What to eat?
You will find restaurants with gourmet and international cuisine, especially in the lodges and large hotels across the region. Many of them have incorporated local elements into their preparations, such as lamb, trout, salmon, calafate, nalca and rhubarb. Look for must-try’s like lamb ravioli with a wine sauce or a brownie served with calafate ice cream!
You’ll also have the chance to eat in local “picadas”, the Chilean word for restaurants where the food is plentiful, the prices are more affordable and, in general, homemade and traditional fare is served. These are the places to enjoy traditional dishes like cazuela (homemade stews), fried fish, milanesa, giant sandwiches, or a steak “a lo pobre” (beef topped with french fries, sautéed onions, and fried egg), among hundreds of other elections. You can find great picadas throughout the region and should also look for great house specialties in the inns of the region; delicacies like cazuela of chicken and polenta or lamb with luche, or also, homemade meatballs. In fact, within this guide we’ll share several of these traditional recipes so you can prepare them yourself when you’re staying in cabins or after you return home.
Beef and lamb are some of the most frequently consumed foods in Patagonia, especially in rural areas. Don’t miss the experience of attending a Patagonia Asado al Palo, which involves lamb, beef or in some cases, fish, slow-roasted on the stake, in the coals of a campfire or barbecue pit. This is the typical dish for parties, family get-togethers and heritage festivals; it’s even on the menu at some restaurants; but, you’ll want to arrive in advance to be around during the fun of the barbecue process. An asado al palo is much more than a meal, it is an occasion and a great feast. The lamb is never served solo, it’s accompanied by tortas fritas (fried breads), pebre sauce, potatoes, a variety of salads and red wine.
You’ll encounter delicious, regional beef throughout almost the entire region, but many say that the best is in Bahía Murta, a village along the Shore of General Carrera Lake, where you’ll find the perfect cut for your grill. And for fresh fish like merluza (hake), sea bass (congrio) or even sierra, head to the communities along the coast. If you time your travels just right, you can join in with the community of Puerto Cisnes as they celebrate their annual “Fiesta del pesca’o frito” (Fried fish festival), where the main dish is, you guessed it, fried merluza. You can also opt for a myriad of fantastic dishes prepared with shellfish, like mussels, clams, crab claws and locos, but we suggest you only partake in these plates in well-established restaurants; red tide (marea roja) is a problem in the area and you want to be sure not to eat bad shellfish.
If meat is not your “thing” and you’re looking for fruits, vegetables, or fresh dairy, check out the region’s farmer’s markets, greenhouses, and local farms, especially in La Junta (Palena – Queulat Area), Coyhaique (Aysén – Simpson Area) Puerto Ibáñez, and Chile Chico (Chelenko Area), and Cochrane (Baker – O’Higgins Area). All summer, you’ll be amazed by the selection of fresh and delicious vegetables, fruits, farm eggs and cheeses of the region; all at great prices. Don’t miss the cherries from Chile Chico; so renowned they are exported to gourmet shops in Europe and Asia.
What to drink?
Well, first let’s start with yerba mate, the traditional brew of Patagonia, which gives you energy and a great excuse to sit down and converse for a while. You’ll find folks drinking rounds of yerba mate all over the region, and it’s a pretty safe bet that at some point they’ll invite you to join in. If you become a fan, you’ll want to look for a kilo of yerba mate, a traditional gourd and a bombilla, to carry with you and take home as a souvenir.
Also, don’t forget to try the growing number of artisan beers being brewed throughout the region, all exquisite and made with 100% pure water of Patagonia. That’s their secret and well, actually, the key to almost all the regional gastronomy, freshness, purity, high levels of organic growing and low levels of pollution; it’s the perfect combination for delivering unique tastes, special ingredients and great meals. Check it out for yourself!