Mention has been made many times on this blog that La Vega Central Market in Santiago is a delight, and it seems I’m not the only one who thinks so. The website The Daily Meal [which I’ve not heard of ‘til now; I may have a new addiction] just ranked it 4th out of fifty for best food markets around the world. I highly doubt it’s as clean or shiny as some of the others on the list, but it sure is colorful in every sense of the word. You can find all manner of produce, meats and dairy, Peruvian specialties, tea, dried fruits, nuts and legumes and more. And the people! Characters abound. There are also many little lunch spots where you can grab a good meal for very little money. It’s loud, smelly and always entertaining. Indeed, the options can be almost overwhelming. The realist in me wants to remind you not to walk around there with fistfuls of cash or fancy phones.
La Vega is laid out here in this little chart. You can see its location here on the Transantiago city map. Look toward the red section in the top, middle part of the map near Independencia and Recoleta. It is simply marked La Vega in between the metro stations Cal y Canto and Patronato on the yellow line. If you get off the train at Cal y Canto it’s just a few blocks north. Anybody hanging around will be able to point you in the right direction if you lose your bearings.
If you head directly south of La Vega, you will see the Tirso Molina. This is a newer, smaller market, which stands out by its metal rooftop laced with intentional holes. The first floor here boasts a good amount of perfect produce, cheeses, charcuterie and a lot of fresh juice stands. The second floor is another lunch spot with a variety of options. It seems the prices here are maybe a touch higher than La Vega, but everything I’ve had up there so far has been quite taste-tastic. There is a bevy of ladies at the top of the escalators, menus in hand shouting out the specials as they try to lead you to their restaurants. Aside from the typical Chilean fare (fried fish, porotos, cazuelas, humitas in the summer, empanadas etc.) there is a real abundance of Peruvian and seafood specialties, as well as a decent Mexican place that opened a year ago, but it’s closed on Wednesdays. Go figure. You can find coffee and dessert here also. Need a pair of jeans? They got those, too.
I just tried the new Thai place, called Luck Thai at stand #199. The ladies at work in the kitchen were delightful. The menu lists a dozen dishes, most of which are labeled “picante”. Remember that the Chilean palette doesn’t do a lot of heat, so if you like your food medium hot, that’s what you’ll get. If you want it mild just ask for it “a la chilena” or Chilean style. I could make a curry of equal quality in my house, but if you’re not in the mood to hunt up all the required spices, check this place out. Each dish is about seven bucks. You can order a juice from the shop next door and they’ll happily bring it over.
One more block south, you will find the Mercado Central. This is the place to go to get seafood so fresh it’s mooing. You know what I mean. They have everything that the Pacific provides for us and the fishmongers are such friendly folk. It’s essentially a block squared with the seafare on the outer ring. The inner square hosts a ridiculous number of restaurants offering up those very same fresh goods done in a variety of styles. There are always wandering minstrels. Between La Vega, Tirso Molina and the Mercado Central you will find something that makes your mouth sing and your belly smile, with plenty of stuff to go.