Santiago is not a city traditionally known for its cuisine. Empanadas and sopaipillas are all good and well, but if your taste buds no longer tingle at the thought of Santiago’s gastronomic offerings then it may be time to get out of the capital and discover the culinary delights of Valdivia.
Photo by Shawn Strange
Due to an influx of German immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century, most local establishments feature dishes not commonly found in other parts of Chile. Valdivia is chock-a-block with many fine dining establishments, but the best Valdivian cuisine can be found at Café Hausmann.
Photo courtesy of El Hausmann Valdivia
Just a block from the waterfront, the charming restaurant features excellent crudo, a steak tartar on toast sprinkled with onions and mayo (CP$1,600, or US$2.95). Each bite is scrumptious and filling, although the meat, cooked only in lemon juice, can initially seem somewhat unappealing. For less adventurous travelers, Café Hausmann also features numerous varieties of German küchen including flavors like blackberry and dulce de leche (CP$1,300 to CP$1,700).
Valdivian cuisine also reflects the city’s geographical location. It lies only a few miles from the Pacific coast at the intersection of several rivers, so it's no surprise that regional dishes feature seafood. While local chefs obviously can create masterpieces, travelers shouldn't rule out getting adventurous in the kitchen themselves, even if it's just for an excuse to visit the Feria Fluvial, the colorful food market that runs along the waterfront.
Photo by Shawn Strange
Valdivia's best-known market, the Feria Fluvial, is small but perfectly formed, with dozens of fisherman and farmers enthusiastically hawking their products. Its location is what really sets it apart from your bog-standard food market; being perched on the riverside, the seafood on offer is incredibly fresh, and to top it all off, it's cheap too. Vendors generally only charge about CP$1,500 for a large filet of hake or CP$500 for half a kilo of mussels.
While the excellent prices attract many customers, the market’s most celebrated guests only arrive for the fresh catch. A group of sea lions sits alongside the stalls begging for treats and preening for the amusement of both locals and tourists alike. Although surprisingly sedentary, their barking and flopping can amuse for hours and add a unique element to the shopping experience.
But now onto what is perhaps Valdivia's most famous export: its regional beer, Kunstmann. It's everywhere, almost every eatery offers the local brew. Those especially interested in Kuntsmann can hop on a bus to the La Cervecería Kunstmann, the beer's official brewery, which sits just a few kilometres outside of the city.
Even after spending several days in Valdivia, the local cuisine remains a refreshing break from Santiago’s greasy fare. However, any homesick travelers need not fear: like any Chilean city, Valdivia has plenty of street vendors for a quick empanada fix.
Bernardo O’Higgins 394, Valdivia
Monday to Saturday
Avenida Prat, Town Center, Valdivia
Monday to Sunday
La Cervecería Kunstmann
Ruta T-350 N0 950, Valdivia (5km on the road to Niebla, Isla Teja)