Big heart of Chile: between the ocean and the Andes

pampeano continues its culinary voyage around South America with a stopover today in Chile. Here we find a country of breath-taking beauty with equally tantalising food, drink and traditions

Chile is a land of contrasts. It boasts achingly beautiful geographical and climatic extremes - from mountains, volcanoes and deserts to glaciers, lakes and rainforests. And if that isn't impressive enough, it also has a massive 2,700 miles of dramatic coastline.

If you look at a map, you can also see straight away that Chile is a long and thin strip of land - making it one of the world's most unusual shaped countries. It runs 4,300 kilometres along South America (almost half the continent) and yet it only averages 177 kilometres east to west.

Chile reaches up towards the Equator in the north and down towards Antarctica in the south. It is flanked on one side by the high, snow-capped Andes and on the west by the wild and stunning Pacific. Chile borders with Argentina, Peru and Bolivia and has territories in Polynesia and Antarctica.

The beauty and diversity of Chile

Not surprisingly Chile's fascinating geography, climate and culture make it a big attraction for visitors. Since the mid-1990s, tourism in Chile is one of its main sources of income.

Travel writers wax lyrical about this fascinating country where you can explore places of great beauty and diversity.

Highlights include the arid Atacama Desert in northern Chile, with azure blue skies and lunar like landscapes.

There is also the vibrant capital of Santiago, situated in the famous wine growing territory of Maipo Valley in the centre of Chile and surrounded by the majestic Andes mountains.

And about an hour and a half's drive from Santiago, you will find the coastal resort of Vina del Mar and the important port of Valparaiso. Way down south, you will find Temuco, the capital of Cautin Province and in the Araucani­a Region. Temuco is home to the largest population of the indigenous Mapuche people of any region in Chile.

Some 3,500 kilometres away from Chile, is Easter Island, another tourist magnet. Easter Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The island belongs to Chile and is home to the world famous tall unsmiling statues - called moai. These striking monuments were carved out of volcanic rock between the 11th and 14th centuries by Polynesian settlers.

Multiple contrasts

Of course, Chile's cultural and social identity have been shaped by its turbulent and, at times, brutal past. Events that have shaped Chile's history include Spanish conquests; European immigrations; Mapuche people standing up to the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century and, of course, Pinochet's dictatorship of 16 years and finally ending in 1990.

"Our character is a result of the multiple contrasts of a land whose heart beats between the ocean and the Andes, according to This is Chile's official website.

Today Chile is one of the world's largest wine producers, and its world-renowned vineyards and wine-making expertise are deep-rooted elements in the country's identity - dating back to the mid-1500s.

In the early 1990s when a new market economy was being established after Pinochet, the Chilean wine market began to sell more widely to foreign markets.

Perfect terroir for world-class wines

Fertile valleys nestled between the mountains and the ocean are the perfect terroir for some of the best wines in the world, according to This is Chile, Chile's official tourist website.

Its varied geography, excellent climatic conditions and ideal soils make Chile a world class producer of fine wines.

Chile's celebrated white wines include elegant sauvignon blancs, which evoke the influences of the mighty Pacific ocean, while deliciously smooth chardonnays come from the northern and central valleys.

When it comes to red wines, Carmenere is a trademark for Chile - and currently a hot trend. The deepest, darkest and most purple of the red grapes, Carmenere needs a long ripening period to reach its maximum potential. Rich in red fruits with smooth and well rounded tannins, it is very drinkable and goes well with red meats.

Star grape with fruit flavours

But many argue that the star grape in Chile's vineyards is Cabernet Sauvignon. It made its way to Chile from France in the middle of the nineteenth century. It is a late maturing grape and flourishes in the Chilean valleys of Aconcagua, Maipo, Cachapoal and Colchagua. The warm and dry climate of these valleys allows the grape to fully mature and develop fruity flavours of berries, redcurrants, blackcurrants and fig. Try a Chilean Carbenet Sauvignon with steak and it's great with a BBQ, too.

According to renowned wine critic James Suckling: "The time for Chilean wine is now." Its varied geography, the excellent climatic conditions and ideal soils make Chile a world class producer of fine wines, he adds.

The bulk of Chile's vineyards stretch between Elqui Valley in the north of the country, down to Malleco in the south and from the Andes in the east to the coastal hillsides of the Pacific in the west.

Silver Ghost Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 from Chile's Central Valley gets great reviews on Majestic Wine's website. A medium-bodied, fruit-driven style of Cabernet that offers rounded, ripe red berry fruit with a plummy and easy-going feel, Majestic says it also has hints of green pepper and subtle oak notes on the nose. The wine merchant says it is a versatile pairing for many foods - from spicy kebabs to roasted vegetables.

Wine tasting tours at vineyards

If you are a wine enthusiast, a great time to visit Chile is during the grape harvests in March and April. Chile has a plethora of superb vineyards (from underground cellars to old vineyard manors), which offer tasting tours so you can learn more about the many varieties of wine that Chile grows and exports globally.

Casablanca and Valparaiso were voted as one of the ten Great Wine Capitals of the world and the Maipo Valley is in the top ten of the world's best wine regions to visit.

Land and sea influences 

With such a great tradition of winemaking it comes as no surprise that Chileans also take their cooking seriously and make amazing dishes to go with their fabulous wines. Chileans are famed for putting their heart and soul into their cooking and food - be it traditional home cooked fayre or high end gastronomy in the cities.

As well as drawing on important influences from Spanish, other European and indigenous cuisines, Chileans also tap into the natural resources that their diverse country offers in terms of produce from the land and sea.

With the Pacific coast literally on Chile's doorstep there is an amazing range of fish and seafood available and with that, some exciting recipes. A favourite coastal dish is razor clams a la parmesana. The parmesan is grated on top of the clams to make a gratin. The clams are cooked in a delicious creamy, white wine and garlic sauce. Another popular Chilean recipe is conger eel stew, so is scallops al pil pil, in a chilli flavoured olive oil. Mussels and shrimps feature in Chilean seafood cuisine, too.

Rodeo in central heartlands

In the central heartlands of Chile many of the dishes are classic empanadas and corn-based dishes, like pastel de choclo, which is a bit like Shepherd's pie in the UK but made with chicken, ground beef, eggs and corn meal, with a cheese gratin on top. There are lots of variations on this recipe across Chile.

The Central Valley is the birthplace of Chilean rodeo and many of the dishes in this area reflect the atmosphere and traditions of the huaso (cowboy) culture. The rodeo season kicks off on Independence Day on 18 September and take place in medialunas (half moon) arenas with curved walls.

Here two cattle herders battle it out on horseback to see who can herd a cow and pin it up against the corral wall in the most expert fashion. Expert judges decide on who is the winner, while different huasos battle it out all day.

Accomplished horsemanship

The Chilean huaso are skilled horsemen, similar to the Argentine gaucho. The huaso are famous for wearing a chupalla (straw hat) and poncho over a short jacket, teamed with leather leggings and silver spurs, with matching over-sized stirrups. There is a long tradition of horsemanship and equestrian culture in South America.

This tradition inspired pampeano's birth - shaping our mission to provide high quality polo equipment for horse and rider, as well as luxury leather pieces. pampeano takes its name from La Pampa, an area in Argentina which is famed for its polo fields and wide open estancias, overseen by the magnificent and omnipresent Andes mountains.

Rodeos are a big spectator sport in Chile - second only to soccer. The food and drink at these events are a great way to sample traditional Chilean fayre. Plateada picada or braised brisket is a really popular dish.

The meat is cooked very slowly in local Carmenere wine - but basically any other red wine or liqueur is fine, too. The meat is then removed from the stock (made from boiling up the bones) and then thickened into a gravy, which is served on the side.

The meat becomes very tender after its slow cooking and the sauce is rather like a coq au vin except it is beef-flavoured, not chicken. This dish goes well with mashed or boiled potatoes and rice.

A traditional Chilean charquican is another great accompaniment to this hearty stew. It is a mix of mashed potato, corn, pumpkin, celery and spinach.

Exotic fruits, traditional breads

In the north of Chile quinoa-based dishes are in abundance, while in the hot, fertile valleys beside the Atacama desert you can find a wealth of exotic fruits - including chirimoya - a custard apple.

Breads are a big trend in Chile. In the south Mapuche catutos, a wheat based bread, is made by the Mapuche. Tortillas de rescoldo is another tasty traditional ash-baked bread from this area.

The Mapuche draw from recipes handed down from generation to generation. Some Mapuche people still cook on a traditional curanto oven. It is basically a large hole in the ground which is used to heat meat and vegetables wrapped in leaves, over a fire of hot stones. The smoky Merken spice was also invented by the Mapuche. It has a mild chilli kick and is used to spice up many Mapuche dishes.

Zingy cocktail: Pisco Sour

Other specialities include milcaos (small potato cakes) and kollof (seaweed). The Mapuche also have a sweet tooth and enjoy sweetmeats such as albaricoque (sour green plums, preserved in syrup) and giant pine nuts soaked in syrup.

And if you are looking for a zingy cocktail, look no further than the South American classic of Pisco Sour. Pisco is a style of brandy common to Peru and Chile which has a slight Tequila flavour. This cocktail is smooth and creamy with a tangy kick - with Pisco brandy, egg white and lemon juice.

Cheers, Chile. Thank you for your food, wine, culture and big heart beating between the Andes and the ocean.