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Chile touts 'world's best' -- and weirdest -- seafood

April 13, 1996
Web posted at: 11:45 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Ronnie Lovler

Chilean seafood

SANTIAGO, Chile (CNN) -- Along the coast of Chile, you can buy seafood that resembles creatures from another planet, with names that are just as strange. The shellfish and mollusks, with untranslatable monikers like piure and picorocco, are among the seafood exotica hawked in Santiago.

"We are the owners of the world's best seafood. Everyone says so. The Japanese, Italians, from the United States, everywhere," said Augusto Vasquez, who owns a restaurant in Santiago.

Chile's Nobel prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda thought so -- he once wrote an ode to a Chilean fish chowder. Other diners may be hard pressed to express themselves as well, but they certainly are capable of enjoying what they eat as much.

Stange seafood

In the capital, the century-old Central Market is the place to shop for seafood delights, from commonplace treats like sea bass and shrimp to the unusual mollusks known as machas, or a grumpy-looking critter popularly known as "vieja," or "old fish."

But on the weekend, many people also come to eat here, jamming into one of the many restaurants that are packed into the market along with the fish stalls.

A lot of what people are eating here comes from the waters off the islands of Chiloe, in Southern Chile, about 800 miles from the capital. Every day, fishing boats go out to troll the waters here.

Chile filmstrip

Closer to shore, divers plunge into the deep to look for clams, with their air hoses connected, like umbilical cords, to compressor tanks above. And after a day of hard work, fishermen often consume some of their catch right on the boat.

Not all Chilean seafood comes naturally. Salmon didn't exist in Chile a few decades ago. Now salmon farms abound in the area; Chile is the world's second largest producer of salmon after Norway. And Chileans are learning to eat salmon.

Oysters

Oysters are also cultivated here -- spending years in the oyster beds before being served on the half shell to guarantee full flavor.

"Chilean oysters grow slowly, and to be at an optimum state for consumption, they need to be raised for at least four years," said oyster farmer Raul Molina.

Whether Chile's seafood has the best flavor is a matter of opinion, but it is certain that Chile's seafood offerings are among the world's most varied. The country's 3,000 miles of Pacific coastline provide ample breeding grounds for maritime treats to satisfy most any craving.


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