Today, according to an (unscientific) survey conducted by a Chilean internet magazine, pastel de choclo is
’s favorite home cooked meal, favored by 21% of respondents. Chile
Among the most Chilean of dishes, Pastel de choclo is a pie filled with beef and onions, a piece of chicken, an olive and a quarter boiled egg, and covered with dough made of fresh corn. (Choclo is Andean Spanish for ear of corn, from the Quechan chocollo.) It is always on the menu of Chilean restaurants serving “typical foods,” and appears frequently in workers' lunchrooms, and neighborhood cafes. It is sold in Independence Day celebration booths, supermarkets, bakeries, and by sidewalk vendors. It was the first meal my future wife served me when I came to
, and surely would be much appreciated by hungry mourners when I depart. Santiago
Pastel de chocloI (or pastel de maiz—standard Spanish for “corn pie”) is mestizo cooking at its most straightforward: it combines the filling for Spanish empanadas with a crust of the corn dough used to make humitas, the indigenous tamales of the Andean cultures. And like humitas and empanadas it must be very old and very Chilean, surely originating, as Chilean anthropologist Sonia Montecino Aguirre suggests, at the hands of Mapuche cooks in the kitchens of the Spanish conquerors.
But does it?
Chilean novelist Isabel Allende has it a little differently, as fiction allows. Her heroine Inéz Suárez, Pedro de Valdivia’s mistress and companion in the conquest of Chile, invents empanadas with a corm crust—which can hardly be anything other than pastel de choclo—in Cuzco, Peru, in 1539.
I had a clay oven built in the patio and Calatlina and I begin making empanadas. Wheat flour was very dear, but we learned how to make them from corn meal. They never had time to cool after they came from the oven because the smell spread throughout the neighborhood and people came running to buy them. ….The strong aroma of meat, fried onion, cumin and baked dough soaked into my skin so deeply that I have never lost it. I will die smelling like an empanada.
Allende seems to have gotten one part right;
Chile’s iconic pastel de choclo appears to have a Peruvian origin; or at least the earliest mention of pastel de choclo comes from . Peruvian historian Ricardo Palma tells of a remarkable banquet served in Peru in 1608: Cuzco
…the Dominicans gave a banquet for the reconciled [Augustinians and Franciscans], But what a banquet! There was theological soup, fried giblets, stuffed turkey, rabbit carapulcrta [stewed with peanuts], lamb stew, pipian and locro of pigs feet, meat in adobo [spicy marinade] St. Peter and St. Paul (beans with meat, spices and vinegar) and pastel de choclo… 
And since it existed in colonial
Peru, one would expect to find pastel de choclo in colonial , but it isn’t mentioned, as far as I can tell, in any of the colonial sources. The earliest cl mention I’ve encountered is from Claudio Gay, French botanist and naturalist who explored Chile in the 1830s. Writing about the food and drink of central Chilean peasants he describes a meat pie—clearly a less elegant version than served at the Dominicans’ banquet--that today we would call a pastel de choclo: Chile
….in the great fiestas, and above all at weddings… chicha, young wine, or wine itself accompanies the pies so well enjoyed and made of picadillo [hash] or pino [“filling” in the Mapuche language] of mutton, mixed sometimes with chicken, and covered with a layer of corn ground with sugar and fat, and seasoned as always with a lot of chili and other condiments. These pies were also made with green beans, onions, olives, etc., and were cooked the same day to be eaten hot. They were seldom missing from the table on a day of celebration.
Nor does this pie appear in 19th century accounts of travelers in
, who often describe the meals, humble or elegant, they were served. Chilean historian Martín Lara, who evidently is also interested in such things, notes: Chile
It is interesting that in the diary of Mary Graham, as in the rest of the books and memoirs consulted, the classic Chilean foods of the present such as pastel de choclo or empanadas do not appear. …In contrast to the empanadas and pastels, [is] the constant and repeated reference made to charquicán as a very common dish on the tables of Chileans of all social statuses.
The next instance occurs some 40 years later, in 1877, when Chilean writer and politician Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna mentions pastel de maiz in a context that also suggest that it is a dish of the common people. He writes:
We don’t know if modern presidents of this corn country still like corn, like Alonso de Rivera [governor of
, 1601-05] did, or if they serve humitas, pastel de maiz, or even the humble chuchoca [corn meal] at their tables. Chile
So, pastel de choclo (or maiz) surely exists in 19th century Chile, at least among campesinos, even if the 19th century cookbooks do not include it, not even the comprehensive 1882 New Kinchen Manual containing 377 selected dishes from the cuisines of France, Spain, Chile, England and Italy, which devotes a chapter to empanadas and meat pies. Nor is it in Palma Alvarado’s fine study of the food and drink of Santiagueños in the late 19th century. And most surprisingly, Chilean historian Eugenio Pereira Salas has no mention of pastel de choclo in his classic Notes for the History of Chilean Cuisine, first published in 1943. I wonder why.
’s famous pastel de choclo didn’t achieve its mythic status until the well into the 20th century. And it may have come via Chile Peru, Boliviaor where it was common. Argentina
Pastel de Choclo recipes
The earliest recipe I have found comes, not from
Chile, but from an 1890 Argentine cookbook, where it is called pastel de choclo Sucre[ ] style: Bolivia
Pastel de choclo a la sucrense
Grate the corn, and grind very well, on a grinding stone or mortar. Add a cup of milk, stir well and strain through a thin cloth, squeezing hard to extract the juice. Return the corn to the mortar, add another cup of milk, grind again, and strain. To this corn juice, add white corn flour or cornstarch a spoonful at a time, stirring as you pour the flour, and beat until thickened. Season with salt and a little sugar, at most a tablespoon or two, to bring out the natural sweetness of the corn. Melt a large lump of butter, and mix with the dough, stirring and tossing, until the butter has been incorporated. If the dough has thickened more than usual; add a little milk, and always stirring, cook over a moderate fire. Test often, so by the taste you will know when it is cooked and ready. Then remove it from the heat, add butter, stir and cool. When cold, add four egg yokes, and stir to incorporate into the dough.
Butter the bottom of a heat resistant ceramic dish and spread a layer of corn dough. On this place your filling; what ever kind you like, either of pieces of pigeon in seasoned marinade [adobo] or stewed, or with a hash seasoned with spices, raisins of
, almonds and olives. Over the filling, symmetrically place slices of hard boiled eggs and olives. Cover the filling with another layer of corn dough and put in the oven. Malaga
When the surface of the cake has browned to a deep gold, it is done and should go directly from the oven to the table, because the hotter, the more delicious. Natalia R. Dorado (Cochab) [
] Cochabamba, Bolivia
This interesting recipe, with its smooth dough, butter, raisins of
, and almond is clearly from a social status well above that of Chilean peasants. It is probably the descendant of the Dominicans’ version of 1608, but it has some common elements to the earliest Chilean recipe I’ve found: La Negrita Doddy’s 1911 recipe for pastel de maiz including eggs and sugar in the dough, a bottom as well as a top layer of corn dough, and raisins. Malaga
Her pino, or filling, which is the same as for her empanadas, is very much like today's:
Cut an onion into a small dice, fry with fifty grams of lard; and when browned add double the quantity of roasted meat, also cut into small cubes, reserving the juice. Brown, adding a tablespoon of flour, salt, the reserved meat juices and a cup [200 ml.] of broth. After it has boiled, remove from the fire and add raisins, well washed and seeded, olives, a tablespoon of parsley, green or red chili, and allow to cool. It is better prepared the day before.
Oddly, the first Chilean recipe I’ve fond that calls the dish pastel de choclo rather that … de maiz, uses only a top crust, and was published in the
. Evidently by the 1920s it had become so popular that the US Embassy in USA Santiagosubmitted a recipe to appear among other classic Chilean dishes in the 1927 Congressional Club Cook Book: Favorite National and International Recipes. US
The Congressional Club recipe, above, is a good one; a bit spicier than today’s most common version which doesn’t tend to include “red pepper” or tomato, but does include a piece of chicken. For the standard Chilean recipe, the obvious source is the classic Chilean Cookbook, the 700 page La Gran Cocina Chilena (8th edition, 2000):
Pastel de Choclo
8 ears of corn [see note, below]
1 kg. ground beef1/2 kg. chicken pieces
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon cumin
1/8 kg olives (5 oz)
1/8 kg raisins (ditto)
Salt and pepper
Cut the onions into a small dice and fry, then add the ground meat, garlic, salt, pepper, and cumin, and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Boil the chicken and cut into pieces. Boil the eggs and cut into rounds.
Grate the corn and blend to a purée in a blender, add a little milk and fry the mixture in a little oil without burning it.
In an oven proof pan [or ideally in individual earthenware bowls of greda de Pomaire] place the pieces of chicken, separated, and the olives and raisins and over that the prepared filling and the egg rounds, topped by a layer of the corn purée, sprinkling a little sugar on top to aid in browning. Bake in a hot over for 15 minutes.
Note: The corn used is “field corn,” which is starchier than sweet corn and will cook into a thick paste. See Chilean Corn (Choclo Chileno). If field corn is not available add corn meal to thicken the mixture. In Chilean supermarkets prepared corn dough for humitas and pastel de choclo is available frozen.
And the mystery? The origins of the Chilean version of pastel de choclo are clearly humble; it was never a sophisticated dish like that of the Dominicans in 1608 or the Argentineans and Bolivians of 1890. The dish Gay saw in the 1830s among rural peasants either arose spontaneously in rural
, as Sonia Montecino suggests, or arrived with some low level conquistador’s woman, to become the center piece in peasant fiestas and rural hacienda kitchens, but not in elegant homes. And not in Chile . Santiago
At least not until the 1900s.
’s population grew from 190,000 in 1882 to 406,500 in 1916, due primarily to immigration from rural communities. Among those rural migrants, we can suppose there was a woman; a descendant perhaps of Allende’s Inez, a strong independent woman. She supported herself and her children by baking her rural specialty, pastel de choclo. She was a good cook and a better businesswoman; her pies sold well and soon she expanded her sales. Others followed and by the end of the first decade of the 20th century, pastel de choclo (or pastel de maiz as the gentry called it) had become popular; so popular that a recipe even appeared in the elegant French-influenced cookbook of La Negrita Doddy. And from there it grew and grew. Santiago
A just-so story?
“How the Pastel de Choclo became
’s favorite food.” Chile
Sure, why not?
 Terra, Blog Gouyr.net. El Terremoto se quedó con el premio Bicentenario. 2010-03-26. On line at http://www.terra.cl/gournet/index.cfm?pagina=blog_comentario&idpost=16733&idblog=16&titulo_url=El_Terremoto_se_quedo_con_el_premio_Bicentenario The other dishes mentioned can be found by searching this blog.
 Allende, Isabel. 2007. Ines of My Soul: A Novel.
: Harper Perennial. p. 88. New York
 Palma, Ricardo. 1893. Tradiciones Peruanas Quinta Serie, III Agustinos y franciscanos Ricardo Palma, p 193. On line at
http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/servlet/SirveObras/12474965333472617765657/p0000003.htm#57 as quoted in Arturo Jiménez Borja. 2008 Historia de la Gastronomía Peruana, part 6. On line at http://cocinatradicional.blogspot.com/2008/08/historia-de-la-gastronoma-peruana-parte.html (Unless otherwise noted, all translations are mine,)
 Gay, Claudio. 1862-1865. Agricultura, Tomo 1. París: En casa del autor; Chile: Museo de Historia Natural de Santiago, p. 162. On line at http://www.memoriachilena.cl/temas/documentodetalle.asp?id=MC0002688 Later note: Juan Ignacio Molina writing in 1810 mentions that the dough for humitas was also used as for "cajas de pasteles," boxes (doughs?) for pies. Were these pasteles de choclo? See http://eatingchile.blogspot.com/2009/11/chilean-corn-choclo-chileno.html for the full quotation.
 Lara, Martín. 2007. Viaje y representación: el caso de Mary Graham, trayectoria de una viajera romántica. una aproximación a su mirada sobre chile. Historia y geografía, Nº. 20, 2007, p. 171-204 on line at http://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=2294162
 Vicuña Mackenna, Benjamín. 1877. De Valparaiso a Santiago, datos, impresiones, noticias, episodios de viaje: guía del Ferro-carril central. Serie Biblioteca de la Imprenta de la librería del Mercurio. (1a. Ed.), Imprenta de la Librería del Mercurio, de E. Undurraga y Cía., Santiago, Región Metropolitana de Santiago, Chile. On line at http://books.google.com/books?id=txAIAAAAQAAJ&dq=editions:OXFORD591013765
 Available through Memoria Chilena’s digitized collection, on line at http://www.memoriachilena.cl/temas/documentos.asp?id_ut=cocinachilena.loslibrosderecetas1851-1950.
Alvarado, Daniel. 2004 De apetitos y de cañas. El consumo de alimentos y bebidas en Santiago a fines del siglo XIX. P. 394. Historia No 37, Vol. II, julio-diciembre 2004: 391-417 on line at http://www.scielo.cl/scielo.php?pid=S0717-71942004000200005&script=sciarttext Palma
 As a search for “pastel de choclo” in 19th century Google Books in Spanish will confirm.
 Manuela Gorriti, Juana. 1890. Cocina Ecléctica. Primera edición,
, Félix Lajouane Editor (Librairie Générale). On line at http://allandalus.com/~apicius/cocina%20eclectica.pdf Buenos Aires
 Lawe. 1911 La negrita Doddy : nuevo libro de cocina, enseñanza completa de la cocina casera i parte de la gran cocina : con un apéndice de recetas útiles i de los deberes de una dueña de casa.
: Soc. Impr. y Litogr., Universo. p.150 (filling) and p.188 (dough) On line at http://www.memoriachilena.cl/temas/documentodetalle.asp?id=MC0012281 Santiago
 Congressional Club Cook Book: Favorite National and International Recipes. The Congressional Club, 1927. On line at http://schlar;lib.vt.euc/digital_books/pdf/TX715.C755.pdf The embassy “recipe” actually said only to combine the filling from the empanada recipe with the corn dough from the humitas, both submitted by the wife of the Chilean military attaché. The recipe here is a cut-and-paste from the originals.