• Pastel de choclo is a Chilean comfort classic. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Dishes cooked from the heart are the ones that most feel like home.
Dominic Ryan

6 May 2021 - 1:30 PM  UPDATED 7 May 2021 - 12:19 PM

--- The Cook Up with Adam Liaw airs weeknights on SBS Food at 7.00pm and 10.00pm, or stream it free on SBS On Demand. ---


Comfort food is synonymous with home, according to Patricia Bustamante, who's spent two years at the reigns of Pochito, a Chilean street-food café in Botany in Sydney's southeast.

The eatery is known for its baked empanadas and comforting food from the South American country. "We want that when somebody comes here, they feel they're at home," Patricia tells SBS Food. "The philosophy of this business is that you eat our food and say, 'My mum used to do it in this way'." 

"We've had young Chileans who come in and they order our food and sit down, and I see them cry. And I ask them 'What's wrong?' and they say, 'This empanada, it's like how my mum makes it'," she says.

The outlet's name embodies its philosophy.

"Chilean food is very comforting. When it's cold, you want to eat this food, because it's the food that makes you feel full and warm, and that's the meaning of pochito — completely satisfied in the stomach and soul," says Patricia.

The country's soul-hugging food, while often overshadowed by the pizzazz of next-door Argentina or the Asian-Andean fusions of Peru to the north, stems from its past.

Chile's gastronomy traces its roots to the country's beginnings as Spain's poorest colony. Chile formed itself into an almost completely agrarian society as its conquerors shunned Santiago de Chile for Lima and Mexico City. The outcome: dishes that rely on the land to provide affordable and nourishing tucker.

"The heart of Chilean food comes from the campo [countryside]," Patricia explains. "The fresh air, the fresh herbs and fresh vegetables, that's what gives it flavour."

Before the nation's urbanisation, people needed filling yet cheap food, which included sopaipillas — a fried pumpkin dough eaten piping-hot on a rainy day — or even the 'lomo a lo pobre', a cheap dish that features hot chips, onion and fried eggs piled on a loin steak.

Comfort foods born out of tough times is by no means a uniquely Chilean experience, proving that what we fashion in times of struggle often brings us the most comfort and joy. Think Irish stews, brimming with potatoes and mutton — ingredients relegated to the poor as English overlords snatched land for cattle rearing (the meat from which would be shipped straight to Great Britain).

In Afghanistan, fatty meat dishes loaded with rice are staples and feed a population of a country with harsh landscapes and an ongoing conflict. 

About Afghan food
Long before war propelled Afghanistan into the headlines of the 21st century, this rugged, mountainous Central Asian nation captured the imagination of the West as a key thoroughfare to the Far East – the latter helping to explain why this landlocked nation’s cuisine is so focused on hospitality.

The United States even has an entire cuisine born out of the struggle, poverty and marginalisation that the nation's Black population experienced. 'Soul food' speaks to its ability to bring solace as it's eaten. Further south, in Argentina, flank steak is known as 'matambre' (a Spanish portmanteau of 'to kill' and 'hunger'), as it was the easiest cut for nomadic horsemen to remove from a cow and cook — and is still omnipresent in hot sandwiches and schnitzels.

Australian food icon Lyndney Milan tells SBS Food it makes sense that this type of food makes us feel most satisfied — and Australia is no exception.

"My mother used to make lamb's fry and bacon all the time — I love it, you beauty!" 

"Historically, cheap food was home cooking, and that's why it's nurturing: it takes you back to that time of feeling safe," she tells SBS Food.

"My mother talked about rabbit stews during the depression, but if you think about it the so-called secondary cuts of meat — to me they have so much more flavour – they require long, slow cooking. So cheaper and more nourishing in flavour,' she says.

"Food is like a manifestation of love and gratitude."

For her, economical and often-discarded offal can be a great source of taste in a meal.

"My mother used to make lamb's fry and bacon all the time — I love it, you beauty!," she says. "I think it's showing respect to the animal and in less-affluent times, people couldn't afford to have those aversions [to eating the whole animal]."

Three level shepherd’s pie

For Patricia, it's pastel de choclo, a hot dish in the style of Shepherd's-pie, that brings her comfort and a sense of home. 

"Food is like a manifestation of love and gratitude," she says.

"People [in Chile] can be very poor and not have things to give, but they will always share their food with you. They are saying: 'you are welcome here'."

No matter what the dish is, if it's cooked from the heart, then it will feel like home.

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How Chilean-Australian Margarita Garcia learned to make hearty cazuela soup.
Chilean salsa (pebre)

“This fresh, beautifully balanced salsa is one of those all-purpose additions to a barbecue that you’ll make again and again. I love that you use the stalks as well as the leaves of coriander, but it still feels strange adding boiling water to a salad mix. But you know what? It works! Serve with Chilean marinated pork belly.” Maeve O'Meara, Food Safari Fire

Chilean “eggnog” (cola de mono)

This festive drink is laced with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. The alcohol component is pisco, a grape brandy, or aguardiente, a clear spirit that means “fire water”.


Chileans have a soft spot for sandwiches and on top of their list, is the lomito, dubbed the unofficial national dish. Each of these mighty sandwiches can be 10 cm tall, filled with about 250 g of hand-shaved pork loin, half an avocado, a layer of sauerkraut, and plenty of mayonnaise (globally, Chile is the third largest capita consumer of mayonnaise). Other additions include cheese and tomatoes. Start this recipe a day ahead to brine the pork.