Comfort Food for a Cold Day: The Chilean Sopaipilla
Walk down any city block in Santiago de Chile, and you’re almost guaranteed to pass a panaderia (bakery). On plenty of streets, you’ll find multiple bakeries on the same block. It may seem incredible that a small neighborhood could support a bakery on every corner, but stroll past at about 6:00 p.m., when people are heading home from work, and odds are you’ll see every one of them with a crowd inside, scooping up loaves and rolls fresh from the oven. Bread is such an important part of Chilean culture that nearly every supermarket has an in-house bakery with industrial ovens, and all of them are stationed at the back of the store, so that people stopping in for bread will be more likely to pick up other items on the way by.
If you happen to find yourself in the country on a cold or rainy day, don’t despair! Console yourself with one of Chile’s tastiest bready comfort foods: the sopaipilla. These delicious, pillowy little circles are perfect for a cold-weather snack. Made with pumpkin to give them their distinctive yellow color, then fried briefly in hot oil, the sopaipilla is eaten in a variety of ways: As an appetizer at restaurants, it is usually served with pebre, a mild salsa of tomato and cilantro; from a street vendor, it’s often spread with mustard for a savory snack; you can also find it drenched in molasses sauce for a sweet dessert. (I personally love spreading them with mashed avocado, my other favorite Chilean treat, with a little sprinkle of salt and lemon.)
As the United States heads into the heart of winter, you might be tempted to make sopaipillas for yourself. (Here is the recipe I often use.) On the other hand, while we’re battening down the hatches against a polar vortex, South America is heating up for summer. For a true escape from the cold weather, head southward yourself! And if you find yourself traveling in Chile, be sure to snag a sopaipilla for the road.