Being a part of the Chilean social life it’s almost impossible to not expand your Spanish (or Chilean??) vocabulary with the word “picoteo”. Picoteo is what you might call finger food in English or simply snacks, but it’s more than just chips and dip. It’s a whole world of different small dishes that are served before lunch or dinner or during a party and it’s a central part of hosting in Chile.
One of the dishes you meet in almost every picoteo these days is cream cheese. The most traditional version (at least for me as I’ve known this one since the first time I visited Chile in 2007) is an entire cream cheese placed in a small plate with soy sauce and covered in roasted sesame seeds served with little crackers. It’s a delicious combination! My mother-in-law introduced me to it and I always have to control myself when it is served, to not seem too impolite as I dig into my favorite part of the picoteo. Luckily my brother-in-law is also a big fan so I’m never completely alone:).
What has changed since my first visit to Chile to now, is the frequency with which I face the cream cheese picoteo. Almost every party has some version of the dish and there are so many combinations: cream cheese with chopped chives drizzled over it, with marinated peppers, with soy sauce and roasted walnuts, with spring onions and green and red peppers chopped up and mixed in or…. and this is my latest discovery… a role of cream cheese filled with tuna mousse and drizzled with a bit of soy and roasted sesame seeds. Serve this dish with some crackers and your guests will not stop eating until you run out (or maybe that’s just me because I really can’t stop when this is put in front of me… It’s like it’s starring at me…).
The cream cheese is not just popular for the picoteo but is also a very popular ingredient in what I would like to refer to as the “Chilean sushi”. Sushi has become hugely popular in Chile and most of the food deliveries you’ll find online (at least in Santiago) are sushi places. But it’s worth it to note that it is not sushi as you’ll find it in a traditional Japanese restaurant. The “Chilean sushi” has been revised and modified so that it fits with the taste of the Chileans, which means lots of cream cheese and avocado (“palta” in Chilean). And I must say…. it’s quite delicious though the cheese and palta makes it extra heavy. Talking about sushi I would actually like to recommend the best sushi place I’ve tried in Santiago, for those of you who are here or who might be planning to visit. It’s called Too Much Japanese and they have several restaurants and home delivery – always a treat on a week night when arriving tired from work.
I’m sure I’ll bring in more ideas for picoteo with time ’cause I just love finger food, tapas, savories, antipasto, hors d’oeuvre or whatever you want to call it and it’s a great way of socializing around food.