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The differences between all the empanadas in South America

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‘Empanada’ means ‘wrapped in bread or dough’ which is a very apt description for these little beauties which originated in Spain in the 1500s. They made their way across the Atlantic (together with a whole host of less pleasant Spanish traditions!) and are now an indelible fixture on the South American culinary landscape.

Empanadas are similar to British savoury pies (and in particular the Cornish pasty) although they are (usually) smaller and the fillings are not as sloppy. Empanadas vary greatly from country to country and from province to province, so here’s a rundown of the most popular.

Empanadas at a gas station in Argentina. (Picture: JP Pagan)


This is arguably the home of the South American empanada, and the ground beef (with sliced onion, boiled egg and – sometimes – raisins and/or olives) variety is the most common. Argentine empanadas are on the small side. Other popular fillings include: ham and cheese, chicken and (during Lent) fish.


Bolivian empanadas, known as salteñas are filled with meat, potatoes, peas and carrots and are very sweet, sticky and juicy. They are traditionally eaten in the morning and are utterly delicious (if you ask me). Similar varieties are available in Northern Argentina and parts of Peru.

Street vendors often sell the best salteñas. (Picture: Madeleine Holland)


Spanish style empanadas aren’t that common in Brazil, although they are gaining traction. However, fried empanadas known as pasteis are exceedingly popular throughout Brazil: we’ll blog about them sometime soon!


Chilean empanadas are bigger than their Argentine counterparts, and the meat-filled variety always includes olives (watch out for the pits!) and raisins. Fried seafood empanadas are also popular.

Spoiled for choice in Chile. (Picture: Alex Soble)


For a small country Ecuador has a vast array of regional empanadas. On the altiplano, empanadas de morocho are made from corn and filled with rice, peas and beef before being deep fried, while empanadas de viento feature regular dough filled with cheese, and served with a sprinkling of sugar. In coastal regions, empanadas are made from mashed plaintain and filled with cheese, chicken or shrimp.


Peruvian empanadas are pretty similar to the Argentine variety, but they are sprinkled with icing sugar and lime juice before they are eaten…weird, but strangely moreish once you get used to the concept.

Credit to Jamie Cat for the cover photo of this blog.


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