Santiago Fish Markets, Chile
You smell it before you see it. But I suppose that’s often the case with fish markets.
There’s something about the smell of thousands of dead sea creatures that should be off-putting but actually just makes you crave a good meal.
The fish market in Santiago had been described to me as a must-visit place. Normally a recommendation like that can go one of two ways – it’s either a highlight or a complete tourist trap.
Strangely enough, this fell right in the middle.
The locals call it Mercado Central and early in the mornings it is their domain. Chile is famous for its fish and this is where the top restaurateurs come before dawn to reel in their catch of the day.
It’s much later, after the best specimens are gone and the new haul is placed onto the icy trays that the tourists start to wander in.
The alleys of fish merchants open up into a large restaurant area in the centre of the market. Around the edges are smaller places to eat, with much cheaper prices.
This is the domain of the tourists. The waiters call out to you and try to tempt you into their establishments.
“The freshest fish in the market!”
“Cheapest meals are here!”
“I can do a special deal for the two of you!”
Although there’s a rivalry, I had been told by a local expert that the entire market and all the restaurants are actually owned by the same person and the chefs tend to rotate through the different kitchens.
I’m not sure how accurate that is, but there certainly didn’t seem to be too much pressure to choose a particular place. It was almost a game for the touts.
It’s not just about the meals, though. The commerce is a sight in itself.
Amongst the stalls selling a seemingly ocean’s worth of fish, tanks hold live animals that swim merrily, unaware of their fate.
Apron-clad merchants wield their knifes as they slice through their wares. Fish, oysters, mussels, and more are thrown onto scales, weighed, bagged and taken off by customers.
Hoses are constantly cleaning the floors as patrons jump out of the way of the splash.
Perhaps the fish market is a tourist trap. Perhaps it’s just a view into Santiago life that is popular with tourists.
Either way, it’s a bit fishy…