I strongly recommend the Mercado Central de Santiago at San Pablo 967 as an interesting place to visit.
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 and given a second lease of life, to put it on a par with similar markets I’ve visited in big South American cities (see my posts on the Mercado Municipal in Sao Paolo and San Telmo in Buenos Aires).
So, 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 marisquerías (seafood restaurants) around the edges of the building.
There was lots of bizarre seafood I’d never seen before like Picorocos, giant barnacles, which were still very much alive and flicking their feeding feelers in and out of their shells in the hope they were still somewhere near the sea. Video here.
These brown things are Piures de la Roca. they feed on micro organisms that they filter out of seawater. Wikipedia describes them as similar to ‘a mass of organs inside a rock’ which doesn’t sound great but locals seem to like eating them raw. Video here and here.
Although I wouldn’t buy from the stalls, I thought I should try one of the marisquerías…
Donde Augusto (Intermediate C), Tel. 698 1366
This is the biggest and most famous marisquería in the central hall of the market. It looks as if they are slowly taking over the whole place as their sign is everywhere you look. 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. After I told him what I wanted, this creature arrived at my table unordered. I think it might be a small Picoroco, like the ones I saw above.
My order started with a dozen oysters, which looked like they must have been shucked a little earlier in the day but still tasted good with a squeeze of lemon (B+). The half bottle of Santa Digna Sauvignon Blanc I had with it 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), none of which was particularly amazing (all C).
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. It was an experience but I wouldn’t go back for seconds.
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 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 (loudly and badly), many of whom were staggering drunk. Not a place for the faint-hearted!
One of them seemed to have left their llama outside. I wonder if it’s an offence to be drunk in charge of one…
You’ll find everywhere I’ve mentioned on my map. Things will probably have changed since this post was written 2011, I’m reposting this updated version in 2020 just to shorten the original.