Pick a Picada!

If you really want to eat and drink like a Chilean when visiting Santiago, you must first get to grips with the “picadas” — sometimes referred to as “fuentes de soda.”

Small establishments which serve food and drink, with space for people to dine on the premises, the picada distinguishes itself from standard restaurants mainly through price. If you want to guarantee a large helping on your plate, but you’re on a low budget, then it’s best to dine at a picada.

Some of the best Chilean dishes to try include perníl (a special cut of pork made into a large, tasty sandwich), arrollado de huaso (a roll of pork meat, stuffed with herbs and seasoning), or lengua (sliced cow’s tongue). Django, Alonso de Ovalle 871, is particularly good if you want to try a tasty dish of huevos revueltos con longaniza (scrambled eggs and sausage) as a late breakfast or for lunch. Rincón de los Canallas, Tarapacá 810, is the perfect picada for a slap up meal of porrotos granados (bean stew) at dinner time. The preferred picada speciality of the late Chilean president, Salvador Allende, was cazuela (a kind of beef stew, made with stock, beef, potatoes and other root vegetables). One of the tastiest cazuelas in the city is served at Las Tejas San Diego, San Diego 236.

As well as being value for money, the picada is also famous for its worn-down, no-frills look. Picadas provide traditional Chilean dishes to a working class crowd.  The picada doesn’t pride itself on how it looks and regulars are more interested in eating something hot and tasty — they want large portions, quick service, and a cheap bill. Don’t be surprised to find yourself dining with paint falling from the walls, furniture which doesn’t match, and plastic cups. 

But there’s a side to the picadas which we haven’t yet mentioned. They’re also the perfect boozing ground. Chileans like to drink. There’s no doubt about it. They’re up there with the best of them from countries like Germany and the UK. The term, “guachaca”—  a Chilean modernism which was first associated with vulgar behavior, or with people who lacked class — is  also used to describe someone who likes to drink perhaps a little too much. 

Some of Santiago’s picadas, late at night, are the perfect breeding ground for “guachacas” and can get quite raucous during the evening hours. La Piojera, Aillavilú 1030, is one such example of a jam-packed, lively picada which can get a little racey when the sun goes down. Naturally, there’s more to La Piojera than a happy crowd of boozers. Like any picada, it lacks pretensions and oozes lots of natural charm — mainly because the furniture doesn’t match and you can always find someone interesting to talk with at length. It’s a place where locals and foreigners meet every single day, sharing their different stories whilst knocking back a drink or two in the process.

If you’re going to visit La Piojera on a weekday evening from 6pm onwards, be sure to fall in line with the locals and order a “terremoto” (earthquake). A potent mixture of red wine, fernet and pineapple ice-cream, the terremoto shouldn’t be taken lightly. A couple of these bad boys and you’ll be jumping around, with a blurred vision to contend with, just like everyone else.

Although seemingly quieter than La Piojera on the surface, other picadas in the city are home to another crowd of tipsy regulars. Like the English pub, the Chilean picada is the perfect, daily spot for lone drinkers or life-long friends.

So what are you waiting for? Find the closest picada on the map, grab a table and make your order. Have fun with your first terremoto!

About the Author: Tracey Chandler is press and publicity manager for The Santiago Times and has worked as a freelance writer in Latin America since 2009. Originally from London, she left the UK in 2008 and has lived in Venezuela, Argentina, and Chile. She has written for over 15 different blogs/online magazines on subjects relating to Latin American travel and lifestyle. Contact her directly via tracey@santiagotimes.cl with ideas for possible long-term partnerships and/or creative projects.