures: 1kg empanada, pino empanada and fried cheese empanada


But, long story short, this isn't a post to talk about my wife's obsession with empanadas. Instead, I want to share where to try (if you haven't yet) the best empanadas in London, so you can start developing such affection towards these delicious little treats that come in different shapes, styles, and flavours.


First thing first, what is an empanada?

To any Brit, these might resemble a Cornish Pasty, but that's where the similarities end. It would be equivalent to suggesting that an American beer like Miller is the same as a pint of Guinness - precisely.


Empanadas have gained popularity in London, and we have Argentina to thank for introducing these delights to the Brits. They differ slightly from Chilean empanadas, both in terms of size and fillings. In Chile, a traditional empanada typically consists of two main ingredients: the dough, usually shaped into a rectangular or oval form, and commonly filled with "pino," a meaty preparation that requires love and a day of maceration in the fridge. Another famous variation is the cheese empanada, which uses a different dough or variations of cheese and seafood, very popular in coastal towns. Additionally, there are two common methods of preparation: baking (the most famous version) and frying, which is often used for the cheese empanadas.


As with any staple dish, over time, cooks have experimented with new ideas, sometimes drawing inspiration from Argentine versions. This has led to the creation of empanadas with various fillings, such as mozzarella and tomato, chicken, spinach, mushroom, and more. While some of these variations may be tasty, they're not the 'real deal' in Chile. The purpose of this post is to introduce you to the original Chilean flavour that my wife is so in love with and to share other places where you can enjoy Argentine empanadas.


Places in London to eat the best empanadas


You might have heard of this place, as it jumped to the spotlight after Pedro Pascal (the half-Chilean, half-American actor) compared American and Chilean snacks with Jon Favreau in early 2023. In that occasion, both had time to debate about the Chilean empanada among other treats.

Since its opening in the mid-2010s, this coffee/restaurant has upped its offering and in addition to empanadas, it now features some of the most delicious staple dishes from my country, including cakes and pisco. This is the only restaurant in London where you can try Chilean empanadas, so if you're eager to experience the authentic flavours and savour Chilean classics, look no further than Harrison’s Coffee.

Pictures: Empanadas, Churrasco Sandwich + empanada, empanada


Chacarero empanadas | East Dulwich + London markets

I had the joy of trying their empanadas for the first time at London's Victoria Park Market last year, and they were absolutely delicious. This business opened its doors in 2020, and additionally, they offer chimichurri, Argentina's most famous salsa/dip, known for enhancing the flavour of meat and empanadas.

Pictures: Chacarero Webpage


Chango | Various locations

This Argentine empanadas and deli shop can be credited with introducing these delicious treats to Brits. With over five shops and stalls in various markets around London, there’s always a place to spot them. Equally important, they focus on deliveries within the city so when in need of some tasty empanadas, this is my go to place.

Pictures: Chango Website


Home

Yes, the best empanadas are always found at home. When you master the art of creating the perfect dough and filling, you're in for a treat. Every time I return home, I indulge in the most delicious empanadas, and that is satisfying enough for the rest of the year. However and as mentioned in this post, living with the ultimate empanada lover, that's never quite enough.


Pictures: Homemade empanadas and the final product

 

Have you tried the famous empanadas? If you go to a food market in London on any given weekend, there's a high chance you'll stumble upon these delicious treats. Give it a go and enjoy part of this Chilean and Argentinian culinary heritage.

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