Walking tours around Santiago’s historic restaurants and bars

Chilean cultural organization Gestarte leads guests from the capital and abroad to six traditional locations for cheap and plentiful food and drink. Between stops, the guides offer true insight into an under-explored area of downtown Santiago’s heritage.

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The first Friday of each month, the Santiago cultural group Gestarte runs walking tours amongst the old bars and restaurants on the streets south of Alameda, the city center’s main thoroughfare. For US$9, guests can join a group comprised almost entirely of Santiago residents for a peak into the capital’s gastronomic heritage, including tastings at two of the six locations visited.

The name of the tour, Ruta de las Picadas (Route of Traditional Bar Foods) refers to the types of food served in these restaurants. Abundant, simple, hearty and above all cheap, picadas are served at homely, no-frills taverns around the city. The youngest of the locations on the tour has been around for 30 years, and all have been important gathering places for local Santiaguinos.

El Rincón de los Canallas, the most written-about place visited on the tour, has been a Santiago institution since before its days as a password-only speakeasy during the curfew of the 1970s. The password has been frozen since 1990 at “Chile Libre Canallas!” The tiny dining room appears to have been frozen in time, with newspaper-plastered walls and garlands of Chilean flags. The few tables are crowded primarily with groups of middle-aged Santiaguinos and Santiaguinas, laughing happily over enormous shared plates of grilled and roasted meats and half-empty pitchers of the house beverage, the ‘maremoto,’ a sweet and shockingly potent mix of white wine, pineapple ice cream, peaches and grenadine..

To get a table here during evening hours you’ll need a reservation, but the Ruta de las Picadas offers a chance to sample the essentials while observing Santiaguino traditions in full swing. In the process you’ll get your own glass of ‘maremoto’ to set the mood.

In fact, the ‘maremoto’ is a variation on the classic Chilean drink, the ‘terremoto,’ which guests will sample on the trip’s final stop at Bar Las Tejas. The terremoto, a mix of white wine, pineapple ice cream and a splash of some other alcohol (sometimes rum, sometimes the Argentine herbal liqour Fernet), comes in a big plastic cup with a straw. Less sweet than the ‘marremoto,’ this humble drink is designed to knock you flat in one go.

The rowdy crowd of 20-somethings that fill the cavernous room at Las Tejas seems to have this in mind while happily knocking back rounds of beer and the house beverage. Finishing here, guests on the route will pull up a chair and join the action over a drink and a Sandwich de Pernil. Made from the meat of a pig’s leg rolled with fat, then roasted and sliced, pernil makes for a good sandwich to fortify against the rounds of ‘terremotos.’

The other locations visited on the tour, mostly between 30 and 40 years old, are an equally essential and visibly thriving part of Santiago’s history. “Many people think heritage only means monumental buildings,” said tour guide and Gestarte representative Nicolás Aguayo. “Our group was started with the idea of preserving a heritage that was less tangible, a living heritage.”

In Gestarte’s words, the aim of the tour is above all “to have a good time, relaxed and full of conversation.” Tours are given only in Spanish, but knowledgeable guides and friendly participants of all ages ensure that conversation flows freely whether or not you speak the language. In the end, the Ruta de las Picadas preserves not just Santiago’s heritage of food and drink, but more importantly the Chilean traditions of jovial hospitality that have kept these bars and taverns alive for decades.

For more information of Gestarte’s cultural events, visit gestartecultura.cl.

This post is also available in Spanish