Meals and Mealtimes
By North American and European standards, Chileans are late risers and late eaters. Even in hotels, it may be difficult to get breakfast before 8 a.m. Lunch (almuerzo or colación) usually starts around 2 p.m., cena (dinner) around 9 p.m. or later—sometimes much later. Chileans bide their time between lunch and dinner with a late afternoon onces (elevenses, or afternoon tea) consisting of a sandwich or some sort of pastry, but it can be more substantial.
Most Chileans eat a light breakfast of tea and pan tostado (toast), perhaps with eggs. Eggs may be either fritos (fried) or revueltos (scrambled), or occasionally duros (hardboiled).
Avena (oatmeal) is common in wintertime, but North American breakfast cereals such as cornflakes have also made inroads.
Lunch is often the main meal, usually including an entrada (appetizer), followed by a plato de fondo (entrée), accompanied by an agregado (side dish) and a bebida (soft drink) or agua mineral (mineral water) and followed by postre (dessert).
Upscale Santiago restaurants sometimes offer fixed-price lunches that make it possible to eat well and stylishly without busting the budget, but elsewhere that’s unusual. Fast-food items such as hamburguesas (hamburgers), sandwiches, pizza, and pasta are easy to find.
The late afternoon onces can vary from a late-afternoon sandwich to the equivalent of afternoon tea, with elaborate cakes and cookies, and it’s often a social occasion as well. Presumably intended to tide people over until their late dinner, it often becomes larger and more elaborate than that would imply.
Dinner resembles lunch, but in formal restaurants it may be much more elaborate (and expensive); it can be a major social occasion. Chileans dine late–9 p.m. is early, and arriving earlier may earn “What are you doing here?” stares from waiters.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition