It’s September, and in Chile that means several things. September 18th is the Chilean equivalent to the 4th of July in the US, and here they go all out. As soon as September 1st rolls around, stores get decked out in red, white and blue bunting, supermarkets offer dieciocho-related sales (think wine, pisco and beef, all the elements of a good barbecue), and radio stations start playing classic cuecas. People start thinking about the long weekend coming up and planning holidays at a nearby beach, like Algarrobo or Quintero. Plus, more interestingly to me, the empanada comes into the spotlight.
Empanadas aren’t unique to Chile – you can find them in plenty of other Latin American countries. And they aren’t unique to September – you can buy them all over the place year-round. But they are very Chilean, and as such, there’s a renewed focus on them during Chile’s national month. That’s why this month, Saturday in Santiago will be dedicated to our favorite spots to pick up an empanada in Santiago.
The most typical Chilean empanada is filled with pino, which in this case doesn’t mean pine tree but rather a mixture of beef, onion, spices and always one slice of hard-boiled egg and one black olive (with the pit still in, so be careful) per empanada. It’s good, but some of my favorites are the less traditional combinations.
A couple months ago, Rodolfo and I stumbled across one of our now favorite spots for empanadas: Emporio Manos en la Masa. It’s located in the Mercado Diego de Almagro, on the corner of Diego de Almagro and Los Leones in Providencia. The market itself has seen better days, to be honest, although there appears to be a loyal crowd for Saturday lunch at the seafood restaurant.
This little corner of the market, however, is just getting started. The guy running the joint is the son of the baker, and he told me that they’ve only been here for 4 months. They run their main business out of their house on the corner of Bustos and Willie Arthur and have been doing so for 4 or 5 years. The idea behind leasing a new place was to get out of the house, but the loyal clientele in their original spot means that instead of closing it, they’ve just ended up with two locations.
I can see why the loyal following. The range of options isn’t huge, but it’s solid and has a couple creative flavors on there like Española and mechada.
I picked up three of our favorites this morning: pino picante, traditional pino with a hit of spice; champiñon, mushroom and cheese; and mechada.
It’s precisely this last flavor which gives insight into the overall quality of these empanadas. Carne mechada is a preparation which takes time – the meat is studded with carrots and garlic then slowly cooked with more carrots and onion to create a pot roast-like texture. Emporio Manos en la Masa could just offer a beef and cheese empanada, but going the extra mile provides a homey flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture.
The test of a good pino is always the meat to onion ratio. This pino picante has nice big chunks of beef, and the merkén adds a smoky spice.
My favorite though is the champiñon. Usually I think big chunks are better than little pieces – I’d rather have a nice jumbo prawn than cut up bits of shrimp, for example – but here I think the secret is in the chopping. The mushroom flavor really permeates the whole empanada, and the texture is consistent. I never get a mouthful of just cheese, it’s all deliciously mushroom-y and perfectly salted.
Of course, empanadas aren’t just filling. A heavy crust can kill even the best flavor. These crusts are thin and light, the perfect complement to what’s inside.
“Manos en la masa” literally means “hands in the dough,” but being caught with your “hands in the dough” is the Spanish equivalent of being caught with your hand in the cookie jar doing something wrong. In this case, you can taste the homemade, hands-on goodness in all of these empanadas, and there’s nothing wrong about it. September’s shaping up to be a pretty good month.
More in this series:
Saturday in Santiago