By Anastasia Miari
Santiago’s Sandwich Take -over
Sandwiched between the Andean mountains, Santiago, the Chilean capital has become somewhat of a hub for gastronomy in recent years. The economy has been growing consistently, with Chile leading Latin America in income per capita. This means an increased penchant for dining out amongst the Chileans, as well as a flourishing bar and restaurant scene. Funny then, that a metropolitan melting pot of cultures like Santiago, full of sushi hot spots, ceviche restaurants and traditional Chilean diners should favour the humble sandwich as its dish of choice. Think Santiago, think sandwiches.
The sandwich is ubiquitous here. From trendy Bellavista and Barrio Lastarria to local hangouts around Plaza de Armas, meat squeezed in between two pieces of white bread is the dish of the moment and by the looks of it, it’s here to stay. Chileans will admit to eating sandwiches not only for lunch, but for breakfast and dinner too. The choice is overwhelming and portions are never disappointing. Forget Pret: the Santiaguinos don’t do things by halves. Choose between a ‘Lomito Italiano’ – soft, shredded pork in a bun topped off with avocado, cheese, chopped tomatoes and mayonnaise – or a’Churrasco’ – filled with thick slices of beef, and your choice of toppings, from mustard and sauerkraut to avocado, tomato and cheese. Vegetarian sandwiches are few and far between, however. A cheese sandwich is unthinkable sans slabs of meat.
So where did the obsession start?
The Germans may be to thank for Santiago’s sandwich take over. Having descended on Santiago in the thousands during the late 1800s, they brought with them their penchant for the wiener. Ask anyone from Santiago what their favourite indulgence is, and they will most likely say the ‘completo’, a hot dog topped off with chopped tomatoes, mayonnaise and Sauerkraut. “My mother would feed me salchichas (hotdog sausages) out of the tin to stop me crying when I was a kid,” says local Maria Fernanda Piedra, “the completo just takes me back to childhood.” When asked which dish a tourist should try in Santiago, Piedra insists on the completo.
Indeed, it would be difficult to avoid the completo, or an alternate choice of sandwich. They are offered on most menus at traditional Chilean restaurants in the capital as well as on street corners out of dodgy looking fast-food carts. A night out in bar-central Bellavista may even result in a 3am sandwich stop on said street corner. But as with London’s gentrification of the burger, Santiago’s sandwich scene also has something a little more refined to offer. Posh hot dog diners and bagel shops have popped up around the city in recent years, adding extra class to an otherwise ordinary lunch time snack. The cost of a posho sarnie may be a little more than the authentic completo sold at the stalls, but it’s well worth trying both…
Fuente Alemana on Avenue Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins (58), is considered by many, the best sandwich bar in Santiago. Locals sit on high stools around the bar as their sandwich is prepared in the centre, by older Chilean ladies sporting tattooed-on eyebrows. The best way to enjoy this experience is to take a seat up at the bar with the locals. You’re able to watch the careful construction of your sandwich as you sip on a cold beverage, a sure way to whet the appetite. Piles of meat sizzle before your eyes. A choice of toppings, from sauerkraut, tomatoes and avocado, to gluttonous melted cheese, mustard and home made mayo are added to a towering bun of indulgence. A sandwich from Fuente Alemana is not for the feint of heart but it will certainly fill you up. Set aside 7,000 Chilean pesos for this lunch. Not the cheapest, but when a sandwich can carry you through from lunch to dinner, you can’t complain.
Alternatively, head to the streets that line Plaza de Armas for a cheap pick-me-up. This area is full of hungry sandwich lovers come lunch time, each of them squeezed into a spot by the bar. Take away is an option, but there’s a bustling atmosphere here cannot be beaten. The choices on offer at each sandwich bar are similar, with completos offered alongside lomitos at every pit-stop. Get a sarnie complete with drink for under 2,000 pesos at most of these spots. They’re guaranteed to be filling and you can chat with the friendly locals as you dig in.
Head to Hogs Salchicheria on Avenue Merced, just off Barrio Lastarria for a trendy lunch time bite. Queues line the street before this joint opens, and for good reason. The American style diner offers gourmet hotdogs in a number of combinations to suit all taste buds. Business men in suits rub shoulders with students and vintage fashion store owners as they all pile into Hogs’ insouciant setting for lunch.
The sausage itself can be made of pork, beef or turkey, with a range of toppings. Go for the ‘Gringa’ for a traditional American style hot dog complete with mustard, ketchup and plenty of fried onions, or a refined ‘Francesa’, topped with mushrooms, caramelised onions, French cheese and mustard. Other options include the ‘Griega’ (or the Greek) with a mint, tzatziki and aubergine filling and the ‘Italiano’, complete with tomato, avocado and mozzarella. The hotdogs themselves are enormous and extra sauces are provided at all the tables. The only problem is getting a bite with all the layers – the guys at Hogs like to pack these buns full. Each hot dog is no more than 3,500 Chilean pesos, a real steal in this neighbourhood.