For the adventurous and hungry traveler, there’s no quicker way into the heart of a new city than a visit to the local market – and in Santiago, foodies and market aficionados have plenty to peruse, from the colorful piles of vegetables in La Vega to the fresh-caught bounty of seafood in the nearby Mercado Central.
In a recent article from National Geographic magazine, the iconic travel and adventure publication looked at their ten favorite food markets around the world – places offering unique culinary experiences and a “slice of local life” – placing Santiago’s Mercado Central among the likes of New York’s Union Square Greenmarket and Singapore’s Kreta Ayer Wet Market.
“Under a wrought-iron, art nouveau canopy dating from 1872, this animated fish market groans with an extraordinary shoal of sea creatures, from barnacles to giant squid, many unlabeled, untranslatable, or unknown outside Chile,” writes National Geographic.
Tucked in the middle of the fish market – and surprisingly well-protected from the smell of fresh seafood – you can even enjoy a sit-down lunch of fresh fish and shellfish, prepared in traditional Chilean style with a nice bottle of Chilean white to prolong the afternoon.
Lunch amidst the fish vendors
A number of places in the market offer restaurant service – note that the smaller restaurants on the periphery are cheaper and nearly as good as the two or three that monopolize the prime central sites.
Here, you will find some of the best locations to sample Chile’s local seafood, like abalone (loco), sea urchins (erizo), sea bass (corvina) and white-fleshed eel (congrio). Be sure to try classic dishes, like a steaming bowl of paila marina, a flavorful seafood stew with mussels (choros), clams (almejas) and delicious Chilean razor clams (machas), and pastel de jaiva, with fresh crab baked in a traditional earthenware bowl.
Visiting Mercado Central
El Mercado Central is one of the most popular stops on a tour of the capital’s historic center, alongside Plaza de Armas, La Moneda presidential palace, Teatro Municipal and the museums Histórico Nacional, Bellas Artes and Casa Colorada – all within walking distance of the market.
There are entrances to the market on the avenues San Pablo, Paseo Puente, and 21 de Mayo. The nearest metro stop is Puente Cal y Canto (line 2).
For more information and for a detailed map, visit the Mercado Central website (Spanish).