Santiago – Centro Historico

Santiago is a huge city with over six million inhabitants. The drive down the central artery, Avenida Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins, to where I was staying in Providencia, seemed to go on forever. On the way we passed squads of armoured riot police and paintbomb-spattered water canon refilling from hydrants in preparation for the next round of student protests.

Although Providencia  is very safe and modern, it’s also pretty sterile so whenever I could I would come into the historic centre for some culture. I usually got off the train at Plaza des Armas, a buzzing central square with lots of things going on. I particularly liked the old fountain with it’s water-spouting monitor lizards.

On one side of the square is the baroque Cathedrale Metropolitaine de Santiago du Chili which I find to be quite a dark and ugly building as cathedrals go, but I’m not really a connoisseur. Just around the corner however is the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (Calle Bandera 361) which is an essential visit (see slideshow in the next post).

A good possible place for a lunch near the square is Bar The Clinic (Monjitas 578), a bar opened by the Chilean equivalent of Private Eye, the satirical magazine. The bar’s name is a reference to the hospital Pinochet stayed in while he had medical treatment in the UK. It’s also a venue for stand up comedy.

Although the food is no great shakes (B), it has a nice courtyard and a fun atmosphere. I had a ‘churrasco’ (thanks for the tip Maria), a classic Chilean sandwich. My version was a Churassco Italiano which involves thinly cut slices of grilled steak, and the red, white and green of tomato, mayo and mashed avocado (palta) in a toasted bun.

When Chileans say ‘sandwich’, they aren’t talking about the small wimpy affairs that are the norm in the UK and this definitely filled a large hole (B) along with a plate of chips (C) and a Bolivian Pacena beer (A).

The menu displays a quirky sense of humour, such as the ‘Earthquake 8.8’ cocktail or the ‘Longueira’, a long sausage (Longaniza) suggestively arranged with two potatoes garnished with fried onions.

The Mercado Central de Santiago at San Pablo 967 is also an interesting place to visit and a must for most tourists. The beautiful old cast iron frame. decorated with Chilean stars, was actually made in Glasgow and shipped over in 1868. It’s crying out to be renovated and put on a par with other markets in big South American cities.

Also, truth be told, I wouldn’t buy my seafood from here (restaurants buy theirs elsewhere too) as a lot of it is unrefrigerated and hygiene standards seem pretty poor. Still it’s an experience with throngs of people filling the narrow passageways between the stalls manned by bellowing fishmongers or crammed inside the many small marisquerias (seafood restaurants) around the edges of the building.

There is lots of bizarre seafood I’d never seen before like Picorocos, giant barnalces, which were still very much alive and flicking their feeding feelers out of their shells in the hope they were still somewhere near the sea. No idea what these brown things are though.

Donde Augusto (Intermediate C), Tel. 698 1366

The biggest and most famous marisqueria in the central hall of the market, it looks as if they are slowly taking over the whole place. It’s certainly very popular which is important for me as it means there’s a quick turnover and I don’t have to worry about whether I will make it to work the next day.

After running the gauntlet of touts by doing ‘una gyro’ (a circuit) to check out all the possibilities, I was finally hooked in by a bloke who was a dead ringer for Pavarotti. I started with a dozen oysters, which looked like they must have been shucked a little earlier in the day but still tasted great (B+) with a squeeze of lemon. The half bottle of Santa Digna Sauvignon Blanc was ok too (B).

Still hungry, I had this with the Jardin de Mariscos, which involved Scallops B+), one large and several small prawns which again looked as if they’d been shelled much earlier (C+), squid rings, mussels, cerviche and abalone(loco) (all C), so nothing particularly amazing.

The Italians on the next table sent back the battered Calamari squid rings they’d ordered which were very small, brown and overcooked. Can’t say I blame them, the Italian way of preparing squid (lightly grilled with olive oil and parsley) is much better.

To finish, I had Mote con Huesillos, but this time a more traditional version from the one in Vina. Dried peaches or sometimes plums (huesillos) are cooked in water with sugar and cinnamon, cooled and mixed with fresh husked wheat (mote). It’s a very refreshing drink on a hot summer‘s day. Total spend with tip $28,000, about £40. An experience but I wouldn’t go back.

After this I walked over the river to the Fruit & Veg market for a nosey. Lots of the usual stuff but some different things too, like purple maize (Prince’s favourite corn?) and tiny Andean potatoes. Not sure what the last two pictures are of though. Can anyone help?

Very near the markets at Aillavilu 1030 is La Piojera an (in)famous Chilean old-school drinking hole. They are the (disputed) inventors of the Terremoto (Earthquake), a cocktail of wine and ice cream, laced with fernet, grenadine and bitters. A large 400ml glass is called a ‘Cataclysm’ whereas the smaller version is a ‘Replica’.

To be honest it’s not something I’d want to drink a lot of (C) but it seems pretty popular with the regulars. I have read reviews that say that La Piojera has been spoilt by too many tourists but on the Saturday I went it was filled with locals singing (badly), many of whom were staggering drunk. Not a place for faint-hearted visitors!

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