In Punta Arenas

Local Chilean delicacies between Antarctica and Patagonia

Headed to Torres del Paine with your backpack? Take a delectable warm-up lap in Punta Arenas, sampling local flavors and stocking up on artisan chocolates.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011  
The austral port of Punta Arenas, Chile. (Photo: Leonora Enking, Flickr) The austral port of Punta Arenas, Chile. (Photo: Leonora Enking, Flickr)

The port of Punta Arenas is one of the southernmost in the world, jutting out into the cold, dark waters that separate the continent from Antarctica. Visitors will find the town atmosphere to be a warm, intriguing mix of people from many parts of the world, with some delicious food to liven up the long winter nights.

A common stopover for cruise liners and backpackers alike, the city offers a walking tour of history for the motivated traveler. But what about all those delicious smells, wafting from a cafe as the door swings open?

Here, This Is Chile takes a closer look at five mouth-watering stops on the gourmet route recommended by Chilean magazine Ya.

Roca: It’s said that no one should leave Punta Arenas before trying one of the miniature sandwiches at Roca, served on a crunchy hallulla roll with sausage and homemade mayonnaise, along with a glass of leche con plátano (banana smoothie) to wash it down. The kiosk sells 2,000 of these little meals between each Monday and Saturday, when the tiny structure fills to bursting. It hasn’t burst yet, though, despite 60 years in the same location near the central plaza. Where: 875 Roca.

El Chumanguito: The best bang for your peso can usually be found at a town’s central market, but El Chumanguito exceeds even the highest of expectations. This tiny restaurant on the second story of Punta Arenas’ Mercado Central features a gourmet menu of Patagonia-inspired flavors, created by chef-owner Patricio Manríquez. The spare decorations leave nothing to distract you from the heavenly flavors of dishes like homemade ravioli with crab (centolla), cheese-and-scallop empanadas, or a new twist on the traditional seafood stew, chupe. Where: 1466 Avenida Costanera del Etrecho, Local 2.

Brocolino: The vision of chef-owner Héctor Rojas brings together a handful of unique details just so: the local ingredients, the international vision, the simple ambiance of your own dining room, except with long, white tablecloths. Brocolino opened seven years ago and continues to enjoy local support as well as the patronage of international tourism on its way through the port city. His signature dish is grouper (mero) in a sauce of wild mushrooms and red wine, served with Thai-style vegetables. Or, try the ravioli stuffed with spinach and crab. Where: 1037 O’Higgins.

La Chocolatta: A candy store for all seasons, La Chocolatta is part cafe, part ice cream parlor, and chock full of sweets. The establishment is located in the historic Baeriswyl pharmacy, with antique glass showcases and wooden bookshelves displaying blocks of chocolate laden with dried nuts alongside truffles and bonbons. On a cold day, warm up with a steaming cup of hot chocolate and a fresh batch of churros, accompanied by a little pot of chocolate fondue. Where: 852 Bories.

Norweisser: The emblematic chocolate factory of Punta Arenas, Nora Weisser’s shop looks like it popped to life from a children’s fairy tale. Weisser opened her doors 40 years ago and credits many of her recipes to her German grandparents. She sells boxes of chocolates by the kilogram (about 2.2 pounds), as well as smaller boxes of ¼ kg and ½ kg. Look for local favorites like chocolate with peanuts (maní), almonds (almendras), caramel-like manjar, and rum raisin (pasas al ron), or more exotic offerings like chocolate covered figs (higos) and calafate, the local blueberry.  Where: 663 José Miguel Carrera.