308 - It's Chile in the Market

By Lauren Gosnell

Irene Morales knows a thing or two about street eats.

She got her start in the restaurant business selling empanadas out of a cart in Kensington market. Back then, passersby barely knew what an empanada was. Today, Irene is Toronto’s empanada queen.

Empanadas are the quintessential street food from Chile. Irene uses healthy wheat flour in her dough and bakes instead of frying them.

They can be stuffed with all kinds of vegetables, cheese or meat.

A classic combination is a few olives, a hard-boiled egg, raisins and chicken. They are served with a side of pebre – a salsa of tomatoes, chopped onion, chili, coriander and chives.

Irene struggled at first. She worked days and nights without sleep and could barely hand out empanadas for free.

“Canadians had no idea what I was selling," she said. "Very few were even interested in trying it - I guess it was foreign to them. My daughter kept saying, ‘Mom, just give up, they’re not interested in trying Chilean food.’”

But her persistence paid off. Today, Jumbo Empanadas is a hotspot in Kensington Market where the lunchtime queue leads all the way out the front door and outdoor patio.

In addition to selling the popular jumbo empanadas, her restaurant offers up Chilean specialties like humitas - cornhusk bowties filled with a Chilean favourite, sweet mashed corn coated in cornmeal.

There is also pastel de choclo, an upside down pie of cornmeal mush layered with chunks of beef, chicken, black olives, hard boiled eggs, raisins and topped with a bit of sugar to get Chile’s traditional sweet-and-savoury flavour combo.

No doubt, Canadians have finally discovered the pleasures of Chilean food.

Jumbo Empanadas
245 Augusta Ave.
Toronto, Ontario