Sometimes things just taste good. And sometimes they taste better than they should because of the context. So arriving off a cold overnight bus from Argentina into Chile’s bewildering capital bus terminal (one of many, I later found, running full pelt to a different station miles down the road with a full backpack) calls for some special food.
It was about 6am, and the city was completely deserted. Not spookily so, but in a calm and slightly surreal way. Like some enchanted mist had settled – and strangely chilly for a city boasting an average heat of 30C.
It took me about twenty minutes to walk to the central market, which was lively by comparison, but only with staff setting up. I didn’t really expect to be able to get anything to eat, but soon found a likely looking place with chairs battered enough to suit my penchant for grubby eateries. No-one spoke English, but the signs were clear enough. Caldillo, in big letters, was basically the only thing they served.
Caldillo, for the uninitiated, is a hugely hearty fish soup-stew, complete with potatoes, cream, coriander and big hunks of eel. When you’re cold, tired and a little lost there is absolutely nothing better to eat. It’s hot, rich, comforting and the eel adds a far richer flavour and texture than other white fish.
It’s the kind of dish where everyone’s mother does it best, but in my opinion there is no better place than a little stall stuffed at the back of Mercado Central in Santiago.
The stalls double up as fishmongers and purveyors of stew, so even at 6am you can get a warming bowl. I took up a little plastic stool outside one of the fish sellers and within seconds had a rich bowl of amazing stew. Thick, creamy, delicious, and costing around $3. The perfect breakfast.