The Ultimate Street Snack in Chile, The Sopaipilla
WHAT TO EAT: SOPAIPILLA
WHERE TO EAT IT: EVERYWHERE IN CHILE; OUTSIDE OF BUS STATIONS OFTEN HAVE SOME OF THE BEST
One of the things I love most about tasting different foods in other countries is trying the street food. Who doesn’t love some good street food? Just look at the boom of food trucks all over the world. They stemmed from simple kiosks with vendors selling small, portable, tasty morsels. They are the heart and soul of a country’s foods. A small essence of what lies at the core. What’s not to like about shiny carts tempting you with the mouth-watering smells wafting through the streets? The good ones always have a group of people crowded around digging into something wrapped up in a napkin like a little secret present. You wonder what it is they are eating? Sure smells good. Let’s go see.
In every country that I visited in South America, I was fortunate enough to try some street food. One of my favorites was in Chile. No matter what part of the country you are in, from the deep south all the way up north (Chile is really long!), you are likely to see vendors forming these fresh discs of dough and then tossing them into a deep fryer. This is especially true in the winter months when the temperature often drops to freezing in some parts of the country. What’s better than a deep-fried round of goodness to comfort you through cold weather?
This snack is called sopaipilla and is made from flour but with the addition of the Chilean zapallo. In any market in the country, you can see these gigantic (I’m talking like Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin big!) bright orange pumpkins for sale. The vendor will usually hack off a big slab for you with his machete-type knife, so you can take a small piece home. It’s this pumpkin that gives the sopaipilla its orangey hue and subtle sweetness. You could feel slightly less guilty knowing that you are consuming a vegetable. After all, don’t deep fried veggies count?!
I remember the first time I tried this tasty treat. We had just crossed the border from Argentina into Patagonian Chile. You can read about how that came to be here. Yes, we actually walked across the border, all 23 km of it! From there, we had to take a boat to get to a tiny town called Villa O Higgins. This village marks the start of a road called the Carretera Austral. It’s an unpaved, pot-hole filled, scenic route which spans over 1200 km north all the way up to Puerto Montt, Chile. It’s got some of the most amazing scenery that you will find in all of the Patagonia region, complete with gushing waterfalls, glacier-topped mountains and lush greenery.
We came to the realization that the only way to go north was by hitchhiking as there was no space on the limited amount of buses. We started uncertain and hesitant but it turned out to be one of our greatest adventures. One of the small towns we stopped in, Cochrane, had a rodeo going on when we passed through. Here, you could find all sorts of Chilean Patagonian specialties like spit-fired lamb and it was at this rodeo where we tasted our first sopaipilla, the one you see pictured above.
Often the sopaipilla is topped with the national condiment, pebre. Pebre is a salsa found in every restaurant across the country. Made from a base of tomatoes, onions and cilantro, it’s served with pretty much anything you like. When you grab one of these ubiquitous snacks from your vendor, he or she will likely have some pebre sitting there just waiting to crown your sopaipilla.
You can also find the sopaipilla served in a sweet style. These are referred to as sopaipilla pasadas. After they are fried, they are drenched in a syrup made from unrefined sugar, orange peel, cinnamon and sometimes clove. This syrup, known as chancaca allows the sopaipilla to be eaten more as a dessert snack.
Would you like to try this snack but aren’t going to be in Chile anytime soon? It’s easy to make. First, take some pumpkin (1 small or half a large butternut squash would work too) and boil it (don’t forget to season the water with a little salt). Drain but reserve the water used for cooking, let the squash cool and mash it a bit. Add about 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 1.5 teaspoon salt to 3 cups of AP (all purpose) flour and mix. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Add the mashed squash into the flour mixture and knead it by hand. It will be dry at first but as the pumpkin gets absorbed it will gradually get more tacky. Add the melted butter and continue to knead.
If the dough is still too dry, add some of the reserved cooking water, a little at a time until you get a nice, smooth consistency for the dough. Form into a ball and cover the dough with a dishtowel and let it rest for about an hour. After resting, form the dough into discs either by hand or with a rolling pin. Pierce with a fork and drop the rounds one at a time into hot frying oil. Fry for about 2-3 minutes each side then drain on paper towel.
As they say in Chile: Buen Provecho! (the Spanish version of Bon Appetit)