El Caramaño – a taste of Chile

Hidden among the rainbow of brightly-colored Bellavista buildings, one could be forgiven for walking straight past the muted brown exterior of El Caramaño. But this modest façade hides one of Santiago’s best kept culinary secrets.

Photo by Carolina Bastías Fuentes
Photo by Carolina Bastías Fuentes

Step inside to experience old-fashioned charm with a modern twist; suited waiters escort you to your table, covered with a green and white gingham tablecloth and surrounded by dark wood fixtures.

Photo by Carolina Bastías Fuentes
Photo by Carolina Bastías Fuentes

But glance across the walls and there before your eyes is a maze of graffiti scribbles--messages, poems and love declarations scrawled in an array of languages by satisfied customers. One message reads, 'La vida es un pastel de choclo' (life is a pastel de choclo, a traditional corn and meat pie).

Since its opening in 1982, El Caramaño has been a refuge for artists and intellectuals, a haven of real Chilean cuisine in the heart of the bustling city. This bohemian atmosphere is kept alive and well today thanks to the Chilean musicians who entertain diners with their array of traditional tunes, the perfect background music to accompany the hearty Chilean food on offer.

At first glance the menu appears to be in another language, and I suppose it is. All the words are written phonetically in the way Chileans pronounce them. So pescado becomes pe’ca’o and bueno becomes güeno.

Once you have navigated your way around the chilenismos opt for a a Pisco Sour aperitif while you enjoy some fresh bread and pebre, a spicy Chilean salad comprised of finely diced tomato, onion, garlic and coriander, covered in freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Photo by Carolina Bastías Fuentes
Photo by Carolina Bastías Fuentes

If the Pisco Sour is Chile’s national drink then the empanada must be the national food. You can choose between meat, fish or cheese or order a mixed platter so you can try all three. The golden pastries are crispy and light, piping hot and a delicious introduction to Chilean cuisine. They are much bigger than most empanadas you get for starters elsewhere, so make sure you arrive with an empty stomach. Order one of the large selection of Chilean wines or a jug of fresh fruit juice to accompany your meal.

The wide range of fresh fish is bought daily from the San Antonio port, and the restaurant emphasizes that the best food ‘is cooked with love and tasted with happiness.’

The house specialty is the pastel de choclo, a comforting paila (earthenware bowl) of ground beef, black olives, chicken and slices of hard-boiled egg covered in ground sweet corn and basil and then baked.

Photo by Carolina Bastías Fuentes
Photo by Carolina Bastías Fuentes

Digging your spoon into the sweet corn crust, half the fun is discovering what you have retrieved from the bowl, with so many ingredients to choose from. The food is a lovely blend of fresh ingredients and traditional, lovingly-made Chilean cuisine, and with inexpensive prices of around CP$ 7,000 (US$12.83) per person, you can afford to try the many enticing dishes on offer.

The service is excellent and the waiters are always on hand to explain dishes and offer their recommendations. The relaxed atmosphere means you could easily spend a long lunch here and it is open until midnight so it's perfect for dinner too.

The owners boast that, more than just a restaurant, El Caramaño is ‘a Chilean experience.’ With the old Chilean musicians, the friendly owner who goes from table to table checking on his customers and the menus full of chilenismos, I would have to agree.

El Caramaño
Purísima 257, Barrio Bellavista, Santiago.
Telephone – 737 70 43
Open Monday to Sunday 2pm – Midnight
Directions – From Baquedano metro cross the river into Barrio Bellavista. Purísima is two blocks west of Pío Nono.

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