Empanadas masterclass from Edinburgh mum who fled Pinochet’s Chile

Mercedes says she has left Chile, but Chile has not left her. Picture: Greg Macvean
Mercedes says she has left Chile, but Chile has not left her. Picture: Greg Macvean
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A teacher and political activist who fled the terrifying Pinochet dictatorship in Chile will host a special masterclass at 83 Hanover Street on how to make empanadas – the Chilean snack she said is central to her story of survival.

In 1987 after the military police had knocked on Mercedes Castro’s door to threaten her and her family she made the decision to leave behind her friends, colleagues and the flavours of her home country for a safer life abroad.

And after arriving in Sweden into a community of other people seeking safety from all over the world, food in place of a common language became the best dialogue – and Mercedes’ empanadas a currency.

As well as keeping the memory of Chile alive with her children by making the humble empanadas she started selling them to locals – who fell in love with the vibrant flavours and they were able to raise enough money for their annual trips back to Chile.

Her son Juan Jose 
Castillo Castro, owner of highly acclaimed Chilean inspired restaurant 83 Hanover Street, said the simple street food has had a massive impact on their lives.

“When we moved to Sweden I was six years old, and this humble little thing became a huge part of our lives. Our neighbours and new friends were trying them for the first time and the flavours were new and exciting for them,” he said.

As word spread people started to buy them in batches and, in the pot Mercedes used for the empanada dough, she started to collect the money – her empanadas bank – which financed her trips back to Chile.

They became a link to her past and the way to carve a future without forgetting the flavours of her home.

“I am so happy that we are able to put our culture here in Edinburgh,” Mercedes said. “I have left Chile but I have also taken it with me across the world. I may have left Chile but Chile has not left me, the 
customs of my home have continued through me.”

“That’s why we have such a connection with the food,” Juan added. “My friends would be outside and skateboarding and the smell of my mum’s empanadas would waft through the window and she would hand out the snacks.

“They have become a part of our story that lives on through my daughter who has always loved making them.”

Mercedes sees cooking as a passion, her vast repertoire of dishes are always seasoned with “love”. “When we left the country we left with a bag filled with our emotions, our experiences and memories both good and bad and every day we show this bag full of personality – for me, it is through my cooking.”

So important to Mercedes’ history, Juan’s heritage and the taste of Chile, when Juan opened the restaurant, Mercedes was naturally drafted in to teach the kitchen brigade how to make her legendary empanadas.

And for the first time diners can watch how they are made. On Tuesday Mercedes will host a masterclass which will be followed by a four-course dinner with Chilean wines matched by Alliance Wines. To book call 0131 225 4862 or e-mail info@83hanoverstreet.com