Food markets are always fascinating places and make lovely, quirky corners to visit in a new town. Castro – the capital of Chiloé, a mythical archipelago in Chile’s south – has some of my favourites. While this marketplace is small and surely not the most beautiful in Chile, it wins major points for the variety of wacky produce and handicrafts on display.
Walk on in and one of the first things you’ll notice are the choritos ahumados – strings of smoked, dried Patagonian mussels. These are a little odd on the eyes at first, looking and smelling alarmingly like fishy little dried aliens. But add them to a seafood stew or for flavour to a winter soup, and you’ve got a winner…
Little Chilean grandmas abound, surrounded woolen socks, scarves, vests, slippers, hand-woven wickerwork baskets, hen’s eggs and fresh lumps of white goat’s cheese.
Other store owners stack almud (wooden boxes used traditionally as a measurement) filled with native chilote potatoes. Further down the road, the fishmongers lay out glossy salmon, róbalo and corvina (sea bass) for sale.
If you’re lucky, they’ll smoke you a mussel to try. If you’re unlucky (!), one of them will convince you to taste raw piure in all its salty, fish-egg-textured glory. (Warning: it tastes exactly as it looks.)
In Chiloé? There’s no excuse not to eat well. Instead of dodging expensive deals at restaurants and eating the eternal backpacker’s meal of bread-and-cheese, take a moment to visit Castro’s markets, pick up a couple of bags of produce, have a chat with a granny, and cook up an entirely more mouth-watering meal…