A Hot Dog Hunt in Valparaiso (Chi-Chi-Chi, Le-Le-Le)

Have you ever glommed on to a piece of information and carried it with you, even if you can’t remember its origins or vouch for its accuracy?

That was me with the city of Valparaiso and hot dogs (or completos, as they are called in Chile).

Completo Italiano - Santiago, Chile
Completo Italiano (hot dog) in Santiago, Chile

Someone, somewhere in Peru told me that Valparaiso had the best hot dogs — topped and smeared with avocado — in all of Chile, possibly in all of South America and quite possibly in all the world. Thus, images of avocado (the ultimate fat) atop hot dogs (the ultimate junk) stuck with me, securing Valparaiso a coveted spot on our South American itinerary.

I was so excited in fact that I told anyone headed to Chile that they must visit Valparaiso, if only for the hot dogs. I even remember writing about it with urgency on a friend’s Facebook wall when I heard she was flying into Santiago.

Go to Valparaiso for the avocado-topped hot dogs. Best in Chile,” I said, my hot dog excitement getting well ahead of me — and the fact that I had little to no basis to make this recommendation.

I was on a mission. And I would make it everyone’s mission.

And oddly enough, I don’t even really like hot dogs.

Fast forward a few months and we finally arrive in Santiago. We’re hanging out with our virtual-now-real life friends, Eileen and Margaret, and I mention my in-mind Valparaiso hot dog obsession.

Confused looks.

Keep in mind that these gals know Chile, having lived there for something like (I hope I’m getting this right), 7 and 20 years respectively. So you could say, they know the place well.

Shoulder shrugs. Valparaiso had hot dogs just like anywhere else in Chile. But my hopes of a Chile dog to beat all dogs? Temporarily dashed.

We day-tripped to Valparaiso anyway. But it was sketchy, a dangerous sort of place to look for hot dogs.

We’d been warned of Valparaiso, perhaps most so by the people on its streets. Passers-by would eye our cameras and bag and point — no, not to steal them, but to suggest that we should put them away so that no one else would. As we walked into the hills above Plaza Sotomayor, just about every person we passed pointed up in the direction we were headed, shook their heads and said something to the order of “Peligroso.” (Dangerous.)

As we climbed further still, a crazy guy shook his arms, did something like a rain dance, shouted “Police, police!” and drew his finger across this throat. Against our better judgment, we climbed further still.

Suffice to say, we survived to discover a fascinating neighborhood, one of Valparaiso’s many.

But no hot dogs.

Valparaiso is a port town, with a down-at-the-heels underbelly feel to it. But well beyond that, it has a spirit. It’s offbeat and wickedly artistic with its knock-your-socks-off street art. The people on the streets and at Mercado Cardinal, one of Valparaiso’s fresh markets, were warm and colorful. The photos in the slideshow below tell it best.

And although we had only one day, we enjoyed our visit immensely. For its aesthetic and most of all for its people, Valparaiso stands as one of my South America favorites.

Photo Essay of Valparaiso, Chile

If you don’t have a high-speed connection or want to read the captions, you can view the photo set here.

 

But wait a minute. You dragged me through this sketchy, charismatic city, but I signed up for a piece about hot dogs. What gives? I want hot dog intelligence.

As it happens, we got our Chilean hot dog fix at La Vega market in Santiago. Logs of pure mystery meat (as hot dogs apparently ought to be) were smothered in rich, creamy avocado, mayonnaise and chopped tomato salsa. Chile does in fact take hot dogs to a new culinary level (this, from a kid who grew up on deli dogs and Texas wieners with chili and mustard in Scranton, Pennsylvania). So in my limited hot dog experience, Chile delivered the best dog in Latin America. (Yes, yes Brazil, I know you’ve got something mad and over-the-top, too. But, that’s for our next visit.)

Dan Enjoys a Completo - Santiago, Chile
Dan and his Completo Italiano (hot dog)

Hot dog trivia: any guesses why the avocado, mayonnaise and tomato-topped hot dog is called a completo Italiano?

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Comments

  1. says

    Can I share a secret? Out of all of the foods I’ve given up as a veggie, I regularly crave hot dogs – they were the one thing that I was sad to give up. The top picture takes my craving to a whole new level…I will have some tough choices to make when I make it to Chile!

  2. says

    @Shannon: And to think, hot dogs are as impure and as un-freerange a meat product as there is. But I understand. It’s difficult not to like (or occasionally think about) a good hot dog, particularly if you happened to grow up with them.

    As for Avocado — it adds a layer of goodness to just about anything, even ice cream.

    @Naomi: We have a winner (of what, I’m not sure :). Right you are. Was it that obvious?

    I think I owe you a hot dog. Or maybe a pav bhaji?

  3. says

    Love this post, bookmarked for when I arrive!

    I’m not a huge fan of hotdogs at home either but for some reason I love them in Latin America and am always curious about what they’ll top them with.

  4. says

    Blech! Avocado and mayo on a hot dog? I avoided these like the plague when we were in Chile. Actually, all food in Chile we found to be pretty meh. Except for the desserts – they know how to do desserts!!

  5. says

    Yeah, the completos were pretty damn good…although there were a few too many of them around, I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a country that had as many fast food joints as Chile, the country seems utterly obsessed – the best tip I received for eating well in the country was to seek out Peruvian restaurants!

  6. says

    @Ayngelina: Hot dogs are all over Latin America. On every street corner, it seemed. As for toppings in that part of the world, I find it hard to beat palta.

    @Dalene: It’s funny: what some people find a violation atop a hot dog, others can’t do without. I enjoyed the dogs we had, but I couldn’t make completo Italianos a regular meal. As for Chilean cuisine in general, there were moments (seafood was good, and I liked when salsas were served), but it can’t hold a candle to Peruvian cuisine. (My apologies to my Chilean friends, but many of their compatriots confirmed this.)

    Desserts? I’d be curious to know which ones.

    @Gillian: I guess I’ll try almost anything if it’s different. (see Nibbles That Give Me the Shivers)

    @wanderingtradr: We planned to go, but decided to spend our time in town. We just enjoyed ourselves too much there to leave.

    @Matt: This is one of the things I love about travel and food. So many things we might never have thought of. And there are more tasty combinations to be experimented with further still.

    @Geoff: Perfect. See my comment to Dalene above. The first food recommendation we received in Chile (from a group of Chileans) was to go to some Peruvian restaurants. As for the fast food joints, there were a lot in Chile. But the same might be said for pretty much all of Latin America.

    @Hal: Another vote for the Italiano!

    We had actually been warned by long-time residents of Chile that Valaparaiso might be a little less than safe. It’s also clearly an economically depressed city.

    We also have a knack for finding sketch. More than likely, our experiences (both good and sketchy), were a function of the neighborhoods we were visiting. While walking the seaside, the center of town, Plaza Sotomayor, no one seemed concerned for us. But the moment we poked into the side streets and neighborhoods in the hills, we began to get signals…not in our heads, but from people on the streets concerned for our well-being and the safety of our bags. (I’m guessing petty theft is common.) Having said that, I loved Valparaiso and am glad to have locals minding my well-being. And to me, that was a testament to the kindness of the people there.

  7. says

    I was going to say the Italian flag but it looks like everyone beat me to it! Damn!

    Anyway, that hot dog looks absolutely delicious and it’s so true that anything that includes avocado is a winner in my book!! Yum!!

  8. says

    Mmm, now I am craving a hot dog. But even more avocado. Oh well, I’ll go have noodle soup or something instead. The sad thing is, I will probably have the crazing for months just like I craved a Big Mac all the way through Africa:-) I’m weird that way.

  9. says

    @Annie: Another member of the avocado-lovers club. Just for that, you get full credit for your answer :)

    @Theodora: I’ve never really considered Vietnamese and hot dogs as belonging in the same sentence. Am adding that to my “must research” list. I wonder what they’re made of: pork, beef, or?

    @Dave and Deb: I’m a big fan of the avocado, Audrey even more so. Avocado — what’s not to love?

    By the way, I hear the food in large parts of sub-Saharan Africa can leave you craving and wanting. Am looking forward (in an odd way) to experiencing this first hand.

  10. says

    On reflection, I would say most likely pork with a bit of “or…” Vietnamese sausages are great anyway, but it surprised me a lot that they could do hot dogs.

  11. says

    OMG. This sounds like the most perfect hot dog ever. In fact, last time I ate at Pink’s I got a hot dog with guacamole and chopped tomatoes on it. Mmm. So glad you made it unscathed through your hot dog quest.

  12. says

    Ooh yes, Chilean hot dogs! When we were heading to Chile, we got recommendations to have a hot dog at the fast food restaurant Doggis. When we got to Vina del Mar and asked where the nearest Doggis was, the hostel owner couldn’t believe that we would want to go to a fast food place. It was delicious though. They had so many topping combinations! Avocado on a hot dog is a definite must have. Actually, avocado in general is a definite must have. Cassi

  13. says

    Like many others, we found the food to be pretty disappointing in Chile. We couldn’t quite understand why the restaurant food was so poor, because anytime we went to a market to prepare food for ourselves we found wonderful quality fruits, veggies, and seafood. Perhaps people do their good cooking at home and go out to eat for things like completos? (Which I must admit to eating and actually liking…though I did get tired of them very quickly.)

  14. says

    Hi, I am currently in Valparaiso and currently Italian! :)
    It is called “italiano” because avocado, palta y mayonaise look like the italian flag! Or at least this is what locals have told me!

    After 2 months, Chilean vegetables and fruits are a bit tasteless to me. We believe they it’s mostly transgenic stuff.
    cheers!

  15. says

    @Theodora: It seems like everywhere we’ve been, you can get your hands on little wiener/hot dog like things which restaurants insist on calling sausage. Dubious and very “or-like.”

    @Gray: The guac and tomatoes are definitely the way to go. The mayo is a little heavy, and probably turns some people off.

    And yes, after the streets and hot dogs (or lack thereof) of Valparaiso, I’m still alive.

    @Sasha: Exactly. And it’s the mayo/creamy sauce that does in the Argentine pancho that Leigh refers to. Too much mayo-like sauce and not quite enough of the real stuff.

    @Cassi and Erica: I think I remember Doggis. Never occurred to me to check them out. I was really looking for a completo street cart. Instead, we opted for a stand inside a market. That worked out great — it helped to know that if they ran out of either avocado or tomato, they could get some from the stand next door.

    @Theresa: I agree with you. But I pulled back from a full on review of Chilean food, lest I receive the sort of blowback I did on my Argentine food piece. Generally, my complaint is the same: how could it be that there are so many vegetables and the ability to cultivate herbs and spices — yet apparently so little motivation to utilize it all? Similar applies to Chilean cuisine.

    Having said that, we did enjoy some excellent seafood while in Chile.

    @Leigh: I laughed all day at (with) your comment. I should say for the record that our pancho in Salta qualifies as the best social hot dog experience on the continent :)

    My only beef with the Salta dog (and Argentine panchos in general) were the sauces. Plenty tasty, but they all struck me as a little faux. I’d be curious to know how much actual avocado is in the palta sauce.

    @Fabio: Thanks for the Italiano answer. Although two others beat you to it, you get extra credit for being both Italian and in Valparaiso.

    Your comment on Chilean fruits and vegetables is interesting. Chile is a huge producer/exporter of produce, so it wouldn’t be surprising to know they tinker with the genetics of what they grow. But Chileans do tightly control their agriculture at the border, indicating they are concerned about keeping something out (bugs, maybe?).

  16. says

    @Dan and Audrey:
    I didn’t realize that they had completos in street carts. We never saw any while we were there. I wish we’d been able to go to one though, they probably have better quality than fast food. Cassi

  17. says

    @Cassi and Erica: There are hot dog carts. Whether the quality of their completos is higher than that of indoor fast food joints, not sure. The ones at the La Vega fresh market in Santiago were quite good, though.

    @Elisa: OK, good to know that my Valpo dog fixation isn’t completely baseless.

  18. says

    Dan! I think I just figured it out! There’s a major completo joint across the bay from Valpo in Viña del Mar–I bet THAT’s where your dato-dropper was trying to steer you!
    So here’s the question–have you tried making completos at home? (Of course, we’re always very happy to have you come back to Chile to get your next completo fix!)

  19. says

    @Margaret: OK, the Viña del Mar completo palace is now firmly on the bucket list.

    As for completos at home, we haven’t given it a try — yet. I’m thinking a guacamole and salsa dog. (But what to swap for the mayo? I can’t imagine sour cream.)

    When we return to Chile, a completo outing for sure. With wine, of course.

  20. says

    I loved this post, really brought me back. I don’t generally like hot dogs either or really eat meat for that matter but in Chile…they take hot dogs to a level I never thought possible!

    Also, I’m cheating (since you told me via Twitter back in the summer) that it’s Italiano because of the colors :)

  21. says

    Hey Anil, this is Fabio from Famsterdam Life – I also tried to push the Italian flag colors explanation – with a touch of national pride of course ;) – but my attempt was quickly dismissed!

  22. says

    @Anil: Glad you enjoyed it. Good memory…of something from the haystack of Twitter no less!

    @Fabio: Sorry, I think you misunderstood my previous comment. I didn’t dismiss it. I just suggested that two other people (Naomi and Annie) had commented before you with the same answer. I then acknowledged the fact that you were Italian and living in Valparaiso. I don’t think that counts as a quick dismissal ;) Cheers!

  23. Kristen says

    Ah, completos! Of course I tried one (everyone living in Chile has to), but the toppings are a little much for one hot dog! I actually really liked Chilean food in general – it’s perfect for me because I don’t like spicy food. Empanadas, pastel de choclo, pebre, cazuela, and my favorite, torta de milhojas – so delicious!

  24. says

    @Kristen: Completo toppings are a bit overwhelming — and heavy, too.

    Am glad that you enjoyed Chilean food. Cazuela, now that brings back some nice food memories. But pebre, now you’re talking my language — chopped, herbed, spiced salsa-like condiments are almost always a hit with us. (Pebre on a completo…now there’s an idea!)

  25. Roberto says

    Being from Italy and loving seafood, if you go to south of Chile, seafood and food have a whole new meaning. Incredible, best seafood in all South America by far.

  26. says

    @Roberto: Thanks for the tip on seafood. We enjoyed some nice fish and seafood in places like Chiloe, Coyhaique, and Peurto Natales. But “best seafood in all South America by far” — I think you might have some Peruvians (from places like Lima and north of Trujillo) who might challenge that.

    For me, I’ll stay neutral. I just like to eat a good fish. And of course, a good hot dog.

  27. says

    I love completos!! I too, am not a fan of hot dogs, but there is something to be said for something with all that topping. I’ve even had completes with green beans- it all depends on where you go… A great accompaniment for a completo is a a HUGE plate of Chorrillana (fries topped with eggs and onions and mini sausages- I’d say Valpo is more known for that and Vina is where the great completos hide)

  28. says

    @Greta: Completos with green beans? Now that sort of sounds Brazilian. Thanks for tip on the chorrillana. Looking forward to heading back to Valpo one of these days and also checking into Vina — all on the search for the ultimate hot dog. Great to see you here. Thanks for your comment!

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