We started the day in the heart of Santiago. Our guide and chef for the day was waiting for us outside of the “Mercado Central” or Central Market. Francisco or “Pancho” as he like to be called, began the day with a brief history lesson on Chile and its relationship with food. We listened intently as he described how Chilean cuisine had been influenced by a number of different cultures from around the world. The Mapuches, a race of people indigenous to Chile, fought off a Peruvian / Incan invasion about 500 years ago, but liked the Incans food so much that they decided to keep a number of their dishes. Additionally, the country also benefited from an Italian, Spanish and British influence, with items such as tea, basil, tomatoes and zucchinis grown throughout.
But the main focus of the Mercado Central was fish. Since Chiles coastline runs for about 2500 miles, seafood is a staple diet for most of its residents.
Following Francisco, we navigated our way around the sights and smells of a hundred different fish stalls. The aromas were intense as the vendors placed mussels, crabs, eels, scallops and various other seafood under our noses.
At one of the stalls, Francisco stopped for a few moments and animatedly explained a local delicacy; Conga Soup. Grabbing a huge white fish from the ice, he told us how the famous poet, Pablo Neruda, loved this white eel soupy stew so much that he penned an ode to it! Chileans were huge fans of the dish and Francisco insisted that we try it during our time in his country. Unfortunately, it wasn’t on todays menu, but perhaps one to try in the future.
About 40 minutes or so of walking around the fish market we headed over to La Vega Central, which specialised in fruits, vegetables and nuts. The market was originally placed alongside the Mercado Central, but was forced to move to a bigger location due to its popularity. Everything could be found here; ridiculously huge pumpkins, scorching hot chillis, delicious avocados and freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. But our favourite were the sweets; huge drums full to the brim of chocolate peanuts, raisins and truffles! Its safe to say that we indulged in these, picking up a massive bag for just over £1.
Shopping complete, we hailed a cab and crossed town to Franciscos cooking school, Savouring Chile. The building itself was elegant with had a huge open plan kitchen. All that shopping had made us thirsty, so first things first we needed a drink! Francisco taught us how to make a Chilean favourite, Pisco Sours and then passed us the bottle so that we could have a go. It was so much fun and tasted incredible!
From there, we were treated to Sopaipillas and Pebre, a type small fried bread entree accompanied with a spicy tomato salsa. It was so delicious that Ben went back for seconds!
We were all getting on well, so Francisco popped open a beautiful crisp bottle of sparkling wine. After a couple of glasses and with the bubbles going straight to our heads, we were then taught how to create sea bass ceviche with a passion fruit jus. An incredible dish with absolutely stunning flavours.
The main course consisted of porotos granados, an authentic Chilean bean and corn stew. Relatively simple, the dish took only a few minutes to prepare. Through teary eyes, we tried to copy Franciscos exemplary knife skills but instead ended up hacking away at bits of onion. Chopping complete, Francisco opened another bottle whilst we added the ingredients into a large cooking pot. These were left to simmer away whilst we prepared the desert , leche asada de coco, a coconut milk flan. Of course we just had to drink yet another wine!
With all the cooking now complete, the course gradually came to an end, but not before cracking open another bottle of red and a good chat. Francisco was a fantastic host, charismatic, cultured, passionate and well travelled. We loved hearing stories of how he had worked as a chef on a cruise ship and how he planned to learn Chinese!
All in all, the day lasted around six and a half hours and we loved every minute! At $95 per person, Savouring Chiles’ cooking course offers fantastic value for money and great fun! They really do offer the best cooking class and wine tasting in Santiago and we would 100% recommend them if you would like to improve your cooking skills whilst away.