Fantastic Food, Fabulous Ferias!

Santiago is the heart of this nation – all foods end up here – and nowhere is this more obvious than the ubiquitous feria, or market.

The feria is my favorite thing to do here in Chile because there is no other place where you can delve right into the culture and discover what it really means  to be a local. They are a lifeforce for the people in the suburbs who use them everyday (except Monday) to stock up on  almost everything they might need, from fruit and vegetables to medicine, fresh fish or clothing. Stallholders begin in the wee hours, receiving deliveries and then setting up their spot for the day, of which aesthetics are key. Effort is put in to ensure their produce looks fresh and better than the neighbor’s offering, with everything from fake grass, realms of hanging garlic to delicious preparations of ceviche (seafood marinated in lemon juice) or pebre (a spicy tomato salsa mix) made to show off their ingredients to the max.

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NZD$20 (not including packaged items)

Food plays a key part in Chilean life. The indigenous of both northern and central Chile had a diet rich in potatoes, quinoa and meat from sources such as pudues, alpacas and llamas, well before the arrival of the Conquistadores. The Spanish then brought with them domestic livestock and ingredients that today make up traditional comida chilena, the very best of which is known as comida casera (homemade food).  Many of the dishes are simply prepared, which reflects Chile’s peasant past.  Dishes include the cilantro-heavy cazuela stew or lentejas (lentils),  while the hugely popular Corn Pie (Pastel de Choclo) mixes both meat and chicken. Beans (porotos) are so frequently consumed and traditional that there is a saying – “mas chileno que los porotos!”

Chile is also blessed to have the Humboldt Current drifting past it’s Pacific Ocean coastline, which brings a huge variety of sea dwelling creatures up from Antarctica. All year round you can enjoy seafood in delicious dishes, my favorites of which are Chupe de Jaivas and crab/prawn empanadas.  You know it must be good if it has been immortalized in poetry, which Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda actually did in his Caldillo de Congrio (Kingclip Chowder) poem.

I also find the feria to be a place where you can see real artisans at work, from the man who quickly wraps up the carton of eggs to the elderly gentlemen who will rapidly explain the medicinal or culinary uses of strange ingredients. Remember to shop around for the best prices (cheapest in the centre), watch your belongings, take small change (no big notes!) and use a portable shopper to cart your purchases (not just for nanas!).  Finally, stallholders will give you about a million small plastic bags for your purchases so it can be a good idea to take along a reusable bag or simply place things directly in your trolley – and therefore baffling them all!

Ask the locals where the day’s feria is when you are in the suburbs – they will likely be able to tell you! For a unique Santiago experience head to the bustling La Vega market in Recoleta wbere you can try comida chilena in La Vega Chica, or go for huge portions in the Tirso Molina.

Southern Chile Roadtrip

  1. Ojos del Caburgua, Caburgua

Stunning waterfalls and crystal clear waters are the attractions at Ojos del Caburgua near Pucon. They can be found within dense forest and can be enjoyed without a lengthy hike – in fact they are just a short walk from the carpark.

2) Lago Caburgua, Caburgua

One of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, Caburgua Lake is just a short drive from the busy and commercial bustle of Pucon but a world away in spirit. The water is clear and stays shallow for a really long time so it’s perfect for children, plus it’s full of fish.  The ground is stony and there are quite a few shops at the start of the lake.  Go there before everyone else does.

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3) Salto de Petrohue

You may think after driving past luscious farms and sprawling greenery that Chile can get no better. You would be actually be wrong, because Petrohue takes all those amazing vistas you’ve seen and tops them all.  It feels as though you can reach out and almost touch the volcano while around you the landscape seems to harken back to the dinosaur age. All the usual amenities can be found here (souvenirs, food, toilets) plus the bush walk is helpfully marked so that you can learn all about Chile’s flora and fauna.

4) Pucon

This is the place where I dream about living.  Seriously, if it was just a few degrees warmer in winter it would be perfect.  The lake is clean and blue.  There’s a volcano. The food is out of this world (all the chocolate shops!) and the list of activities to do are endless.  The supermarkets even want you to shop with reusable bags it is that committed to being green. Downsides are the prices and the crowds but come in the shoulder season before all the summer hordes arrive and you will find Pucon as charming as I do.  Plus there are hot springs to laze about it at every turn.

6) Frutillar

With a stunning theatre and a beautiful lake, Frutillar doesn’t sound like much but it’s quaint with good food and close to all the nearby sights of Petrohue, Puerto Octay and Puerto Varas.

7) Curarrehue

There isn’t too much to see in this sleepy hamlet but it’s worth a visit from Pucon for the museum detailing Mapuche culture.  Keep an eye out for blackberries to pick or blackberry jam to buy!

8) Puerto Montt

Puerto Montt doesn’t get the love it deserves, in my humble opinion. Whenever I travel anywhere, whether that be down the road or further afield, I like to imagine myself living in the houses I see and imagine what life would be like. Puerto Montt stacks up pretty well: there’s work, I can easily find what I might need and it’s got all Chile’s natural beauty on it’s doorstep.

Family Fun: Parque Fluvial Renato Poblete

What is one of the easiest ways to make your child happy, get them to sleep well and that can be done easily with a newborn? 

Easy. A park visit.  And no trip to the park would be complete without a delicious picnic.

Emilio just loves a picnic, thanks to one of my childhood books about picnicking on the moon called “Whatever Next”. There really is nothing simpler or better fun than packing up a blanket, hitting the supermarket for goodies or even baking a few treats, before searching for the perfect spot to unwrap it all and indulge.

Our usual spot is the Parque Bicentenario in Vitacura because it’s only ten minutes away from our house by car, plus it has birds and fish to feed (and Mestizo, one of my favorite restaurants here).  In summer they put out sun umbrellas and loungers that are free to use, which is great because the sun in this city is fierce. However it does have a few down sides, like it can be hard to find a park and the grass always seems to be sodden wet and full of bees (and Mestizo staff can be snobby too).  So when a friend recommended Parque Fluvial Renato Poblete we decided to give it a try.

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This park only opened in January last year but I had never heard of it.  Why is that??  The place is FANTASTIC! My friend described it as “crisp” which I think is a pretty good summation because it still has that nice feel of being new … so crisp in other words.  It’s a big park – some 20 hectares according to Wikipedia – and it’s divided into two sections. The first is focused around a lagoon area where you can rent paddle boats (including life jackets) and the second follows the Mapocho river.

It’s pretty lovely and wonderful to walk around in. It’s filled with bridges that succeed in transporting you out of Santiago and into somewhere much more romantic.

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The downside is that because the park is so new, all the plants have a long way to grow still so shade is scarce.  We did find a spot to linger in and it was glorious just to be so close to the water.  Being from NZ I am used to having the sea in close proximity at all times so I often feel claustrophobic and stifled in Santiago. If you feel like that too then you will definitely enjoy this park, just remember the sunscreen and hat!

The Nitty Gritty

Entry is FREE

Disabled/pushchair access

Sights: 2x football fields, amphitheater, statue/sculptures, fountains

Snacks sold at entrance

For more information visit the Quinta Normal official site here.

Or visit this excellent site (Spanish).

The Chile List 2015

As we approach the beginning of 2016, I thought I would look back at 2015 and compile (yet another) list of favorite experiences to try:

Best Place to Eat Ethnic: Pardeshi Tadka, Providencia

Best Place for Couples: Zully and Barrio Concha y Toro

Best Place to Explore: Downtown around Metro Santa Ana

Best Place to Eat Cheap: Club Palestino Restaurant, Recoleta

Best Place for Shopping: Av. Italia, Nunoa

Best Place to Take Photos: National Cemetery, Recoleta

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Best Place to Walk: Av. Independencia, Independencia

Best Place to Swim: Pool Antilen, Cerro San Cristobal

Best Park for Children: Parque Bicentenario de la Infancia, Recoleta

Best Park: Parque Bicentenario, Vitacura

Best Day Out for Families: Annual Open Day @ Aerodromo Vitacura

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Best City Lookout: Piramide Old Road, Huechuraba

Best Place to Take Visitors: Peumayen Restaurant, Bellavista

Best Visit for Artists: Bellavista

Best Place for Culture Shock: Patronato

Best Place to Buy Cheap: Zapadores Weekly Market, Recoleta

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Best Place to be Tattooed: LP Tattoo Studios, La Pintana

Best Taxis: Luis Diaz 91502396

Best Museum: Precolumbino, Plaza de Armas

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Best Food to Try: Mote con Huesillo

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Best Place to Buy Natural Food: Agricola Tinajacura

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Best Blog: You are reading it (ha. ha)

Further Afield:

Best Day Trip: Siete Tazas National Park

Best Place to Encounter History: Valle del Encanto, Ovalle

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Best Place for History: Huique

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Best Places for Birdwatching: Lago Rapel and Batuco Wetlands

Best Place to Eat: Santa Cruz

Best Thing to Eat: Curanto

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Best Place to See the Sea: Vina del Mar coastline and Antofogasta

Best Views: Zapallar and Quintay

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Best Place to Take Your Breath Away: Elqui Valley

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Best Place to Eat Seafood: Coquimbo

Best Surf Spot: Pichelemu

Best Family Holiday: Pucon

Best Trip to Go Back in Time: Sewell

Best Place to Shop: Pomaire

Best Holiday for Tourists: San Pedro de Atacama

Best Place to Swim: Arica

Best Place to Discover Mapuche Culture: Temuco

Best Place to Get Cold: Punta Arenas

Best Place for Photos: Los Lagos region

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Church of the Chorizos, La Vega and Patronato

With our pull-along shopping cart laden with berries, nuts and vegetables, I am walking with my family along Avenida Recoleta on a particularly smoggy Saturday. We had just been to La Vega – Santiago’s biggest indoor market – to do a long overdue shop (I DO NOT recommend going there on a Saturday and certainly not with a pushchair). We’d stopped at my favourite eating spot in Chile, the Tirso Molina, which is in front of La Vega Chica, and lunched on an overflowing plate of mixed crumbed seafood called Jalea Mixta. It’s always an enjoyable experience going there and especially for natural juices, but this time our strawberry juice was swimming in so much sugar that we literally had to do away with the straw and eat it.

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7000 pesos! Enough for two plus drinks and entrada

You can buy almost anything in La Vega, and what you can’t find there you can usually get somewhere else in Patronato. I found a gorgeous straw hat for only 1500 pesos which would have been four times that at least in New Zealand! It was suffocatingly busy  so, naturally, when we returned to the fresh air we decided to walk home.

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Wicker heaven in La Vega Chica

There are three metro stops between Patronato and our home close to Dorsal, and the bus takes a good 20-30 minutes so it’s not a short walk. Around Cerro Blanco in particular there is a lot of character, particularly when you walk towards and around Avenida Peru.

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Patronato
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Cerro Blanco

There is an old rather Arabic looking blue church with walls partly falling away from so many years of earthquake damage that is locally called “Church of the Chorizos“.  This church was originally ordered by Ines de Suarez, the lady of Pedro de Valdivia, but over the course of several hundred years (and earthquakes!) it has fallen down and been rebuilt. This is where the patos malos go to pray, and they do so outside in front of a shrine with hundreds of candles. I didn’t really get it but after observing it many times it is true – every single unsavoury-looking person will stop in front of those shimmering lights and pray while everyone else just walks past. Maybe they were praying for a nice rich gringo to walk past – which unfortunately would not be me!!

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There’s a huge church that was originally built for the Los Recoletano sect of Christianity, and which Recoleta was named after. This is also the church where Chile’s only winner of Miss Universe, Cecilia Bolocco, had a showstopper of a wedding in 1990 that saw the Avenida in front closed and was broadcast on television. Luis remembers the chaos of the moment fondly, saying “she was more famous than anyone else in Chile for winning that competition!”  She went on to have a strong television career after that, I suppose because she was blonde (I couldn’t resist sorry!).

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Old observatory

12144778_10153619863855097_2069327452649086215_nBefore the Cementeries there is a grey, derelict building that I had always assumed was empty but as we walked past some older women came out and I got to peek through the open door. To my surprise it was like looking at a picture of the Middle East or Spain – there was a big courtyard filled with plants with lots of doors coming off of it. I wish I could have taken a picture because I have not seen anything like it in Chile. Luis laughed when I said that I’d thought first it was the Catholic Cemetery,

“Can’t you see all the balconies and the washing?”

The answer is yes, I can see them now. He also told me that the building is very, very old and is typical of the flats that were originally built to house migrants from the country who wanted to live close together. One day I promise you I shall go inside and take some photos because it really was like a glimpse into another world.

Speaking of the Cemetery, most people don’t realise that directly opposite the General Cemetery is the Cementerio Catolica (opens on the side street). This is just as interesting as the bigger one but maybe more so because many of the rooms are pitch black and underground – it’s like the catacombs of Lima –  and worth a visit if your not scared of spooky places (or stumbling upon a homeless person in the gloom).

We walked down Cuccuini to Luis’ brother’s house where we were going to a party.  It must be the day for seeing into other world’s because FINALLY the famous drug lord of the area had opened his front doors and was even standing outside. This was exciting because he lives in a completely window-less house that is always dark, and is used on the street as something akin to an opium den. I’ve also heard so many stories so it was good to put a face to him. He said hello and to be honest looked so completely ordinary albeit for his clothes. He just looked a bit bored and sad.

And so has passed another day, another adventure in my comuna!