Small-Group Santiago Food and Market Tour

1 Feb

If you’re in Santiago and want to know what people really eat, try a local food and drink tour that takes you through Santiago’s main market. The Vega and the buildings around it are a sprawling affair, with alleys and cross streets and friendly butchers occasionally holding up cow hearts, and a colorful assortment of fruit and vegetables. And I even though I live in Santiago, I decided to take a Small-Group Santiago Food and Market Tour Including Mercado Central, which is essentially a tasting tour of central Chile, with a splash of colorful stories, a brief historical overview, and a bonus walk through the flower market.

We meet beside the statue of Pedro de Valdivia, the founding father of Santiago, which is located at the northeast corner of the Plaza de Armas, Santiago’s original main plaza. In a group, we walk over to a copper map melded into the street that shows the original plan of the city, and get a brief overview of what we’ll see on the tour. We dip quickly into the metropolitan cathedral, construction on which was started in 1748.

Santiago’s Metropolitan Cathedral

Santiago’s Metropolitan Cathedral

From there, the guide orients us a little to the Chilean-style fast food stalls that fills the colonnade below a building from the 1800s. He shows us gigantic sandwiches, like the barros luco, and regales us with tales of just how many hot dogs (Chilean style, with mayonnaise, avocado and tomatoes on top, and called a completo) they go through in this row of restaurants.

Chilean fast food

Giant sandwiches and heavily-sauced hot dogs on display

From here, we continue down a pedestrian street, a tiled outdoor walkway filled with vendors and stores with their doors open, and music playing. Here we stop at a cart selling mote con huesillo, a sweet, peach drink with wheat kernels in the bottom, to be eaten with a spoon, which we do, as we walk further towards the market.

mote con huesillo

This sweet drink is a summertime favorite

Further on, cross the river, walk through the sweet-smelling flower market and then head into the Vega Chica, just across the river, where we stop to grab sopaipillas, a fried disk of dough made with squash, and usually eaten spread with ají, a spicy condiment, or with mustard, or sometimes both.

We move further into the market, meet a friendly butcher who points out the different cuts of meat, including the tongue, folded over itself, and some cow’s hearts, also on sale.

The guide sits us down at a table at one of the restaurants, and orders several portions of different soups and potages, including one with pantrucas, a kind of dumpling, and my favorite, porotos granados, a kind of squash stew with white beans.

Several portions of different kinds of soups and stews, including porotos granados

Several portions of different kinds of soups and stews, including porotos granados

Further into the market, people decide to buy cherries, which are delectable and in-season, and we also spend some time talking to the various fruit and vegetable sellers, about what’s in season, how much things cost, and where they come from. Much of the produce is from the central valley, close to Santiago, which makes eating locally second-nature to most capital-dwellers.

Several kinds of peppers on offer

Several kinds of peppers on offer

Now we go into the Mercado Central, a wrought iron structure from 1872, and the guide talks about the importance of the market for tourism, and we sit down and have seafood empanadas, some of the best I’ve ever had, even after living in Chile for all these years. I choose scallop and cheese, and am not disappointed. The seafood is fresh, the cheese melted, and the crust crisped to perfection. Here we’re offered a white wine from the nearby Casablanca valley.

Crispy seafood empanadas and a refreshing glass of white wine

Crispy seafood empanadas and a refreshing glass of white wine

A little later we walk over to a hole-in-the wall bar I’ve never set foot in, but have seen accordion players in more than once. Here we try cola de mono, a coffee-and-cane alcohol drink generally enjoyed in the summer. We sip it out of small glasses.

cola de mono

Having a drink at a local watering joint

From here, we go to Chile’s most famous watering hole, the chaotic, dark, graffitied La Piojera, which, even early in the afternoon, is bustling with people drinking terremotos, a Chilean specialty drink made of young wine, topped with pineapple ice cream.

We opt not to add any more graffiti to the walls, sip our drinks, and walk off into the sunny afternoon, ending the tour where we started, under the statue of Pedro de Valdivia, in time for a late afternoon stroll to work off some of that tasty food we’d tried.

La Piojera

In Santiago’s best-known bar, La Piojera, enjoying a terremoto.

All photos courtesy of Eileen Smith.

Small-Group Santiago Food and Market Tour ,

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