Take a hot dog. Smother it in mashed avocados and a fistful of chopped tomatoes. Add geologic layers of sauerkraut, sliced green chilies, chopped onions with parsley, and a viscous, vinegary mix of finely minced pickled cucumbers and carrots. Then dress with ketchup, mustard and a pillow of puffy artisanal mayonnaise. This otherworldly behemoth is known as the completo (as in: “complete”) and it is a staple in Chile, where cafés, bistros, fast food outlets, mall food courts and home cooks all produce some version of it, adding signature flourishes such as scrambled eggs, sautéed onions, melted cheese, crumbled bacon and various sauces, hot and otherwise.
In a country renowned for its low-key, downright conservative demeanor, the completo proves that there is a well of insanity lying just beneath the surface — a decadent subconscious poking holes in all that well-mannered Catholic morality. Put this hot dog into your mouth for the very first time, and you may feel as if you’ve been deflowered. It is a sublime combination of grease and citric tartness, squishy avocado and crunchy onions, snappy meat and hearty bun. Once you’ve had it, there is no going back to the pedestrian combination of ketchup and mustard.
As with most foodstuffs, the exact origins of the Chilean hot dog are a little fuzzy. Germans have been a presence in this part of South America since the middle of the 19th century, so sausage and cabbage (not to mention marzipan and draft beer) have long been a part of the national diet. But the local folklore puts the origins of the completo somewhere in the 1920s, when an entrepreneur by the name of Eduardo Bahamondes Muñoz imported the idea of the hot dog from the United States.
Bahamondes had spent several years working as a cook in the U.S., and when he returned to Chile, he decided to make a few pesos by plying franks from a small joint just off Santiago’s main plaza. Quik Lunch Bahamondes served hot dogs with a selection of toppings befitting of an agricultural nation: avocados, sauerkraut, tomatoes, onions and parsley, potatoes and egg. The snack was a hit with chilenos, and soon, it was being served just about everywhere.
Today, the most popular version consists of a dog topped by industrial amounts of tomato, avocado and mayonnaise—a combo known as “el Italiano,” since the red, green and white are reminiscent of the colors of the Italian flag. As a general rule, a hot dog isn’t considered a completo unless the toppings make it weigh as much as a newborn child. In addition, eating a completo is like doing battle in a Roman arena: once you start, you cannot stop. If you pick the hot dog up, never, under any circumstances, put it down—otherwise, you face rapid disintegration and, ultimately, defeat. If halfway through your completo someone gives you a fork and a look of disappointment, it means you have lost. The true gladiator eats completos while wearing an expensive three-piece suit.
While Bahamondes Quik Lunch no longer exists, the Chilean capital of Santiago is full of great spots to eat completos. Here are three of the best:
The gold standard of completos is produced by this venerable eatery, founded by the Pubill family in 1952. Though now a small national chain (still run by the family) Dominó nonetheless maintains its status as a leader in all things sausage. The best bet is to visit the original restaurant in the center of town (at Agustinas 1016), a closet-sized, stand-up joint where a battalion of taciturn old men refer to each other as “maestro” as they shout orders back and forth across the room. Here, a beef-and-pork frank (a proprietary recipe) is nestled into a full-bodied roll, then heaped with ungodly amounts of toppings, including a silky mayonnaise that is made in house. The extra messy hot dog known as the Dinámica offers just the right brain tingling flavor combinations, with lots of fat (avocado and mayo) and freshness (tomato and onions with parsley).
Though best known for its heaping pork sandwich with avocado (“lomito palta”), these old world German joints have been serving up completos since the 1940s. While they don’t offer as many toppings as Dominó, everything you get here is quality: including the just-the-right-amount-of-salty beef-and-pork sausage and the earthy, home-cooked sauerkraut. Opt for the basic completo (kraut, tomato, mayo) with an added dollop of palta (avocado). There are two locations: one on the Plaza Italia, the other at Pedro de Valdivia 210 in the neighborhood of Providencia.
This brand new spot (opened in the spring of 2012) brings a hipster dash to a tradition that is nearly a century old. A selection of sausages — all made in house — are loaded with an overwhelming array of toppings, including garlicky chimichurri and a hot sauce made with fresh green peppers. The franks could use more spice, but they’re good and meaty (in other words, not the kind that will make their presence known to you all afternoon). They also offer a well-made turkey sausage, a welcome break from all the beef and pork. Find them at Avenida Los Leones 40 in Providencia.
Carolina A. Miranda is a culture writer based in Los Angeles. Find her on Twitter at @cmonstah.