South American street food summons images of fried delights like empanadas, sopaipillas,and churros filled with dulce de leche. Though you can easily find these delicious fatty snacks on the streets of Santiago de Chile, if you are on the lookout, there are healthy alternatives hidden in the nooks and crannies about town too.
Santiago is a forward-thinking city that has a bike-share system and has an international influence to its cuisine. In el centro, during the morning frenzy of rush hour, fresh-squeezed juice is readily available. From fancier stands to simple shopping carts filled with oranges and pomegranates adorned with chopping boards and metal fruit juicers—the entrepreneurial spirit is flourishing on the streets. The fresh juice in the morning is a godsend of anti-oxidants or vitamin C. If you are like me, and enjoy a light breakfast, many stands also offer chopped fruit and yogurt, a perfect start to the day for a gal (or fellow) on the go.
On the corner of Miraflores and Moneda I encountered a smiling young man by the name of Angelo with a cheery sign attached to his backpack offering broccoli ‘burgers’ or chicken sandwiches. Angelo’s vegan substitute for the ever-popular meat and bread combo is steamed broccoli cooked down with oregano and onion and shaped into a patty. It’s then topped off with cucumber and tomato and is a simple sandwich that fills you up without weighing you down. Paired with a box of juice for just over 2 bucks it’s a good midday vegan option. In a land that is a veritable cornucopia of carnivorous dishes (of which I delve into on a regular basis), I was surprised by the appearance of vegan soy burgers or broccoli burgers such as Angelo’s. Sometimes it’s nice to graze on greens and take a break from the straight meat diet that appears to be the go-to nature down here.
At night amongst the eclectic electronics, cheap socks, and mystery discount Snickers bars displayed on blankets surrounding the Santa Lucia metro stop; I spotted sushi for sale from a cooler. Chileans have a steadily growing love of sushi. I swear I see a new sushi restaurant come out of the woodwork every other week. With the abundance of Pacific fish and the influence of Peruvian ceviche, seafood has long been a staple in the Santiaguinos diet. Now, eating raw fish off the street might seem a gamble, however I saw the same girl, in the same spot with repeat customers on a weekly basis. So, I figured it was safe enough. Although a bit rice heavy, lacking an ample amount of ginger and forgoing wasabi, the sushi was fresh and delicious. For under 3 bucks for 16 pieces the price was right, and my stomach was safe.
On Saturdays, little markets pop up around the city with hand made jewelry, one-of-a-kind clothing, artisanal baked goods and fruit preserves. On a sunny afternoon in Bellas Artes I walked past the bustling coffee houses and boutique bookshops when I stumbled upon a quaint square with one of these welcoming markets located on Esmerelda between Mac Iver and San Antonio. I wondered past chic stalls in the shade of a Spanish Colonial building; nestled at the back I found some truly scrumptious bread. It was tempting to bypass the preservative-free homemade bread and dive head first directly into the kuchen (a traditional German-influenced desert pie that has been adopted by Chileans as one of their own), or the glistening lemon meringue—but I was on the hunt for healthier food. The baker of Dulce Antojo was sweet as can be as she informed me of her beautiful baked treats. The loaf of chia seed bread that I bought worked as a perfect teatime treat. I brought it home and toasted up some thick slices. It paired harmoniously topped off with some local honey that I got from a friend and accompanied by a cup of yerba mate.
At the edge of a market selling some cool ponchos, boots, handbags or tourist crap like key chains with Chilean flags on them, sits a little café that sells super-yummy fruit smoothies, soy burgers, sandwiches and oatmeal cookies. London Café is situated on the main street of Bernard O’Higgins (or as locals refer to it, Alemeda). Here you can sit on a stool, order a wheat grass shot and if the timing is right, have a front row seat to a good old-fashioned South American protest. Protesters gather on what seems a weekly basis to contest educational costs or whatever else might be the current hot topic of unrest. The protests are generally peaceful and interesting to watch as an outsider. But, I recommend moving on your merry way if the police riot vans show up to hose off the activists and set off unpleasant gas bombs to dissipate the crowds.
Farther down Alemeda close to La Moneda Palace (Chile’s equivalent to the White House) is a seed, nut and dried fruit stand by the name of Semillas de Bandera. Here you can stock up on pumpkin, chia or poppy seeds, and trail mix style snacks. You can even become more informed about the perks of chowing down on food of this nature as they have helpful signs describing in detail the health benefits of their products.
At the back of La Vega, the central market for produce, meat, cheese and an array of whatever else you might need is a delightful stand of dried fruits and nuts and mixes of granola. The display is an aesthetically pleasing wooden wheel, stocked with piles of international no sugar added, dried delicacies. The stars of the show in my opinion are the dried cactus flowers from Mexico and the local camote (a kind of sweet potato that boasts a flavor akin to brown sugar). The owner Yanitza Riffo and her husband hand pick the supply and built the unique stand together. Riffo informed me that she studied cooking for years and is well versed in the medicinal values of the fruits and nuts as well. She creates blends with flavor and healing properties in mind.
Santiago’s Willy-Wonka-esque parade of tastes and bursts of color is a great place to stock up on some exotic nosh before heading off for a walk up Cerro San Cristobal (a serene and panoramic hilltop park in the center of the city). In a city with serious smog issues, doing what you can to put nutritious stuff into your body is helpful way to feel healthier.