What’s an empanada and why should you be as obsessed with them as I am? Popular in food stalls, bakeries, cafes, markets, and restaurants, empanadas are wildly consumed throughout the Latin world. They are made by folding dough around a variety of usually savory stuffings - from cheese to meat to veggies and even fruits (shout out to apple empanadas in Chiloé … SO GOOD) - and then frying them in oil or baking them in the oven. In fact, the name empanada comes from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning to wrap in bread. According to history, empanadas originated in Galicia (Spain) and Portugal sometime in the 16th century. Some historians believe that the delicious treat may have derived from Arabic meat pies. Today, empanadas have made their way around the world and into the mouths of many. Chileans undoubtedly love them, and any foreigner who passes up an empanada is missing out on a central gastronomic tradition and cultural experience.
As an empanada-lover and a vegan, I am usually heart-broken when I ask bakery and restaurant servers what is inside their empanadas since the answer is almost always some combination of beef, fish, cheese, sausage, or chicken. But I wasn't about to let this hold me back from pigging out on empanadas during my three week trip in Santiago de Chile. On the quest for the perfect empanada and determined to help out other empanada-loving vegans in Santiago, I set out on a week of vegan empanada tasting around the city and came up with a definitive ranking of the best veggie empanadas in town.
The vegan empanadas at El Chancho Seis were hands down THE BEST EMPANADA I’VE EVER HAD. Considering I lived in Spain for 4 years - the freaking birthplace of empanadas - and spent a year traveling Latin America, that means a lot. El Chancho Seis is a colorful bohemian vegetarian restaurant in Barrio Brasil that features 4 different kinds of vegan empanadas (corn pastry, mushroom with vegan cheese, roasted vegetables with tofu, or vegetarian or vegan meat pie empanadas). I’m not ashamed to admit I tried all four of their empanadas, and the winner was the vegetales asados con tofu empanada (roasted vegetable with tofu). Sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds and wrapped in a deep fried whole wheat dough that tastes like it was made by the gods, this empanada is fully loaded with roasted peppers, zucchini, chives, mushrooms, tofu, peanuts, and olives (watch out for the pits). Not only was this mouthwatering empanada delicious, but it is beautifully presented as well with roasted pepper and olive garnishes. If you eat a single vegan empanada in Santiago, it should be this roasted vegetable and tofu empanada at El Chancho Seis.
- Price per empanada: $2000 pesos ($3.18 USD)
- Address: Huerfanos 3025 esq Maipu, Santiago, Chile 8350477
Tucked away on the second floor of a clothing store in the busy streets of Recoleta neighborhood is a vegan cafe, marijuana grow shop, piercing and tattoo parlor (what a combo!). Offering an escape from the crowded streets below with relaxing reggae and jazz playing overhead, this one stop shop for all your vegan/stoner/body art needs is a lovely place to sit and enjoy a deliciously prepared empanada. El Cafe Vegan de La Tribus prepares two enticing empanadas: a wonderfully rich Peruvian empanada filled with chives and thin slices of textured tofu that tastes amazingly like chicken marinated in a wholesome savory sauce as well as a classic humita empanada stuffed with fresh corn, black olives, vegan mozzarella, and fresh basil. If you're located near the center of Santiago you MUST visit this cafe; the empanadas were so delicious that I didn't want them to end.
- Price per empanada: $1500 pesos ($2.39 USD)
- Address: Santa Filomena 490, Santiago, Chile 8420410
Matilda’s is a cute all vegan bakery in the heart of Santiago with a minimalist decor and happy plant loving servers who will help you pick out the perfect empanada. Matilda’s has five freshly baked empanadas to satisfy all your plant-based cravings with a mushroom, cheese, and spinach empanada; mushroom, corn, cheese, and olives empanada; caramelized onion, red pepper, and tomato empanada; corn and tomato empanada; and a vegan version of a pino empanada (a typical chilean empanada with ground beef).
- Price per empanada: $1350 pesos ($2.15 USD)
- Address: Diagonal Paraguay 487, Santiago, Región Metropolitana, Chile
This small vegan shop sells everything from baked goods to cruelty free beauty products and essential oils. Located on the second floor of a skyscraper in the city center, Viveg features a selection of four different vegan empanadas, all with a thin whole wheat crust. Choose from chard and cheese, humita (cheese, corn, and onion), spinach and cheese, or tofu and tomato empanadas!
- Price per empanada: $1490 ($2.37 USD)
- Address: Agustinas 814, Second Floor, Santiago, Región Metropolitana, Chile