Allow your senses to run wild as the diversity of Chilean cuisine unfolds at the Mercado Central. This colorful and frenzied food market has been a quintessential part of Santiago’s daily life since 1872. Sample everything from colorful fruits and vegetables to freshly-baked breads and delicious plates of seafood.
There’s no real order to the layout of the market and upon entering you’ll notice a variety of animated stalls. Find butchers offering just about any part of a cow, artisanal cheese sellers, tropical fruits and vegetables, bakeries and candy stores. The real highlight, however, are the fish stalls. Check out the counters crawling with live crabs and lobsters, the piles of giant muscles and buckets of sea urchins and oysters.
Visit the market’s many restaurants and fast food stands, which offer a range of tasty fish and seafood dishes. Those in the middle of the market are geared toward tourists. Musicians regular approach tables to perform in front of diners and then ask for tips. Go to the smaller restaurants on the market’s outer edge for a more authentic and cheaper experience. Try typical Chilean cuisine, such as caldillo de congrio (conger eel stew), paila marina (seafood soup) and picocoros (giant edible barnacles).
The market’s architecture is an impressive sight in itself. Prefabricated in Britain and then erected in Santiago in 1872, the grand neoclassical structure resembles a Victorian train station. Look for the artistic decorations adorning the buildings pillars and arches, intricately carved from wrought iron.
The Mercado Central sits on the northern edge of Santiago’s historic center. It’s about a 10-minute walk from Plaza de Armas and easily accessible by bus and metro. A hop-on, hop-off tourist bus also stops at the entrance to the market. Combine your visit with a stroll around the picturesque Parque Forestal (Forest Park) and see modern art in the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo and fine arts in the prestigious Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.
The market is open daily. It’s at its most animated at lunchtime, when the fish restaurants fill up with locals and tourists alike.