When it comes to take-out options in Chile, there are a lot of places to choose from, but there isn’t a lot of variety in food offerings. The majority of take-out places are Asian – specifically Chinese and Japanese – and they can be found everywhere. In our neighborhood alone, I can think of six Chinese/Japanese take-out places within walking distance from our house.
Pizza options, followed by sandwich (and empanada) shops, would be the next most common take-out options in Chile. It could easily be said that there’s about 3 Asian shops to every 1 pizza/sandwich shop. Occasionally, there are other options, with an imaginary ratio of:
12 Asian : 4 Pizza/sandwich : 1 other.
Beyond that, there isn’t a whole lot of variety. In fact, the Futoi Mex menu you see in the picture above is already out of business after lasting just under a year in our local commercial center.
The fact is that Chilean aren’t fond of change. If there’s anything that I’ve come to understand as a rock solid truth in Chile, it’s this. And because of this, Chile is slow to adopt new technologies, fiercely devoted to “old ways,” and not much adventurous when it comes to food.
And if you take a look at these two different Chinese take-out menus, you’ll notice that there isn’t a whole lot of variety between the two. When eating at a Chinese restaurant in Chile, we can pretty much predict that the menu be 99% identical to every other Chinese restaurant we’ve tried in Chile. This is due to two factors: 1) Chileans don’t like change. When they find something they like, they stick to it. and 2) Most Chinese immigrants come from the same region of China – originally as part of the immigration policies of turn-of-the-century Chile.
The same can be said of Sushi shops or shops selling sushi (which we’ve found in a surprising number of places). Most menus look alike with very little variety. The most commonly-used proteins in Chilean sushi are shrimp, salmon, cooked chicken, fake crab, and tuna (in that order). Chilean sushi also used distinctly Chilean-tastes when it comes to other fillings: cream cheese (like 90% of all rolls), avocado, green onion, cucumber, carrot, red pepper, and even oddballs (in our experience) like lettuce, button mushroom, and corn.
And, sadly, if we ever happen to see something exciting on the menu, like unagi (eel), they almost always don’t have it. This is a thing that is quite common to Chilean food establishments – we’ve come to expect that on any given day, there are many items on a menu that a restaurant will not have. (More on Chilean restaurants in a future post, I promise.)
Chilean pizzas are a little different to what we are familiar with in the U.S., as well. I think this is mostly due to the difference in cheeses. Chileans are not fans of strong cheeses and really, we’ve only seen a handful of truly Chilean varieties – mantecoso (“butter cheese” very gentle like provolone), queso fresco (a fresh white and wet cheese a lot like the Mexican variety), and queso cabra (a goat cheese, but without the luscious kick found in the creamy variety from the U.S. – the Chilean version is simply a softer version of manetcoso). So, naturally the pizzas taste different.
Of the three options explored in this post, I’d have to say that I enjoy the Chinese food the most. Mark isn’t a fan because he is bored by the lack of variety, but both Oli and I have come to really like the spring rolls and stir-fries that are common here.