Chiloé is an archipelago of mostly tiny islands hanging off of Puerto Montt, Chile. It’s a dreamy place where tales of witches, ghost ships, mermaids, and demons are common. It’s a land of dense forests and green hills and the home of sailors and fishermen. Visitors come to see the UNESCO World Heritage wood shingle churches, stilted palafito houses, and penguin colonies, but what most do not realize is that Chiloé is home to one of Chile’s most fascinating and unique regional cuisines. The diet is rich in fish and shellfish, as well as aquatic plants, though the patchwork of green pastures provides grazing room for lambs as fine as any in Patagonia and the growing of potatoes, which are used in everything. New boutique hotels and wilderness lodges are encouraging visitors to stick around a little longer than the obligatory day trip. If you come, come hungry.
Piure (a gooey red blob like invertebrate), choros (mussels), and machas (razor clams) hang to dry from the front of a Chilote house. Eventually they will be used in typical dishes such as paila marina, a shellfish stew, or curanto, a potluck of meats and seafood cooked in a hole in the ground.
Centolla, or southern king crab, for sale in a market in Ancud, one of the largest cities in the island chain of Chiloé. Probably the most expensive seafood on the islands, centolla is usually served on its own, though you may find it in ceviche or empanadas.
Oyster farms can be found all over Chiloé and several have restaurants just onshore, like the locally famous Ostras Caulin in the town of Caulin. Here oysters are served as a crema (cream soup), fried, or straight.
Chilote cuisine is not all seafood. Lamb, served here with potatoes at a lamb festival in the village of Quinchao, is especially common and can be roasted over an open fire, an asado, or in stews.
At Quinchao’s Festival de Cordero, to make the snack Chochoco, a potato-based dough is formed around around a long wooden stick, which is then roasted over a fire. Afterwards it is stuffed with meat and then rolled up.
Milcaos, shown here, are a type of rubbery potato pancake served with many traditional dishes in Chiloé. They can be both fried or steamed. You will usually find them served with curanto, though they may appear instead of bread during onces, or teatime.
In Dalcahue, a food market uses the design of a typical Chilote structure, the palafito, a wood building on stilts over the water. While these iconic buildings were once common on the archipelago, the best examples today can be found in Castro.
In this overturned boat is Lef, a restobar and café on the remote property of Espejo de Luna, aka serving some of the most resourceful food in Chile. The menu at sources from Chilote farmers and fishermen and turns the native ingredients into contemporary plates like King Crab ceviche or the rhubarb like nalca plant served with ice cream, which are paired with Chilean wines and microbrews.
A woman in a small shack beside an oyster farm in the town of Curaco de Velez. Served only with lemon, these oysters are sold by the size. You can get a bucket for what amounts to just a few dollars.