The Completo Breakdown

The Completo: Chile’s trademark snack. It’s everywhere and you haven’t really visited the country until you’ve tried it. But what about hot dogs slathered in mayo, tomato and salsa can be so great? How does such a strange, messy combination win our hearts?

 Photo by Andrew Carpenter
Photo by Andrew Carpenter

Part of the Completo’s popularity relates to its versatility. Whether grabbing a quick snack, breaking for lunch or finding your way home from a bar in the pre-dawn hours, it always hits the spot and fills you up. It is possible to eat one weaving through the throngs of slow moving Santiaguinos or to enjoy it slowly while calmly watching the Rio Mapocho trickle down the canal. Anytime, anywhere, the Completo is ready to satisfy those unhealthy cravings.

More important than versatility is, of course, taste. Nothing quite compares with the tongue’s first encounter with this condiment mountain. Most foods consist of one main flavor or thrive on the harmony of complimentary, subtle flavors combining with each other to form a grand masterpiece. Completos on the other hand throw these concepts to the wayside by blasting mouths with multiple distinct and strong flavors - more of a brute force approach. They make you like them, whether you want to or not.

 Photo by Andrew Carpenter
Photo by Andrew Carpenter

Despite being a relatively simple concept, there is no standard Completo. There is a wide range of quality from the myriad street carts to anonymous restaurants through to a small but growing number of “gourmet” versions. The Completo’s foundation, the bread and meat, is also the starting point for success or failure. Dry or crumbly bread sucks out the flavors leaving a powdery texture in the mouth. Many versions of hot dogs lack flavor or sufficient size, removing an essential aspect of the experience.

The rising Completo connoisseur should look for fresh baked and toasted breads which enhance the texture. Meat should be substantially sized and of relatively good quality, otherwise its taste and entire purpose is lost amidst the condiments. Bread and meat are the building blocks of the Completo and play a major role in its deliciousness index. However, what makes or breaks the Completo is the ratio of its ingredients.

Because the Completo’s success depends on the multifaceted attack of all flavors, none should overpower the others. Many versions consist of such a high amount of toppings that it’s impossible to taste the hot dog. Others will put so little of everything that bread is almost the only flavor. These versions leave newcomers underwhelmed and disenchanted. Thankfully certain establishments make their names by giving the people what they want in just the right amounts. The places that have figured out this secret are the ones that have solidified the Completo into Chilean culture.

 Photo by Andrew Carpenter
Photo by Andrew Carpenter

Different situations call for different types of Completos. Classier diners can search for the gourmet versions in places such as Hogs at Avenida Los Leones 70, starting at CP$1,950 (US$4). Late-night barflies or hurried office workers can stop by the infinite street vendors, which tend to be a better bet than cheap restaurants, and grab one from CP$500 to CP$900.

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