Probably for a huge mix of reasons (such as lack of popularity/trend, difficulty to work around certain foods, less ability to be picky, traditional foods with meat, etc...) vegetarianism isn't very common in Chile. I would guess the majority of people don't even know what it is or that it exists. To their confusion, it does. And grasping the concept seems to be one very. difficult. task.
I am probably the easiest "vegetarian" to please in the world. One rule- "don't feed me chunks of animal flesh." But in Chile, this rule is soooooo difficult for some reason. Nobody gets it!
I would guess that this is the reaction when I tell someone "I can't eat meat from an animal",
(click to enlarge- broken down by personal percentage estimates)
70% - OK, would you like ham instead?
10% - What? How? Is that possible?
10% - Can you eat chicken?
5% - OK, interesting, we'll work around it.
3% - What about fish?
2% - So do you like steak?
I say Im probably the easiest to please because I don't even argue usually if someone makes a dish with meat and just lets me separate or eat around the meat. Heck, I'll eat chicken soup and just leave the pieces of chicken in the bottom. I'm obviously not trying to save any animals here. And I love fish, I eat eggs, etc...
Its interesting though because the majority of the people here just cannot grasp the concept. They find it so weird they dont even pause to consider what a vegetarian might or might not eat. When I first came to Chile for study abroad I remember over and over and over going on field trips and getting the vegetarian option (there were about 3 of us) and it nearly always had ham, or a meat sauce or something.
People who find the concept strange but try to understand usually wayyyy overreact in the opposite direction. Like at a lunch of spaghetti with alfredo sauce and some chopped up pieces of hot dog, instead of offering me the spaghetti with alfredo sauce without the piece of hot dog...they'll serve me a plate of flavorless slices of tomato and carrots and beets or something.
I'll remind you all I'm from Minnesota, and often tend to be nonconfrontational and especially willing to please, so often times I will eat something with meat if its too awkward for me to say otherwise (meaning, for the umteenth time someone hasn't understood and I'm not willing to throw a fit once its on my plate) Luckily I can usually just take a bite, say "mmmm" and pass it off to my boyfriend. It was about a year of Saturday and Sunday family lunches before my boyfriend's mom, who means well, stopped serving me cazuela with a huge chicken leg occupying half the bowl.
My favorite story involving the issue still manages to crack me up. At one point about half year into my first stay in Chile I was looking for a new place to live. Someone offered to introduce me to a couple that rented rooms in a boarding house. The family invited me over for dinner, and realizing the potential for an awkward moment (that could potentially be permanent), I was very clear I couldn't eat meat from any land animal. I gave them suggestions that we could eat some type of pasta, tortilla, quiche etc, but they assured me not to worry as they had heard about vegetarians before. On the day of the lunch they invited me in to sit and told me that they knew I was a vegetarian so not to worry, they had made something special for me: beef soup. I felt too bad to crush them with my harsh words explaining that beef was, in fact, cow meat, I just ate it. To make matters worse it was the type that pretty much has the texture of a bouncy ball and I had to chew each piece about about 2 minutes.
Then came surprise #2: "vegetarian dessert." This part had me curious because, well, never in my life have I had a conflict with a dessert for any reason, its basically an irrelevant food category! But this time they got it right, kind of. I watched, baffled, as they took out a blender and added a little bit of nearly EVERYTHING from the refrigerator that was not meat. All together. The result was an applesause-like brownish mixture I nicknamed "Plant Potpourri."
Anyway, bit by bit consciousness of the concept is growing in Chile.
Thankfully, for the sake of people who are more strict about their diets and exceptions than I am. One piece of interesting evidence, Allie wrote about a while back - the Papapleto...
Its a traditional Chilean hot dog with avocado, tomatoes, and mayonaise but with the meat replaced by french fries! Its been around for a little while now but now vegetarians have mid-morning night-out-in-town junk food options too.
Also in Valparaiso there are a number of low-priced vegetarian restaurants:
Epif- I can't rave enough. The place is excellent as far as food, drinks and atmosphere and not particuarly expensive in terms of price
Bambu - This place is a little more expensive that some of the other options, though not expensive. I thought the food was good though not the absolute best. Its on the street Independencia, number 1790 on the second floor. I did like the green decorations.
Natur-in - on the street Colon, the place is kinda hidden and has
excellent juices, and nice main entries but overall the food is a lot of quantity with little flavor.
Govinda's- The Hare Krishna place actually has quite decent vegetarian
lunches that are pretty healthy, tasty and cheap. Its in the plazuela Ecuador where it departs to the street Ecuador on the second floor.
Mora - Oops I still haven't been but it looks kinda cuteish.
Jardin del profeta - Its half block from the Plaza Anibal Pinto on Esmeralda or Condell. I've found the food quite good with tons of options, though inconsistent. Its a little less in terms of quantity so prices can rack up if you order multiple things but I think I'd rank it #2 behind Epif overall.