I don’t leave home without my epi pen and a box of antihistamines.

I am anaphylacticly allergic to shellfish, and also to a much lesser (and less life threatening) degree lactose intolerant. Anai is also loctose intolerant however we both tend to overlook that fact in favor of devouring blocks of chocolate – then regretting it later.

We recently spent 2 months in Chile. I thought that dining out in Chile wouldn’t be too difficult. The Chilean diet last time I was there was based primarily on meat, tomato, potatoes and onion. Things have changed. The country is now crazy for seafood. Most reputable empanada houses now sell shellfish or prawn empanadas and sushi is easier to find than a completo. There has been a large amount of Peruvian immigration over the past few years and with it has come their culinary skills and knowledge. This is great news for Chileans as a new fresh seafood world has opened up for them. There are many new Chinese-influenced South American dishes and a new palette of flavors available also. However it was not great for me.
As a rule, I do not eat in any restaurant/cafe/establishment that cooks seafood of any kind, with the exception of cafes whom only serve smoked fish from a packed as there is far less chance that smoked salmon has been cross-contaminated with shellfish. If the fish is cooked on the premises, I do not eat there. This left my choices in Chile quite slim. I was of course in the fortunate position of residing with my in-laws for most of our trip so home-cooked meals were plentiful. My saving grace.

My advice to others with shellfish allergies who plan to travel Chile would be to make sure you book at least half your accommodation with a fully equipped kitchen so you can cook up some nutrition for yourself. Dining out for me consisted of:
– completos: basically a glorified hot dog with mayo, avocado, tomatoes and onion/ kraut
– churrascos: steak sandwhiches with mayo, avocado and tomato
– BBQ chicken and chips: as it sounds
– cakes and tea from modern coffee shops, of which there are not too many

You can easily avoid seafood if you’re able to cook at home. The seafood and meat sections in the market are very separate, something that is rare in Australia. There are a lot of preservatives and hidden ingredients in the food in Chile, just like the USA, so be sure to real all the labels before consuming.

Good words to know:

Mariscos = Shellfish/ Seafood. It’s your first warning sign. Usually places will just label their food as ‘mariscos’ instead of specifics, like barramundi or prawns.

cangrejo = crab

camarón = shrimp/prawn

mejillones = mussles 

vieiras = scallops

cigalas = crayfish

Lactose intolerant in Chile.
The primary ingredient in most Chilean sweets and cakes is Manjar, a caramel-esque product that is made from milk. It is also called dulce de leche in Argentina. It is used as a topping on bread, in cakes, biscuits and to make the famous (and tasty) afahores. After Manjar, the second most popular sweet is chocolate. Chileans are big into chocolate chip cookies, chocolate covered almonds (Vizzios) and blocks of chocolate.

In sort, milk is difficult to avoid. It is also of a much purer and stronger form than my Australian tummy is accustomed to. I fond myself feeling much worse from the lactose in Chile than I would from the lactose in Australia. The secret is in the percentage of milkfat content. In Aus, whole cream milk is approx 3.4 to 3.6% milkfat content with skim coming in at 1 to 2%. In Chile this percentage is much higher, more lactose means more tummyaches for me.

There is a small range of dairy-free milk available, in the form of almond milk and coconut milk, however these are imported and full (FULL) of preservatives and crap that you really don’t want on you breakfast cereal. I hunted down a small organic shop in Santiago, not easy to do, and they still did not stock real organic, unsweetened coconut or almond milk. Your saving grace however is that if you’re lactose intolerant, there is a large amount of lactose-free milk available. If you’re dairy-intolerant or allergic, you might want to consider taking your coffee black in Chile.

You can find the imported almost and coconut milks in Jumbo supermarkets, or at La Chakra.

Good words to know:

Leche = milk

coco = coconut

almendra = almond


If you are Chilean or are currently/ have recently traveled in Chile and can update us on where to get a great seafood or dairy-free meal, please comment below.


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