Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Eating Chilean Pantrucas—noodles

If you, by some old man’s whim, should decide to go to a “creole” restaurant or to one that is “Chilenized” to ask for
pancuritas in tongue broth, or pancuritas by themselves, it is very possible that they would kick you out, or at the least, look discourteously down their noses while the “chef” grumbles something like “What kind of restaurant does this guy take us for?
 Never the less …. pancurtas or panturcas, perfectly made, are as good as the best Italian raviolis and are one of the foundations of our cuisine. (Enrique Lafourcade,  La Cocina Erótica del Conde de Lafourchette, Lom Ediciones, 1997  p. 22, all translations are mine)

Pantrucas,  pancurtas or pancuritas, as Lafourcade’s fictional count calls them (making them even more homey in the diminutive), are simple noodles of flour, water, salt and fat—and sometimes an egg—rolled out thin, cut into squares and added to soup. 

Pantrucas in broth                  
photo: Cuisine with a Chilean flavor

Among the more humble of Chilean dishes, they still have a place in Chileans’ hearts, and are such an icon of home cooking that one of the US’s few Chilean restaurants took Pantrucas for its name--though they don’t appear on the menu.

Chilean food blogs’ recipes for pantrucas are fairly common; often with comments that they are an old family dish, usually cooked in the broth from a holiday turkey carcass.  Here’s a typical recipe from “Recetas chilenas de cocina” (Chilean kitchen recipes):

The first thing is to prepare a substantial “full bodied” broth. The old timers used the carcass of a roast turkey, boiled until it had contributed all of its substance, or water where pork hocks, or pigs feet, or pork-rolls (arrollado huaso) had been cooked.
If you don’t have one of these, make broth by boiling beef shanks with onion, carrot and green pepper for a couple of hours; strain this soup and use the meat for another dish, or add it, finely chopped, to the pantrucas.
6 cups broth 
2 egg yokes 
2 tablespoons of minced parsley 
1 tablespoon minced chives
2 cups flour 
1 egg 
1 tablespoon vegetable oil 
salt and warm water 
Make a soft dough with flour, egg, oil and warm salt water.  Roll out, cut into 1 ¼ inch squares and add to the boiling broth.  Once they are cooked remove the soup from the fire and add one or two egg yokes beaten with two tablespoons of water.  Sprinkle with minced parsley and/or chives.
One community that continues to eat patrucas regularly is that of Chile’s indigenous people, the Mapuche.  In a recent food satisfaction survey of 400 Mapuches living in Santiago, pantrucas were the “traditional Mapuche food” eaten by most respondents (92.5%) as well as the most frequently consumed traditional food among 62% of respondents.[1]  A survey by the same authors in Temuco, a city in the Mapuche heartland, also found pantrucas the most commonly eaten traditional food.[2]


Maybe Marco Polo brought noodles to Europe from China or maybe they had been there since Etruscan times, but by the 16th century they were “widely accepted in Spain”[3], and soon, whether remembered or re-invented, they were in Chile.  Chilean historian Eugenio Pereira Salas tells us that by independence:
Chilean cuisine had assimilated the succulent menu their ancestors tested over the aromatic wood fires of the colonial period …[including] refalosas (“slipperies”) or pancutras of wheat flour, fat, egg, and grated cheese; all in broth.

But foods, especially humble ones, are not a frequent topic for writers, so the earliest mention of pantrucas I’ve found in Chilean sources comes from considerably later.  It is in Claudio Gay’s “Journey to Araucanía in 1863.”  There he found pantrucas to be common among the Mapuche, made with “wheat kneaded with salt as in making bread” and “torn into pieces by hand and boiled in water with fat, the water serving as broth, and the dough is fried in a pan with a little fat and chili for color.”[4]

So by mid 19th century we have (at least) two ways of making pantrucas, each slightly different from current recipes:  the rural Mapuche used a simple flour, water and salt dough, and if we can accepts Gay’s description, fried them in fat as well as boiling; while in the city the dough included fat, an egg and grated cheese and was served in broth.

And what of the name, “are they called: pantrucas or pancutras?” The Chilean Linguistic Academy answers:

It is certain that both words can name this dish of indigenous origins that has come to form a part of our national cuisine. Never the less, there are differences in the use between the two forms.  The first, “pantruca,” predominates among persons of urban culture; the second, “pancurta,” is the common form in rural areas.  So it seems that there are two coexistent terms to designate the same reality.[5]

Thus the Linguistic Academy tells us that the two terms are equally valid, representing differing urban and rural dialects, and notes in passing that they are “a dish of indigenous origins.”   Chilean Anthropologist Sonia Montecino Aguirre agrees:  “Pantrucas or pancutras: a dish made with pieces of dough boiled in water or in broth.  The word is derived from the Mapuche.”[6]

And to ice the cake, Arturo Hernández Sallés’ Mapudungun, Spanish, and English dictionary gives us the original Mapuche word: Pangkutra.[7]

It all makes perfect sense: inventive Mapuche housewives, needing simple ways to feed their families on wheat flour, adopted as a staple food during the wars with the Spanish invaders (see Mapuche Wheat), mixed flour, water and salt and reinvented the noodle, naming the finished product “pangkutras,” which became pancurtas in Chile’s rural dialect and panturcas in the city.

Or so it seemed. 

Then one day I was watching the Spanish language TV foodies on when I heard a familiar word on a program abut the food of Asturias, Spain:  Mikel Alonso’s  “El camino del cantábrico.”  He said:  “pantruques.

And what the accompanying picture showed were large lumpy dumplings floating in a bowl of bean, pork and blood sausage stew called “fabada”. 


Fabada from Restaurante Sidreria Casa El Rubiu, Llanes, Asturias, Spain
 (Photo TripAdvisor)

A coincidence?  Seems unlikely, although about the only thing that Chile’s pantrucas and Asturias’ pantruques have in common is that both are dough cooked in broth. 

But it’s not surprising; I don’t imagine many of those Spanish conquistadores knew much about cooking and dumpling are dumplings, pantruques are pantrucas. And they still may have been reinvented by the Mapuche, even if a lost Asturian named them.


Having followed my story this far, I can hardly leave you without recipes for pantruques and fabada.   These are from Mariadelas, an Astorian who writes a food blog called “Se me quema la comida:

She says:

The pantruque is a roll that we make here in Asturias to eat with any kind of stew, fabada, pote asturiano (white bean and pork soup/stew)… along with the cured meats (compangu: blood sausage, chorizo, bacon, cured pork shoulder).

2 ounces bacon, finely minced
½ minced onion 
½ teaspoon paprika (pimentón) 
1 egg 
Yellow corn meal[8] 

Mix the bacon with the onion, salt and paprika.  Add the egg and mix well.  Add corn meal a little at a time until you can form it into a roll.  Not too much, it’s better if it’s a little sticky.  It helps to wet your hands in water.   Once you have made the roll, fry it in oil until it is brown.  When the fabada or stew is ready, add the pantruque and cook for another 15 minutes.  Serve in slices.

In Mariadelas’ recipe for fabada she says:

Here in Asturias, we call beans “fabes”(singular faba).  Fabada is a typical regional dish; the best known one. It is a substantial dish but here we eat it as a first course.  At fiestas we usually eat it before the meat… and finish with rice pudding.  The first photo is what we call compangu.  The bacon we use is the kind we call “streaky,” mixed fat and lean, and the lacón is cured pork shoulder.

2 lbs of large white beans (fabes de la granja) 
3 blood sausages 
3 chorizos 
1 lb of lacón 
3 oz of bacon 
1 onion 
1 tablespoon of oil 
A stem of parsley 
Singe the lacón to remove any hairs and soak overnight.  Soak the beans overnight too.  Put the beans, lacón, blood sausages, bacon, minced garlic, the onion cut into four pieces, the parsley and the oil in a large pot, and cover with cold water and bring to a boil, skimming off the foam.  Once it has boiled, lower the heat and cook for a while without a lit.  The beans need to remain completely covered in water or their skins will come loose.  Once and a while you should “scare them,” by adding a half glass of cold water.  Do this two or three times. Stir from time to time to keep from sticking.  Add crumbled saffron.  When the beans are done add salt and remove the onion and parsley.  If the broth is very thin, mash some beans and return to the pot.  It’s better the next day.  Serve with a piece of blood sausage, chorizo, bacon and lacón or what ever you like from the compangu.

And of course, with panturques.

Mariadelas’ Fabada

[1]  Schnettler, Berta, et. al. 2011. Satisfacción con la alimentación en personas Mapuche en la Región Metropolitana de Santiago, Chile. Arch Latinoam Nutr. 61(2): 172-182  on line at
[2]  Schnettler, Berta, et. al. 2009. Diferencias etnicas y de aculturacion
en el consumo de alimentos en la Region Metropolitana de Santiago, Chile. Arch Latinoam Nutr. 59(4): 407-418. On line at
[3] International Pasta Organization, History of Pasta.
[4] Gay, Claudio. “Viaje de la Araucanía en 1863,” as quoted in Ricardo Couyoymdjian,  “Comiendo con los Indios Testimonios de viajeros en la Araucana en el siglo XIX. In Carolina Sciolla, Ed., 2010, Historia y cultura de la alimentación in Chile.  Santiuago: Catalonia. P. 202.
[5] Notas Idiomáticas, Academia Chilena De La Lengua, Correspondiente de la Real Academia Española, , Director: Aifredo Matus Olivkr N9i4 ABRIL 2000  on line at
[6] Montecino Aguirre, Sonia. 2006.  Identidades, mestizajes y diferencias sociales en Osorno, Chile: Lecturas desde la antropología de la alimentación. PhD thesis, Leiden University. p. 186 on line at
[7] Hernández Sallés, Andres. 2003.  Mapuche Lengua y Cultura (Mapudungun, Español, Inglés). Pehuen, p 27
[8] Corn did not arrive in Asturias until early in the 17th century, so the pantruques that early Spanish colonists in Chile knew were different from today’s, perhaps made with chestnut flour, an important dietary staple in pre-Columbian Asturias.  Various European cuisines make chestnut dumplings, but the only Spanish chestnut dumplings I found are sweet. 


  1. Muy interesante, como siempre!

  2. Dear Jim,

    Dear Jim,

    I loved your blog and have learned a lot from it. I was in Chile last month and because of it, I could enjoy the fantastic cuisine and products of this amazing and rich country.




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