Together with Rosita Parsons, we have gone over the top food and product markets in Santiago, and we interviewed the famous chef Coco Pacheco, creator of ‘Aquí está Coco’ restaurant, read about him below. As for Rosita, she is a famous Chilean businesswoman and lifestyle expert, founder of Echinuco, the first Chilean food festival.
Local food markets in Santiago are a must when visiting the city if you want to experience first hand the local flavours and colours of Chilean food and culture.
Our first stop is the Mercado Central, a historical landmark in the city, where you can acquire and experience the best fish and seafood, dairy products, wines, local fruits and vegetables, meat, you name it. The star in this impressive market is the seafood. You can also enjoy the local flavours of a fresh meal at any of its several restaurants. The market opens everyday: Mon to Thu and Sun: 6am to 5pm; Fri 6am to 8pm; Sat 6am to 6pm. Outside the market building is where locals dine, clearly at a lower price. So if you are in a local laid back vibe, you know where to go!
Next stop is El Mercado de Abasto Tirso de Molina, a colourful festival of fruits and vegetables beautifully displayed everywhere. Located at the south of La Vega Chica, it’s great to experience Latin rhythms live bands, countless food stalls and salespeople offering their menus to the visitors to choose from different gastronomic options.
Also crowded, La Vega Chica, is another picturesque local option. On the second floor you will find many stalls where you can enjoy a simple and authentic lunch or “picada” mainly of Chilean, Peruvian and Colombian dishes. Don’t expect menus handed in to you, you have to squeeze your eyes and read the menus stuck on the walls or just go for a safe bet and ask for the steamy delicious dish you just walked past.
Finally, we get to La Vega Central, the largest and most typical food market in the city of Santiago, a never-ending sequence of rows of stalls offering anything you can imagine in the produce and food universe. Once in La Vega Central you get a clear notion of why this is the place where locals shop. The farmer’s market stalls are full of fresh and good quality products at a much cheaper price.
Last but not least, we highly recommend visiting Emporio Echinuco a gastronomic fair with small producers from all over the country if you are lucky to be in Santiago on the first Sunday of each month. The next event will take place on May 6th in Plaza Loreto Cousiño and Plaza Las Lilas in Providencia.
Echinuco was founded by Rosita Parsons in 2011 as the first great Chilean four days food festival. Today, 7 years later, Echinuco has turned into a promoter of Chilean local cuisine. Echinuco stands for “Chilean gathering of our food”, and its main goal is the preservation of local traditions, rediscovering flavours and boosting small producers, entrepreneurs and talents from the different corners of Chile. This year, Echinuco festival will take place on the first week of October. For further information click here: www.echinuco.cl or follow them on @echinuco.
Visiting the markets is an excellent way to feel the pulse of the local culture and its idiosyncrasy, meet local people and truly experience what Chilean gastronomy has to offer on an unmissable day tour.
MEET COCO PACHECO!
Jorge “Coco” Pacheco opened his first restaurant in 1973, which was sadly destroyed by a fire in 2008. As the Phoenix, two years after the incident, Coco and his family rebuilt the restaurant and reopened it. Their return found them more united, stronger, more passionate and innovative than ever: they built the first restaurant in Chile with ecological sensitivity, a truly sustainable restaurant. Located in Providencia, Aquí Está Coco is a Must, a lively icon of Chilean autochthonous cuisine which offers daily tribute to their original roots.
What’s the greatest asset of the Chilean gastronomy?
Its sea and large coastline of more than 4200 kilometres. We have an amazing ocean rich in plankton that offers excellent mussels, oysters and sea urchins. It’s like a natural fridge of amazing seafood. And the fish! such as eels, sea bass, croakers and salmon of course! Years ago we were predators of the sea, we were exhausting the available resources. Now we are sowing the sea, we take care of sea animals as farmers do with their cattle.
What are your favourite markets?
It is very important for us as chefs, to support those artisans of the land, the small producers who cultivate the coriander, the “merkén” originally a Mapuche condiment, our native potatoes. This is what makes us special from the rest of the world.
If we do not support the small producers, they will eventually disappear as they cannot compete with big supermarket chains, and we’ll all end up cooking with ketchup!
I travel all over my country, getting to know the markets. I’ve recently been to Chiloé. Its market is very autochthonous, very virgin still. And the people there are so lovely.
In Santiago, at Mercado Central, I like the stall El Delfín Dorado. Paula is the ‘matrona’ leading vendor, and her eight daughters work there with her too.
What do you eat to pamper yourself?
I am as close as I can be to my roots, to the simple things and to what is natural.
I delight myself with six fresh just opened oysters with a drop of lemon juice, a slice of toasted bread with homemade butter and a glass of white wine. The taste of those oysters is like having the Pacific ocean in your mouth.
You also teach and offer group classes, tell us about that.
May be experience has taught me that it is necessary to go back to our roots. Many countries are heavily influenced by immigration, but we have to go back to the legacy of the Mapuches inhabiting Chile many many years before the conquest; we have to recover that essence. I have built a ‘Ruca’ that I use as a workshop were I teach. And my main goal is to communicate what our ancestors used to eat.
If you don’t get in touch with your own roots and history you will eventually lose your identity, destroy the essence of products, and copy others. If you don’t get in contact with who you are, you’ll get lost in copying other people.
It was a real pleasure talking with Coco. If Santiago is in your plan, don’t miss visiting his restaurant Aquí está Coco (www.aquiestacoco.cl), without a doubt one of the best in the country.