To find Chile’s freshest fruits, vegetables, and seafood, don’t settle for Jumbo. The best is usually going to be in ferias, outdoor marketplaces that are usually open one or two days a week in each neighborhood. Local, portable ferias will have to wait for their moment to shine, though. Today, we’re talking about the big fish (and seriously, if you think you’ve smelled fish before, think again): El Mercado Central and La Vega Central.
El Mercado central
A lovely work of architecture, rich piece of history, and great place to check out the dozens of Chilean fishes and shellfishes that you’ve never heard of before, the “Central Market” has long established itself as a tourist magnet. When passing through with my partner, the Mercado Central has provided delicious meals and a somewhat romantic atmosphere—there are usually live musicians to enhance the building’s warm, antique feel, even though there is little intimate and private about it.
When passing through with Emily, however, it was more of a fight for survival. If you look like a tourist, they’ll be on you like stink on fish. Right as I was about to take out my camera to snap a couple shots of the pescaderías, I was intercepted by a man asking where we were from. Emily was quick to point out that I was, in fact, married to a Chilean. While her plan was successful in drawing the attention away from our foreignness, it had the interesting side effect of inspiring some terrible marriage advice “Let him have his freedom,” he told me. “Or else he’ll run away. It’s like fishing; get the hook in there, and then slowly reel him in so he doesn’t get panicked.” IS EVERYTHING ABOUT FISH IN THIS POST??
Don’t be frightened away by bad marriage advice, though. When you visit, don’t let their seagull-like enthusiasm pressure you into settling on a restaurant before you’ve had time to look around a bit. A firm “No, thanks” will be necessary at some time or another. As with most places in Santiago, have your money and valuables in a safe place, especially if you are notoriously a foreigner.
You can get to the Mercado Central by taking the metro to Cal y Canto (on the Yellow/2 Line) and exiting toward the street Puente.
LA VEGA CENTRAL
Emily and I, on our search for Fourth-of-July-inspired fruits, traveled past everything from cherimoya to pig heads to huge bins of olives and pickles… and most everything else anyone would want.
If you’re looking for the phenomenal spice of Peruvian cuisine, there are entire aisles of Peruvian shops. If you’re looking for personal and house cleaning stuff, they’ve got it, too. Need some pet food to feed the street dogs? Got it. In fact, there are places you can get pets, too. Or a queen bee and some drones, if that’s what you’re into (we already had ours).
If you’re interested in reading more praise of the Vega, check out this article. I’m not the only gringo that loves the Vega!