The Empanada Diaries

Empanadas. The One Thing in South America that will never let you down (unless it gives you the shits). It’s no surprise that South America can be a little dodgy at times, but the trusty empanada doesn’t fit this category. In fact, it can make the unwanted moments of travel a whole lot better (it was one of the first things I wanted to eat after recovering our recently stolen car – a story for another time). Why is it so special? A juicy and flavour filled pastry…how could you not fall in love?

I’m in luck- all the South American countries I’ve visited so far have their own version of this delicious on-the-go snack. For now I’ve had to put the bagel quest on hold (I’m yet to find something which resembles it in this continent) and I’ve found myself on a transcontinental empanada hunt. I can’t get enough of them. It is literally the ONLY food which ticks all the boxes for a traveller – cheap, filling, readily available and can be eaten anywhere without any preparation or utensils.

Here’s my verdict:

Argentina: Empanadas here seem to be the go-to meal for parties (when the parilla isn’t flaming) – you order it and they deliver it, just like a pizza. They’re almost always baked and the flavours are more adventurous. It’s not uncommon to find blue cheese empanadas and the usual suspects like carne (beef) and pollo (chicken) are often paired with a delicate tomato and paprika salsa. The deep fried beef empanadas in Salta were particularly memorable.

Beef empanada, Salta, Argentina
Beef empanadas, Salta, Argentina

Chile: I must admit, the overall quality of the available food and fresh produce in Chile was disappointing BUT here is where I also stumbled upon some of the best empanadas around. Empanada de pino. This is the most common empanada flavour found all over Chile. The beef mince may be substituted for chunks of tender slow cooked beef – an even more delicious version if you ask me (although the Chileans can be a bit stingy on the number of beef chunks you’ll find in your empanada – 3 or more seemed generous). Oh, and there’s ALOT of onion so if onion is not your thing you might not enjoy this as much as we did. There are always a few surprises inside as well: precisely a quarter of an egg, one olive (watch for the pip!) and one (and only one) raisin. It actually turns into a pretty fun game trying to find your raisin. Wood oven fired empanadas can also be found resulting in a perfectly crispy top and bottom.

Chile’s coastline is vast and you can therefore find fresh seafood empanadas. They’re deliciously simple – seafood and cheese, that’s usually it. I wasn’t so keen on the whole seafood and cheese deal at first, but I came around quickly. Common flavours include marisco (shellfish), cangrejo (crab) and my personal favourite camaron (prawn). If you’ve got the option of fried or baked, opt for the fried because the crispy dough especially shines when paired with the softer texture of the seafood. If you’re lucky you’ll even be given the option of dousing your empanada in delicious salsa picante (home made chili sauce).

Check out the recipe for our very own homemade empanadas!

prawn empanada, santiago
Crispy Prawn Empanadas, Santiago

Bolivia: You can find the usual suspects here but they are almost always fried, found on the street and offered with a range of salsas. The salsa buffet is what makes the Bolivian empanada so delicious (if you have the stomach to sample them).

Although not strictly an empanada, the Bolivians do have a baked equivalent known as the salteña. It’s flavour is complex and takes the simple baked treat to a whole new level. It’s my favourite street food in Latin America so far. They were so popular amongst the locals that it was difficult to get your hands on one as they were often preordered and sold out before entering the oven. Jana and I we’re lucky enough to get the hot tip from our spanish teacher in Sucre on where to find the best salteñas in Bolivia (Salteñeria El Patio). The 30-minute wait was well worth it. They came straight from the oven but I couldn’t resist taking a little bite. The sweetness hits you instantly and then you find out the insides more resemble a stew than the usual empanada filler. The contents are HOT and the fiery liquid dribbles down your chin, so delicious you hardly notice the pain. The sweet and golden pastry acts as a little cup while you blow and sip on the rest of the soupy filling. You promise not to make the same mistake on the second one.

Juicy Salteña Explosions, Bolivia
Juicy Salteña Explosions, Bolivia

Peru: We’ve just arrived to Peru so our empanada experience so far is scant – however the beef and chicken empanadas that we just devoured were pleasing and once again different to the other Latin American countries we’ve visited. The pastry was flakier and filling similar to the paprika seasoned meats found in Argentina.


Ok, so we have been in Lima for 13 days now and the food is simply INCREDIBLE (there WILL be a post on this in the next few weeks). We have been super lucky here and have been staying with good friends that love good food. It’s taken 13 days to finally try the empanadas in Peru (because, quite frankly, we have been up to our eyeballs in food that is in every way superior to any empanada) but finally today we committed ourselves to an afternoon snack of deep fried deliciousness. And in typical Peruvian fashion, it didn’t disappoint. Our friend spent the morning figuring out the pros and cons of each empanaderia in town and settled on a place called Paulistas. The UFO shaped parcels were deep fried to order and you could choose from classic Peruvian as well as international flavours. We tried pollo a la brasa (Peru style rotisserie chicken, cooked using coals), morcilla (Peruvian style blood sausage), seco (tender coriander beef stew with potatoes) and pollo con aji de gallina (chicken with traditional yellow chili cream sauce). They were packed to the brim with filling and flavour (take note, Chile). And then came the sauce frenzy (we love that Peruvians never skimp on the sauces and you never get charged extra for them). With flavours like avocado and chilli jam we were intrigued to try them all. Overall they were a hit. (Price guide: 6 AUD for 3 empanadas)

Watch this space – I’ll be adding more empanada reviews according to country as we keep travelling north

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