If you’ve never had a Chilean sandwich or empanada there’s one thing to know: they’re massive. The empanadas are like giant doughy crescent-shaped pies; some stuffed with gooey molten cheese, others with stewed beef, egg and olives. The sandwiches are equally hearty and often filled with so much avocado, tomato and mayo that when you take a bite the ingredients cascade out.
There are only two places in Sydney you can have this experience: Fairfield’s La Paula and Pochito. Earlier this year we reported that Patricia Bustamente and her daughter Paulina had launched a weekly stall at the Ramsgate markets and were planning to open a permanent cafe. This is it.
Their sunny corner cafe is small and humble, with a few Chilean cultural symbols scattered around the space and usually a Chilean or two chatting to the staff and each other. “Every couple of days we have someone come in, turn around and realise they've seen a friend. One lady hadn't seen her friend in 15 years. It's become a community hub. Catch-ups happen without people planning it,” says Paulina.
Everything you could get at the market stall – and what made the duo famous in the South American community – you can find here: empanadas, lomito (roast pork) and churrasco (steak) sandwiches. And cakes handsomely layered with dulce de leche (caramel sauce).
But now with a permanent and impressively long kitchen (where Pochito bakes all its empanadas and traditional Chilean breads), it’s expanded its repertoire to include Chile’s other fill-you-up-and-make-you-happy standards. There’s pastel de choclo, a shepherd’s pie-like baked stew topped with mashed corn instead of potato.
Fans of poutine and halal snack packs should ask for a chorrillana. It’s a heap of chips topped with strips of steak, caramelised onion and fried egg. “It's the perfect comfort food,” says Paulina. “It's not pretty, it's ugly delicious, but sometimes your soul just needs that.”
The fact those two dishes are on any menu is a big deal for Sydney’s Chilean community. South American restaurants are hard to come by in Sydney, and here’s one so dedicated to replicating the same taste and feel of Chile its owners are making almost everything from scratch.
“The most important thing is people can come here and sit here with their families,” Paulina says. “We want this to feel like you're going to your auntie’s house, where you will always get a good feed. We are cooking for our family and friends and that’s how we cook.”