With its wooden buildings, shingled roofs and iconic Araucaria pines, Temuco is said to mark the threshold of Chile’s famed “southern heartland.” For most travelers, however, it is no more than a sign passed on the highway on the way to Pucón or the Huerquehue National Park.
For those with a few hours to explore between buses, or taking a break from a long highway stint, there is one place in Temuco that should not be missed – a place that offers authentic regional food, great photo opportunities, and a chance to buy souvenirs and stock up on fresh produce – the Feria Libre Aníbal Pinto.
The Aníbal Pinto feria is an outdoor marker like no other in Chile. It’s somewhere between Santiago’s famous three markets; with sections of produce resembling La Vega, others stocked with fresh fish and seafood on the scale of the famous Mercado Central, and stalls of knicknacks and knock-offs like Persa Bío Bío.
Mix in artisanal southern produce and a strong influence of Chile’s indigenous Mapuche culture, and you’re someway toward imagining what’s in store for you at Temuco’s market.
The main building is a huge open-air auditorium that houses more than 700 individual stalls; the entrance is at the intersection of Avenida Aníbal Pinto with Avenida Barros Arana. Here you will find local produce and are sure to stumble on something in season – for me it was a kilo of ripe blueberries at CLP1,500 (US$3).
Mixed in this area are local honeys and queso del campo, fresh country cheese, including wheels of local cheese mixed with oregano or merkén – a red spice of Mapuche origin, made from ground cilantro seeds, chili and salt.
And there’s no better introduction to merkén than this market – one of the only places in the world that you can find merkén dealers complete with business cards – some of whom have multiple stalls of different varieties on the classic mix, including a variety with basil that was a personal favorite.
At the back of the main building is the seafood section, with stalls selling live mussels and fish brought in from the Pacific, as well as wild trout and salmon caught locally.
Outside, stalls, street vendors and satellite markets sprawl for blocks. Avenida Aníbal Pinto boasts a long string of smaller markets, with those on the northern side devoted to designer goods, second-hand clothes and traditional leather products, including hand-made belts, bags, shoes and hats embossed with Mapuche designs.
On the southern side you’ll find more produce, but here it is ever wilder; live chickens, skinned rabbits and raw wool are cluttered into narrow alleys and little old ladies in colorful frocks and shawls pull up in horse-drawn carriages.
You can also find Mapuche teas and herbal medicines here, and home-made food and drink: such as tortilla, a round bread cooked in the embers of a fire; katuto, a football-shaped wheat biscuit; pebre, a chili, tomato and cilantro salsa; and chicha, a semi-fermented sweet wine.
For something to eat, head into the main building auditorium, which has a cafeteria in the center, where little cafés dole out Chilean-style sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs. The best of these options is a simple queso caliente, a grilled cheese sandwich on homemade bread.
For something fresher, head to the seafood area, where you can try one of the highlights of the market – caldillo de mariscos, a steaming bowl of mixed mussels in broth, with fresh cilantro, onion, peppers and carrot.
Or for a more rustic option, stock up on produce and head to the surrounding mountains for a picnic of tortilla with cheese and merkén, or katuto dipped in pebre, topped off with fresh fruit and washed down with a glass of chicha.
The market is open every day from around 8 am to 5 p, but it’s at its peak on weekends.
By Joe Hinchliffe