Saturday Shopping in El Centro

by Liz Caskey on April 25, 2009

Living on Parque Forestal on the edge of downtown Santiago, I love a Saturday morning (culinary) shopping excursion. It’s a beautiful morning. I head out on my usual route by the the Art Museum and walking towards the centro on Merced. I pop in to Chinese Mark Alimentos, a grocery stocking only Thai, Chinese, and South East Asian foods. I am in the mood for pad thai so rice noodles are on the list.

Tostaduria Talca is next to pick up dried fruit and nuts. The place feels cozy with wooden shelves piled with wholesome goodies. I am seduced by the red quinoa; sour dried cherries;  season’s first toasted hazelnuts. Randomly, I remember I actually came to stock up on basics like almonds, raisins, and peanuts covered in merkén. 

A quick loop around to the Plaza de Armas, I stop at Café Haiti for freshly ground coffee. They are primarily a cáfe con piernas, coffeshops with “legs”, but they sell darn good coffee beans. The jefa, Elena, grinds them perfectly  for the French press. The hustle and bustle increases as I cross the Plaza de Arma. A  clown is playing for a crowd. I walk the streets past yarn stores in the Ribbon district known as Rosas. It is most definitely my lucky day.  I discover a new bakery shop with everything from imported Swiss baking chocolate to mixers.


Last stop before heading home–Mercado Central. Donde Arturito is a gem of a cheese shop since they get gorgeous cheeses from all over Chile.  It blows me away that there’s no sense of appellations yet for these cheeses. The regional cheeses do vary: creamy manteocoso cheeses from Osorno; a feta-like cabra from Ovalle;  manchego-style from Concepción; queso fresco from Melipilla west of Santiago. Hmm, maybe as a cheese lover, I should start that movement.  I also procure country butter, jamón serrano, and a little pancetta. 


Clustered around the market are corredors packed with fish mongers hawking fresh congrio (conger eel), stone crabs, machas (razor clams), and dozens of other fish and shellfish. My favorite guys are Los Pochos. They’re my caseros. This endearing local term loosely can be translated to: good relationship means better prices and products. 

As I approach their stand,  the salmon glistens from 5 feet away. This level of freshness begs for raw. Tartare, sashimi, gravlax.  Hake from Patagonia for dinner. Razor clams for lunch.  As I watch my casero shucking clams and picking salmon bones from the fillets, I realize I have solved my daily (culinary) jigsaw puzzle. The amazing ingredients are totally inspiring me to create with them.  The meals are emerging naturally. Now the itch to cook. I think I am going to start with  Machas a la parmesana for lunch. And by the time my order is wrapped and ready to go, I had the menu laid out for dinner with friends on Tuesday night. Right on.



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