|Scenes from a market in Santiago: clockwise from top left, my daughter enjoying some delicious watermelon, tomatoes and strawberries, shell beans and mature corn, massive heads of broccoli|
I spent 3 weeks in Chile around Christmas time. We went to visit family; my husband was born there. From a food standpoint, that was a huge advantage. The relatives know my love of food and they pulled out all the stops, as you will see throughout this series on eating in Chile.
|Fresh eggs, raspberries, cherries and gooseberries at the River Market in Valdivia|
Chile, being in the Southern Hemisphere, was heading into summer. Which means that there was some gorgeous produce. The berries – strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries – were particularly delicious. Chileans love their fruit. They live in a favorable spot for fruit-growing everything from avocados to grapes. Because Chile is so long (about 3000 miles), it spans many growing regions. They don’t grow any tropical fruits, but they make up for that in sub-tropical and temperate zone produce.
Chile has an extremely long Pacific coastline which accounts for the rich and varied seafood you see in the markets. There are two large markets in downtown Santiago, one of them devoted entirely to seafood! If you visit the Mercado Central (and you should), stick to the smaller restaurants upstairs on the perimeter of the market. These restaurants cater to locals while the larger restaurants in the center cater to the tourists.
|An amazing seafood platter at Richard, El Rey del Mariscal in the Mercado Central. On the left is the traditional Chilean salad, tomatoes and onions.|
And, if you want a really local experience, head across the Costanera Norte to the produce market. Upstairs, you will find restaurants that specialize in Chilean as well as Columbian, Pervuian, and Ecuadorean cuisine. They are all very casual and the hosts will try to drag you into their little place. Walk around and check out the food you can see. Then, pick one that looks good! You won’t spend a whole lot of pesos and the food is tasty as well as hearty.
There are always surprises eating in a foreign country, and the completo is one of them. In Santiago, this is the fast food of choice. You can get them loaded up with all sorts of stuff (avocado, tomatoes, cheese, and more) and they are very cheap. There is a block of completo stands along one side of the Plaza de Armas, the big public square in downtown Santiago. Definitely not fancy food but if you want to eat like the man on the street in Santiago, this is the place to go.
Another surprise is Chile’s love of the avocado, which Chilenos call palta. They like to serve it at breakfast, mashed up with a little salt and pepper. They also serve them stuffed with chicken, tuna, or seafood salad, called Palta Reina. The quality of the avocados is very high. If you like avocado, be sure to try them. I adore avocado and I was never disappointed.
One interesting fruit we never saw but tasted in desserts was lucuma. The flesh is a bit like avocado but you never see it fresh. It’s sold as a puree (so we were told), and used in cake fillings and desserts. It’s a little sweet, similar to a chestnut. It is very popular in Chile, though not grown there. They import it from Peru. We were served a number of cakes with lucuma filling. If you see a dessert containing it, give it a try. You’re not likely to see it too many other places!
Next up, more detail on the varied and unusual (to Americans) seafood of Chile.