5 foods you’ve never tasted – Eating in Chile

Chilean Farmer’s Markets

Farmer’s market – mercado o feria en Chile

All throughout the country every town has a farmer’s market twice a week. They are typically about 5 blocks long which pretty much means the nearby roads are closed for at least half of the day. If you live near one, you do your weekly shopping here for your entire household. These markets sell everything, everything from shoes to fish. Since you grow up going to these “ferias” you start getting to know the sellers by name and you also know where certain foods are or where to get the detergent for example, just like at a supermarket. All you have to remember is which street it’s on.

Fish market – mercado de pescado Chile

I never really enjoyed going to these “ferias” growing up, especially when we had to go get the fish. It was so stinky that I always felt like throwing up. It was my parents’ most important shopping trip of course, because in Chile you have an immense variety of fresh fish and shellfish. Eating in Chile is actually quite unique because it is the country with the largest variety of seafood in the world. So let me tell you how much we love the seafood in Chile!!

Valparaiso Chile – Coastal Living

Carina & Ryan in Valparaiso

If you’re eating seafood in Chile, at some point you’ll go to Valparaiso. Valparaiso is one of the biggest ports in Chile and, in many of its surrounding coasts, fishermen catch a variety of sea life that has become part of the typical Chilean cuisine. Things you cannot find anywhere else in the world.

1. Piure – Pyura Chilensis

Piure – Pyura chilensis

Every time I visit Valparaiso, I go to the street markets and buy “piure” which, in English, is apparently called Pyura chilensis. A very funny name, I know! When I went to college and met other hispanic friends, I asked them where I could find these kinds of food and they had no idea what a “piure” was… except my beloved Peruvian friends! I was so excited to learn that they also eat this delicacy in their country. There’s no place it can possibly be found in the United States though. What’s the big deal about piure? It’s one of the unique dishes of Chile and similar to eating a sea urchin, except with a stronger flavour and maybe a little more bitter. In Chile, they eat it raw with chopped onions and cilantro and they dress it with olive oil, lemon and salt. I absolutely love it! Even though it looks absolutely disgusting…

2. Machas – Chilean Razor Clams

Machas a la Parmesana

Not all seafood looks this disgusting. Ryan’s favourite dish is “machas a la parmesana” which is a saltwater clam native to Chile. Apparently they translate to chilean razor clams. It is a simple dish, yet very delicious. You simply open the clam, wash it, put it back in its shell, put parmesan cheese on top of it and you place it in the oven. Absolutely amazing! They usually serve them as appetisers and we always got them whenever we go out to eat somewhere. Oh and something typical about restaurants in Chile, (especially sea food restaurants) they always serve fresh, warm bread to eat with butter and “pebre” which is a less spicy – slightly more finely chopped version of pico de gallo, yum!

3. Pastel de Jaiba – Chilean crab cake?

Pastel de Jaiba – Chilean Crab Cake (kind of)

In the middle of Valparaiso there’s a place called “mercado central” (central market) where you find several local restaurants that sell local seafood. One of my favourite entrées is called “pastel de jaiba” which literally translates to “crab cake” but it’s not at all like what you’re thinking of.

The word “pastel” is used for many dishes that don’t resemble a cake at all… actually I’m not sure why they use this term 🤷. Maybe “pastel” (cake) just became synonymous with something delicious, like in “pastel de choclo”, “pastel de papa” and of course “pastel de jaiba”. In a nutshell, all of these dishes follow the same pattern: a protein base such as meat, chicken or both, or crab meat in this case topped with a kind of carb like corn or potatoes. They are all creamy, and they are all authentically served in the same charcoal dish they are prepared in. Amazing!

But pastel de jaiba is more than a pastel, it’s a combination of flavours that come together perfectly into a beautiful presentation that will give you the most beautiful naps after eating them. They say sea food is an aphrodisiac, I’d say more like a knockout.

4. Locos – Chilean Abalone

Locos mayo

We went to a seafood restaurant with my sister and Ryan ordered my sister’s favourite dish which is called “locos”. Some of the names of Chilean food are (literally) crazy and this one actually means crazy in the Mapudungun language, which is the native language of the Mapuche people native to Chile. The locos are an edible sea snail… gross? Not at all! Think of a more delicious, less chewy abalone. These things are amazing and delicious! They just boil them and serve them  with mayonnaise. No need to add any other dressing. Most people accompany this dish with potatoes and a salad. You can find locos in most seafood restaurants. Sometimes they’re also served as appetisers.

Ceviche (a la chilena)

Chilean Ceviche

Ceviche is a dish that is eaten in the United States and in many other countries. In Chile the ceviche can take many forms because people prepare it differently. Some people will just have shellfish and others, like my dad, will add fish, such as “reineta” which literally translates to queenfish.

5. Reineta – Chilean Native Fish


Oh yes, the variety of fish that’s eaten there is also vast. The official name of “reineta” is Brama chilensis. It is native to the South of Chile and is quite tender, without a strong flavour, and can be cooked in many ways but it always turns out delicious! It doesn’t cost much and it became Ryan’s favourite fish. You can always buy it fresh so you’re guaranteed a great meal every time. The nice thing about fish in general is that it can be cooked in a short period of time and you pretty much only need lemons, butter or oil, garlic and oregano nearby to make a great marinade for many varieties of fish.

I have many friends that don’t like fish. At. All. And some of them are allergic to some kinds of fish or all of them. We had an interesting/scary experience with Ryan a few years ago while living there.

In the more accommodated areas or even in the centre of the cities, people do their shopping in Supermarkets just as you would in the US. Hence, if you want to buy fish, you can find the same kinds as you would from the “ferias” I mentioned earlier, but they would most likely be sold in the freezer section for safety reasons. We lived a block away from a Supermarket so we did our shopping for food there. We would always buy fish and cook it at home. We love ahi tuna and albacore stakes and we got them often.

A Scary Story – Eating in Chile

One night we went to buy tuna and the next day I prepared it as I usually did. It turned out perfect and we all ate it for lunch. Since Ryan likes it so much, he had a huge piece. While eating it, he started noticing his tongue was feeling a little itchy and bumpy so he commented on how the fish was kind of strong. Soon after, he turned red and he had a sudden headache. He thought if he showered he would feel better. After the shower, his entire body was red, almost purple and the veins on his head were popping out. His tongue was back to normal but now his heart rate was racing. I called my uncle, our family physician, to see what he recommended. After describing Ryan’s symptoms, he told me to take him immediately to the hospital because he was poisoned.

We took an Uber to the nearest hospital and they admitted him in under 10 min. They administered some adrenaline and other IV medication and in a matter of minutes his skin colour came back to normal. After an hour or so under observation, they released him and we walked home as if nothing had happened.

After doing our research, we found out that Ryan had experienced histamine toxicity due to improper handling or refrigeration storage of the fish. Since we shopped at night, it had been sitting in the display window for a while as well. So we recommend always buying fish early in the day to be more certain that it’s fresh and properly refrigerated. The supermarket took full responsibility and refunded all the money we spent for the fish and at the hospital.

After an experience like that, you would probably not want to eat fish again, but this was not the case and we have continued eating all sorts of different seafood down there. We never had a problem and all the venues are clean and well maintained.

A Funny Story – Eating in Chile

When you’re eating in Chile, you can have delicious, healthy and varied seafood at low cost. The most popular fish you eat there is “merluza”. Imagine this – So you’re getting ready for bed at night, about 10 o’clock, and in the distance you hear what sounds like an old-school mayor drumming up votes by driving around with a megaphone on his 1970s station wagon. “Is that the TV??” No, it keeps saying the same thing. It gets closer. “La Reineta la Reineta, la pescada!” Wait, what?? We go outside. A guy is driving around selling fish from his car with a megaphone at 10pm at night!? I wish you could hear how this guy sounded because it was so funny and so contagious that my kids would imitate him all the time! We are never going to forget that guy… even though we never met him personally.

In the colourful streets of Valparaiso, there are walls that hide the delicious flavours of the Chilean cuisine. You don’t need much money or to dress up for the occasion. Valparaiso is a unique place. This video shows a little bit of what the hills look like in this coastal city, with its picturesque houses and streets full of dogs. Valparaiso is part of UNESCO and we love how in such a small place, you feel like you can see and do so much all day and all night.

I have the fondest memories of cultural events and music from the streets of Valparaiso. Everything from eating seafood at the markets to taking the train to the beach and coming back by bus. To this day Valparaiso maintains its cultural past through the poetry of Pablo Neruda and the culinary arts, inspiration for all those who visit this unique place. The jewel of the Pacific is a very fitting name for this place.

Valparaiso Chile

Ode to Valparaiso by Pablo Neruda 

(translated by Hermitina)


what an absurdity

you are,

how crazy:

a crazy port.

What a head

of disheveled


that you never finish



did you have

time to dress yourself,

and always

you were surprised

by life.

Death woke you up,

in your nightshirt,

in your long johns

fringed with colors,


with a name

tattooed on your stomach,

and with a hat.

The earthquake caught you,

and you ran


you broke your fingernails.

The waters and the stones

the sidewalks,

the sea,

the night,

all were shaken.

You slept

on the ground,


from your navigation,

and the furious


lifted its waves

more tempestuous

than a marine gale.

The dust

covered up

your eyes.

The flames

burned your shoes.

The solid houses

of the bankers


like injured whales,

while above,

the houses of the poor


into the void

like imprisoned


who test their wings

and fall to the ground.




you forget

about your tears.

You return

to hanging your dwellings,

to painting doors


and windows


You transform

everything into a boat.

You are

the patched-up prow

of a small



The foamy crown

of the tempest.

Your ropes that sing

and the ocean light

that makes the shirts

and flags tremble

with your indestructible swaying.



you are

from far away.

In the height of the coast

you shine

and soon

you surrender

your hidden fire.

The rocking

of your muffled alleys,

the uninhibitedness

of your movement,

the clarity

of your seamanship.

Here I conclude

this ode,


so little

like a destitute



raggedly in your windows


in the wind

of the ocean,


with all

the sorrows

of your land,


the dew

of the seas, the kiss

of the wide irritable ocean

that with all its strength

beats against your stones.

It couldn’t

knock you down,

because within your southern chest

are tattooed:




and happiness

like anchors

that withstand

the waves of the earth.