I think that you learn a lot about a country and its culture through its food and local drinks. The best place to actually “experience” the food of a different country is definitely at its markets. Visiting different fresh food markets is definitely one of my favourite things to do when visiting a new country. Santiago has a couple of interesting product markets that are definitely worth a visit!
Walking down Antonia Lopez de Bello Street towards Vega Central the fruit and vegetable Market, the pavement has some very beautiful mosaic art works. This street is filled with little shops and restaurants most of whom have their walls or entrances covered in street art. Some you can see were actually done or commissioned by the owners as it advertises the place and lends to the character of the place.
Most of the sidewalks here in Santiago are tree lined which definitely adds to the peaceful atmosphere of the city. Although there is a chill in the air it is a lovely sunny day and great weather for exploring the city.
Entering La Vega Central market the aroma of fresh fruit and vegetables is quite overpowering and very inviting. This market is Santiago’s principal fruit and vegetable market and a definite must for foodies! Amidst its chaos of crates and stalls, and the buying, shouting and negotiating, Vega Central offers an earthy and colourful experience.
Some of these beautiful brightly coloured fruit and vegetable were very new to me. I have never before in my life heard of much less seen the fruit Pepinos or Noni!
The Pepino fruit resembles a melon in color, and its flavor recalls a succulent mixture of honeydew and cucumber, and thus it is also sometimes called pepino melon or melon pear, but Pepinos are only very distantly related to melons and pears.
Noni or Morinda citrifolia is a tree in the coffee family, Rubiaceae. It is at first green then the fruit turns yellow then almost white as it ripens. It contains many seeds. It is sometimes called starvation fruit. Despite its strong smell and bitter taste, the fruit is nevertheless eaten as a famine food and, in some Pacific islands, even a staple food, either raw or cooked.
The market is set in a huge warehouse that covers several city blocks so can keep you busy for hours! I enjoyed walking through the numerous stalls with their colourful fruit or vegetables but by the time we left the market I could definitely do with something to eat.
Inside a huge warehouse next to Vega Central we found the Flower market. The morning delivery of fresh flowers had already been sent out and the people at the stalls inside the warehouse were all busy making bouquet. It looked like most of the bouquets and wreaths in this warehouse were for funerals.
Crossing the river we entered Mercado Central the main fresh seafood market in the city since 1872. This market is frequented my tourists and even locals who come to see, smell and buy the bounty of fish and shellfish found along the Chilean coast.
This market is filled with fresh seafood stalls and many small restaurants where you have the opportunity to try the fresh seafood. I love seafood and wasn’t going to let the chance to try a strange seafood dish go me by. I sat down at a small restaurant where I had the opportunity to try Ceviche. It is a seafood dish popular in the coastal regions of Chile. The dish is made from fresh raw fish marinated in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime and was served with chopped onions, salt, and coriander. I really enjoyed trying this dish and doing so in this market where I knew the ingredients would be fresh was an excellent experience! I would recommend this fish dish to anybody who loves sushi!!
Situated right next to this fabulous market is La Piojera one of the largest traditional pub restaurants in Santiago. This historically popular bar is famous for its meat dishes and its traditional drink called Terremoto which means earthquake. This drink is made with Pepino wine and pineapple ice-cream. The place was filled with sailors and had a lovely lively atmosphere! It is an explosion of sights, sounds and bawdy local drinking culture.
I got to watch as the barmen made batches of this famous drink Terremoto, sure that it will be sold as fast as it was made. We got one to share and it was so sweet that we could hardly finish the one drink, but it was still very good. I can vouch that it is sweet and also very strong as even half a Terremoto made me feel a bit tipsy!
This was the perfect way to end my day of experiencing Chile through its food!