South American Market: Penanolen, Santiago, Chile

Last weekend, I joined my sister-in-law and nephew on a trip to a local Sunday market in Peñanolen. It was overcast and humid but not overly hot. I was thankful for this later as I discovered just how packed the market would become during the scant time we were there.

As we drove up to the market, I could see that the whole area was thronged with multitudes of shoppers, pulling their woven and canvas carts along behind them as they crossed the busy street. We circled the block, driving up onto sidewalks to let cars pass us in the other direction, before Luz settled on one side of the busy avenue and waited for one of the curb watchers to signal an opening up ahead. Luz parked expertly along the curb and tipped the man who wore a bright yellow traffic vest. He nodded and then averted his eyes to the rush of traffic once more.

Armed with my grocery bag to carry any victory spoils and my camera, I was set to explore…

The market became progressively more and more crowded. I walked a circuit following the tented stalls, beginning on the main road where we had parked and turning onto a side street that led into a maze of smaller streets packed with vendors of every type.

Oodles of fresh fruit and vegetables were in abundance. Everything astonishingly inexpensive. For some perspective, a Kilo of cherries is roughly 2 pounds, costing anywhere from $0.80 to $1.50.

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Because of the constant movement and flux of the crowds, I ended up capturing lot of folks going about their business.

Cherimoyas are a pretty damn delicious fruit found in Chile and other tropical or Mediterranean climates. Originally thought to be native to central America, these fruits can now be found across the globe in Northern Africa, Hawaii, and South America, and Southern Europe. Once you peel the bumpy green skin, you’ll find a tender white meat inside that is sweet and delicate. Cherimoyas are peppered with round black seeds the size of a penny. It is also known as a “custard apple.” They are terrific on their own but in Chile you often find desserts and drinks made with these.

Fast food! These bags contain everything you need to get a rich vegetable broth brewing on your stove-top. As you can see, there is a variety of cut veggie combos to choose from. You can make anything from caldillo to sauerkraut or salad with these handy prepped bags.

Pretty anything you can get at a supermarket, you can find in the Sunday market…and then some. That head cheese sure looks tasty.

Manuel’s stall contains almost every kitchen utensil or implement you might someday find yourself needing. He happily posed for a picture with his wares once I told him where I was from.

Because the dog had chewed up the last one, Luz was in need of a new bathtub plug.

From one of my favorite stalls. I can’t get enough out of cloth goods and sewing supplies. I purchased several sheets of felt from this shop to make my daughter’s doll a new dress.

Wheels! Anyone need a new wheel? This guy’s got 84,000 of varying sizes and colors.

Javier sold pet supplies with his sons.

These adorable little ducks milled about in constant motion within their little cage, nipping at the bars if you got too close.

The back streets looked more like a series of garage sales with wares spread across blankets or plastic bags. Having seen pickers digging through the trash on a regular basis around the city, I wouldn’t doubt if some of these vendors were selling someone else’s refuse.

Imagine the oddities and treasure hidden in some of these stalls? In particular, I liked the way this vendor had displayed these creepy dolls.

These ladies were selling fresh sopapillas and empanadas. Chilean sopapillas are very unlike the Mexican variety that most Americans are familiar with. Given the choice, I’d take a Chilean one over a Mexican one, any day. Chilean sopapillas are savory yellow discs made of zapallo dough. Zapallo is the common squash used in numerous Chilean dishes. It’s texture and flavor are most akin to the acorn squash.

While the dough is made at home, the tasty little rounds are deep fried right before your eyes in a bubbling cauldron of oil. A variety of condiments are available to slather on top, my preference being yellow mustard or pebre – a Chilean version of salsa. Whenever I pass a sopapilla stand, uou can pretty much count on me buying a couple to eat as I go wherever it is I’m going.

Empanadas are made at home and kept warm or warmed up for the customer in little portable ovens or braziers.

A variety of side dishes and ceviches. Personally, I love those big bowls!

Battered fish and pressed empanadas are fried in this deep pan for dripping hot eats.

On weekends and holidays, you can find similar, if smaller, markets in many parks. My favorite type of vendors are those that sell artesanials – or handmade products like gredas (clay pots and dishes), sweaters and ponchos, tooled leather accessories, twine-knotted jewelry, or wooden carvings. On this trip, I did not spot any of these.

I met my sister-in-law and nephew back at the car roughly a half hour later with my sheets of felt and a heavy bag of ripe strawberries for munching and many colorful photos.

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