Whether buying for home or dining out, seafood lovers need look no further than the Mercado Central, the historic, elegant fish market built at the edge of Santiago’s Mapocho River. The space was first opened in 1872 as a national exhibition center, symbolizing Chile’s thriving economy. The prosperity of that time is clearly evident in the lavish wrought-iron artistic motifs of its walls, pillars and arches supporting its characteristic roof.
Along the market’s perimeter, a plethora of pescadería stalls with a wide variety of fresh seafood in full view. Visitors witness the bustling spectacle of fishmongers handling and weighing fish, clams and even sea urchins of all sizes, shapes and colors, laughing with one another and shouting bargains at amused onlookers. While a popular stop for curious and hungry travelers, this is also where many Santiaguinos come to shop.
At the center of the market, all passages converge under a large opening of light through the imposing roof’s central pyramid. The buzz remains, yet it is now a few large seafood restaurants, the famous marisquerías, and their satisfied customers that take center stage.
At the center of the market, the bigger restaurants such as Donde Augusto and La Joya del Pacífico dominate. However, pushing past these establishments brings you to the smaller restaurants that line the market’s inner edge offering food just as mouth-watering often at better prices. You’ll know which ones are best by the crowds of locals who eat here.
Hidden among the many of options is Marisquería Francisco Javier, a tiny family-run restaurant tucked away from the central part of the market. It offers a great taste of traditional seafood recipes, such as Camarones al Pil Pil and grilled Chilean salmon.
Its small tables are squeezed together, giving the feeling that you and the other customers are all one party. A meal for two, with generous portions, begins at around 12,000 CLP.
The intense but satisfying smell of fresh fish being cooked, the sound of sizzling frying pans within earshot and the friendly service all gives the impression that you have been invited into a friend’s kitchen. The food tastes like it too.
The Mercado Central is just opposite the Metro station Cal y Canto, a few blocks from Plaza de Armas.
By Daphne Karnezis