When contemplating Patagonia, travelers eagerly anticipate the lakes, forests, mountains, fjords and other wildlands of this scenic, thinly populated region. Until they actually arrive, though, they don’t usually give much thought to the food that will sustain them – except for Argentine beef and Chilean seafood, the cuisines of both countries have a low profile, but be ready for some surprises.
In the northern hemisphere winter, fresh fruit from southernmost South America – such as blueberries and raspberries – has become a common sight in supermarkets. In season, in Chile, these and other fruits give their flavors to kuchen, the Germanic goodies that owe their origins to-19th century immigrants who settled throughout a lakes district that stretches several hundred miles from the city of Temuco south to Puerto Montt, the home port for ferries to southernmost Patagonia.
Kuchen – a word that Chileans pronounce similarly to the original German, but do not capitalize as a proper noun – are a common dessert on Patagonian cruises, but they’re readily available throughout the country. Chileans devour them at onces (“elevenses”), a late afternoon tea that bridges the time between lunch and a relatively late dinner.
Chilean kuchen are diverse, ranging from pies to pastries to coffee cakes and cheesecakes, but my own favorites have more filling than crust – particularly if that filling is berries, but a strudel-like version is also common. Some people enjoy the presence of caramelized manjar (the Chilean word for dulce de leche), but that’s too sickly sweet for my taste.
There are quality kuchen almost everywhere, but I’ll offer a few recommendations here. Only 20 minutes from Puerto Montt, the lakeside town of Puerto Varas has multiple bakeries and a summer artisan’s market (pictured above) whose kuchen stands are a big attraction. A bit farther north, known for its stunningly modern theater, the village of Frutillar features the tiny but tasty Kuchenladen and a formal teahouse, surrounded by lavender, that goes by the name Lavanda.
Kuchenladen has a branch in the more northerly resort of Pucón, where Cassis (pictured near top) is also a good choice; in the Aisén regional capital of Coyhaique the best choice is Café de Mayo. Farther south, at Puerto Natales, try the Kau Lodge’s Coffeemaker (pictured below); in Punta Arenas, go for Chocolatta.