The first time I really began to love Chilean sandwiches, and notice their mass appeal, was in the Southern Patagonian town – the very last on the continent – of Punta Arenas after a quarter of the earth flight from Quito, Ecuador. I was in airports for close to 15 hours and landed late in the evening, though it was still bright out as the sun didn’t set until early morning in that time of year. I dropped my bags off and stumbled around town and came to Lomit’s, a sort of chrome plated diner style beer and sandwich joint at Avenida Jose Menendez. I began to go over the menu and found exactly what I was looking for at that moment: a heart attack inducing sandwich and pint of lager.
The Chilean love of sandwiches extends well beyond Magallanes, however. The entire anorexic country has sandwich spots, as far north as Arica. Many have waiters and decor reminiscent of an American malt shoppe in the 50’s. They are generally small places that clustered together in unattractive town centers and near bus and train stations. You can usually add fries, beer, or a shake. All food is cooked in front of you. Sometimes the bar/seating surrounds the grill.
Here are a few of my favorite Chilean Sandwiches:
The Barros Luco is named after Chilean president Ramon Barros Luco, who always asked for this sandwich, made of steak and melted cheese. It is similar to a Philly Cheese Steak.
The cousin of Chilean President Luco, a senator named Barros Jarpa, always walked into the same restaurant in the National Congress of Chile and asked for a sandwich similar to the Barros Luco, but with ham instead of steak.
It was such an easy idea the Churrasco Palta, but I never thought of it before. In Chile combining Churrasco (steak) and Palta (avocado) in sandwich form is normal, I just never had it before this past month. Now I can’t stop eating it, particularly when I can put on a wee bit of Aji chileno (Chilean hot sauce).
Thin sliced steak, or churrasco, is topped with steamed, stringy green beans (green beans!), tomatoes, and melted cheese.
While the completo is not a sandwich, per se, it definitely belongs alongside them. In Chile, the hot dog is served complete (hence completo), with full toppings. The standards are mayo and avocado, which are slathered all over the tiny dog until they are dripping off, but diced tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, sauerkraut, or Aji chileno are ready to add.
The crudo is a creation of Cafe Hausmann in Valdivia (which has satellite restaurants in Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt). While you can find it a few other places, the German style brewpub is the most popular. The crudo is open faced, using only one piece of toast. It’s slathered with beef tartar and served with lime, diced onions, and relish. It goes perfect with a pint of Kuntsman.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.