Wandering the stalls of a city’s feria - an outdoor or semi-outdoor market – offers a glimpse of an important aspect of Chilean culture. This is where Chileans come to buy their tomatoes from their tomato lady, potatoes from their potatoes-and-onions guy, and fresh vegetables from that certain stand on the corner.
Jump into the mix and pick up one of the classic feria bags – made of recycled plastic and available for just a few hundred pesos (less than US$1) – as a souvenir for home.
From north to south, This Is Chile recommends the seven most colorful and distinctive markets.
Iquique: Mercado Centenario
The two-story Mercado Centenario hosts cocinerías upstairs and fruit stands below. If you’ve never had lunch at a cocinería, here’s your chance: the tiny restaurants serve up traditional food that’s fresh and cheap. Iquique’s market also reflects its tropical climate and proximity to Peru, selling specialties like tropical fruit and coca leaves. Try: the chirimoya, a sweet fruit from the Amazon with green skin, black seeds and white flesh.
La Serena: La Recova
The home of Chile’s first feria, La Serena is one of Chile’s most fertile and productive food growing regions. La Recova doesn’t have much fresh produce on display – head to any of La Serena’s smaller neighborhood ferias if you’re looking for tomatoes – but the two-story neo-colonial market building is filled with handicrafts and local products like jam and dried fruits. Try: the candied papaya.
Valparaíso: Mercado Cardonal
The port is actually brimming with ferias, and if you spend enough time wandering the streets, you’ll probably come across at least one informal antiques market and one group of vendors selling fresh in-season produce. But don’t miss the Mercado Cardonal on Avenida Brasil. The 1907 building is just as colorful as everything else in Valparaíso, and holds 200 stalls. Try: the seafood ceviche.
Santiago: La Vega
La Vega is a Santiago institution, famous from Arica to Punta Arenas, and consistently makes This Is Chile’s list of our favorite things to visit in the capital. The rambling network of stalls and open-sided warehouses offer the best of the country’s fresh produce, spices, and meats, as well as a good selection of Peruvian imports. Try: the olives, served out of 10-gallon drums near the entrance.
Chillán: Feria de Chillán
The most colorful outdoor market in central Chile, Chillán’s feria is open every day, from the wee hours of the morning until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. It’s located in downtown Plaza de Mercéd and nearby there is an extensive network of stands selling local crafts. Try: the sausage, Chillán’s speciality.
Valdivia: Feria Fluvial
The delicacies on offer at Valdivia’s feria fluvial are often overshadowed by some of the market’s patrons: namely, the noisy, smelly, gigantic sea lions, flopping and barking for attention on the concrete blocks that line the shores of the river. Ask nicely, and a vendor might give you a fish head to throw into the water. Try: the freshly-smoked local salmon.
Concepción: Mercado Central
Concepción’s central market incorporates a great selection of local crafts, and knitters will find lots of stands selling yarn. If you forgot your needles (or your patience), there are plenty of sweaters, mittens, hats, socks, and pretty much any woolen item that catches your fancy, as well as local basketry and wood carvings. Try: the pickled onions (cebolla en escabeche).
By Jackie Seitz