How Pequenes Became A Popular Type Of Empanada In Chile

When it comes to convenient and filling snacks, few top tasty spiced empanadas. The doughy creations encompass all sorts of delicious fillings encased in a typically soft yet durable pastry. Even a single bite is packed with flavor, yet empanadas are usually accessible and affordable.

Now popular throughout Latin America and the Philippines, the pocket-like pastry owes its New World ubiquity to Spanish colonists. And while Argentinian and Venezuelan empanadas may be more internationally well-known, the dish is also a beloved favorite in Chile. In the South American nation, the most common take is called empanada de pino, a pastry filled with ground beef, onion, boiled egg, and olives. However, it's not the only variant: It's worth seeking out the pequene. Made with an aromatic slow-cooked onion mixture flavored with cumin and a local paprika known as aji de color, this more obscure vegetarian version is on the rise — here's why.

A rise in vegetarianism is bringing the pequene back

With a distinct folding pattern made to represent the angular face-shape of the Chilean Pequen owl, pequenes are easy to spot among other varieties. However, during the 1990s and early 2000s, the empanada type was hard to find at all. These onion-filled empanadas first became popular during times of financial hardship in the early decades of the 20th century, when beef was difficult to afford for many. But later in the century, bakeries started to phase out pequene production as they dropped in popularity.

However, fueled by an interest in vegetarianism, this empanada type is back on the rise, partly thanks to food bloggers. While most Chilean restaurants serve predominantly meat and seafood fare, some bloggers and home cooks have been showcasing these naturally vegetarian onion empanadas. While Chile has lower rates of vegetarianism than neighboring Brazil or other Latin American nations like Brazil and Mexico, the culinary landscape is changing. An interest in meatless, especially vegan cooking, is on the rise in Chile. Simultaneously, the country is experiencing a resurgence of pride in home-grown culinary creations. And if that means we see more snacks like flavorful, affordable, pequenes out there, that's good news for everyone.