Chile has an enviable coastline: almost 4,000 miles of clean, cool waters nurturing some of the best seafood on Earth. And it’s something people of all walks of life eat quite a bit of here. While the very freshest seafood is often eaten on the coast, in the nearby cities of Valparaíso, and Viña del Mar (and up the cost towards Reñaca and beyond), the hour-and-a-half it has to travel from the ocean to Santiago means we still get very fresh seafood around these parts.
Image: Claudio Palomo
Before you go out for seafood in Santiago (or anywhere in Chile), you’re going to want to do some quick vocabulary building. Here’s a list of seafood dishes you’re likely to find on a menu here, with translations to English.
- Almejas– clams
- Camarones– shrimp
- Centolla– king crab
- Choritos– clams
- Chorito zapato– giant clams
- Erizos– urchins
- Jaiba– crab
- Machas- razor clams
- Locos– a type of abalone
- Ostiones– scallops
- Ostras- oysters
- Picoroco- giant barnacle
- Piure– red sea squirt
Image: Cristián Santana B
The most common seafood starters are machas a la parmesana (razor clams broiled with cheese on top, usually finished with a few drops of alcohol), or locos mayo (abalone on a plate with a hearty dollop of mayonnaise). You can also get camarones al pil pil (shrimp in an oil-based dressing with hot peppers and garlic). These are usually shared.
If you’d like to get a taste of everything all wrapped up in one, you should choose a paila marina: a large greda (terracotta) bowl filled with a large variety of seafood , complete with their shells. If shells aren’t your thing, pick a mariscal caliente, which is a large greda bowl filled with seafood and broth, served hot. You can also get the same collection of seafood served cold, in a mariscal frío.
Other popular, hearty plates include chupes (a thick, bread-fortified bisque) and pasteles, which are usually creamier. Each one comes in its own bowl, and serves one.
Aside from what to eat, you’ll also want to know where to go. Not surprisingly, some of the best seafood is in the markets in the various seaside towns. Look for a place brimming with locals at lunchtime (from about 1:30 PM and on), for a good bet. Seaside restaurants all along the litoral central (central coast) just a couple of hours from Santiago also serve some fabulous meals, with every Chilean family having their favorite. The caleta (fishing quay) at Quintay fills up on weekends, but then so do most other seafood restaurants along the coast.
Here in Santiago, we have the Mercado Central, for an “authentic” (tourist-friendly) feel and fast dishes amid roving musical performances and general chaos. If you want something even more down-home, cross the river to the Vega and pull up a chair at one of the many comedores (food stalls) there.
But maybe you’ve had enough of roughly shaken out tablecloths and down-home eating experiences, and you want to try out something fancier, more refined. Several top restaurants either specialize in, or make a point of doing, very good preparations of seafood. Below are some of our top picks.
- Puerto Fuy, in Vitacura is considered a world-class restaurant with excellent seafood. They tend towards more elegant preparations, such as ceviches and pasta stuffed with seafood, but they prepare some more traditional dishes as well.
- Astrid y Gastón, in Providencia is another world-class restaurant, this being the Santiago location of a small but wildly-popular multi-site restaurant that started in Peru. Here you can expect dishes with gigantic prawns, and other top-quality seafood with balanced sauces and an excellent wine list.
- Aquí Está Coco, also in Providencia brings the best seafood to Santiago and then prepares it very, very well. There are fussier dishes like trout stuffed with lobster, but they don’t miss a beat with the local specialties, even using the picoroco (giant barnacle) to whip up a tasty sauce.
There are many other restaurants to choose from for seafood in Santiago. For a longer (but by no means exhaustive) list, check out our top 10 list for seafood restaurants.