How to feed a hungry vegetarian in Santiago
Even though I really enjoy eating meat on a regular basis, I’m also a huge fan of vegetables and pulses. I was dying for the chance to be “vegetarian for the day” here in Santiago — not only to find restaurants which serve vegetarian dishes, but to evaluate the quality of vegetarian cuisine in the city.
Before setting out on my vegetarian hunt, I wanted to learn more about the typical Chilean diet. North Americans eat too much salt, and 50 percent of the Argentine diet is reserved for wheat-based, refined products. So, what about Chile?
Chile’s National Food Consumption Survey — annually undertaken by the Ministry of Health and the Department of Public Health, University of Chile — reveals that only 11 percent of the population eats fish once a week, and that the average Chilean eats one and a half marraquetas (a type of bread) every day - not great.
However, the survey also claims that 50 percent of Chileans eat the recommended five fruits and vegetables a day, and around 33 percent of the population eats pulses (mostly lentils and beans) at least twice a week — probably one of the reasons why organic food stores, such as Tienda Origen and Planta Maestra, have done so well in Santiago in recent years.
Considering Chile’s love of fruit, veg, and pulses, I was eager to hit the streets of Santiago in search of meat-free delights…
Hookah Troopa Lunch was first on my list — a Turkish establishment in the Lastarria neighborhood. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed with the food. Hookah markets itself as a vegetarian bar / restaurant, but the menu is incredibly basic. It’s one of those places which offers cheese as the staple meat-free option, without any attempt to play with flavor or be creative. Cheese, tomato, and basil tapas, cheese and spinach crepes, nachos with guacamole (a highly predictable veggie cop out!), or a Greek salad. Errrrr… not great for somewhere which advertises itself as being the vegetarian choice in Lastarria.
In the end, I decided to go for the only “lively” option available: the “Tabla Árabe” — a serving of falafel, stuffed vine leaves, olives, hummus, and pita bread. It was tasty enough, but I could have done with a lot more “food” and a lot less pita.
Luckily enough, I didn’t stay disheartened for long thanks to Uncle Fletch — located at Dardignac 0191 in the Bellavista neighborhood. Even though the menu isn’t exclusively vegetarian, I was served one of my tastiest veggie meals in Uncle Fletch by a long way.
There are three types of vegetarian burgers to choose from — a mushroom-based veggie burger, a falafel burger, or a delicious-looking quinoa option. After much deliberating, I opted for the quinoa, which came with a portion of chunky fries (the skins still on… perfect!), a couple of sauces, and a homemade hamburger bun. It was full of flavor and neatly armed into a stodgy texture, which I loved.
There are 50 types of beer to choose from at Uncle Fletch and homemade spicy popcorn is served up as a freebie while you wait for your main order. Had I not been about to explode from my veggie blow out, I would have definitely ordered the apple crumble dessert to top things off. It looked fab.
Vegan Bunker — located on Fresia 529 in Barrio Italia — was next on my list. Again, the menu isn’t exclusively vegetarian, but I’d definitely dine here with small children in tow. There’s a special dedicated area in the restaurant where kids can sit and draw, while parents or carers tuck into their veggie meals in peace.
Vegan Bunker is all about large portions, fresh fruit juices, coffees, sandwiches, pastries, and interesting salad combinations. I decided to go for the special tofu sandwich, stuffed with so much filling that it was hard to eat in simple bites — tomatoes, black olives, and lashings of mustard... yum! So far, so good… but where were all the exclusive veggie establishments?
In a simple word… Providencia!
Vegetarians visiting Santiago should hang out or find accommodation in the Providencia neighborhood. There are lots of dedicated vegetarian restaurants to try in Providencia, and you’ll be pleased to know that they offer more variety than salads, sandwiches, and burgers — however tasty those burgers might be.
In particular, I’d recommend trying El Árbol — Huelén 74 — if you’re traveling on a tight budget and El Huerto — Orrego Luco 054 — for some of the very best in exclusive vegetarian cuisine that Santiago has to offer.
I was pleased to see meals like Italian courgettes with soya meat on the restaurant menu at El Árbol, but it was even more exciting to browse through the many vegetarian products on sale in El Árbol’s shop / café. An excellent budget option at lunchtime would be their soup, juice, and bread combination. My mouth began to water when I saw the curried celery soup special, with salad, brown rice, and juice, on Café del Patio’s lunchtime menu. Lentils, corn pasties, chop suey, three-colored soufflé, and tofu fillets, are just some of this restaurant’s clever culinary ideas.
When I arrived to El Huerto, it was clear that I’d stumbled across the upmarket end of Santiago’s vegetarian cuisine. I was very impressed with the presentation of the food — mushroom stroganoff, polenta triangles to accompany winter-warming soups, special mango and avocado salad — and how every dish was accompanied by a variety of colorful sides. The restaurant even organizes cooking classes, offered by the head chef. I’m tempted to sign up to the oats and honey cooking class.
So, what’s the verdict?... Be careful. Establishments like Hookah market themselves as vegetarian, when the reality is sadly the opposite. On the upside, if you dine in the right places the food is really tasty, creative, and caters to a range of budgets. Not bad, Santiago. Not bad.
About the Author:
Tracey Chandler is press and publicity manager for The Santiago Times and has worked as a freelance writer in Latin America since 2009. Originally from London, she left the UK in 2008 and has lived in Venezuela, Argentina, and Chile. She has written for over 15 different blogs/online magazines on subjects relating to Latin American travel and lifestyle. Contact her directly via firstname.lastname@example.org with ideas for possible long-term partnerships and/or creative projects.