If you’re coming to Santiago, everyone will tell you to go to the central market to have lunch. Fair enough. It’s tourist-friendly (and tourist-priced), you get to sit in a large, bustling pretend market and possibly have an accordion player amble through while you’re eating your lunch. But if you really want to get to know where Santiaguinos shop, head a touch further to the north, across the river, and enter La Vega.
La Vega has essentially three main parts, which are (from the river into Recoleta), Tirso de Molina, a modern structure whose roof is said to evoke the leafy canopy of the forest, then comes the Vega Chica, and finally, La Vega Central.
Inside you will find food of every description, from fruit and vegetables and mushrooms to fish (they eyes pointing out at the aisles mean they’re the freshest), to cuts of meat you may not eat in your home country. That folded white furry-looking piece? That’s guatitas, or cow’s stomach.
Many people start to worry that they shouldn’t enter La Vega, that it’s not tourist-safe. It is true that it’s a bustly place, and easy to get pickpocketed, but it’s also a very rich view into how and where Santiaguinos actually shop. Keep your eye out for hot round red peppers and purple corn, for these vendors are Peruvian, though they blend seamlessly into the rest. Push carts are everywhere, so keep an eye on kids (and yourself). Keep your eye out, walk slowly, ask questions and keep your hands on your fancy possessions, and you’re sure to have a great time.
How to get there
Access: Take the green line metro to Bellas Artes and walk several blocks north, or take the yellow line either to Cal Y Canto (on the mercado central side), or to (my favorite), Patronato. If you get out at Patronato, walk to the left exit and from there, take a left directly into the Vega central.