SANTIAGO - We know that Chilean writer and Nobel Prize for Literature laureate Pablo Neruda (1904–1973) was a serious gourmet – something that his considerable girth attested to. So it’s no surprise if among his many poems there’s also an Ode to Conger Chowder.
The conger – a giant eel called congrio in Chile – is, unlike the European conger eel, not a fatty, soft fish, but has a lovely white filet with a semi-firm consistency. Congrio is thus better suited to making a hearty fish soup with, something that it is possible to do if one follows the instructions the poet gave in his 1954 ode.
And that very fish soup is listed on the menu – as paila marina – of Ostras Azocar, the renowned restaurant located a few blocks behind La Moneda, Santiago's presidential palace. The restaurant is also the best-known oyster bar in Chile’s capital.
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"Paila marina" - Photo: Constanza
Ostras Azocar opened in 1945 and was faithfully rebuilt according to the original plans after a fire some 40 years ago -- so guests still have the feeling of being in the old, traditional eatery.
An evening there begins at the oyster bar. It is at the back where there are not only oysters but also lobsters in a huge water tank. Here, guests can chuck oysters from Chiloé, the largest island in the southern part of the country.
Surf clams and mussels
Genuine Chilean oysters are somewhat smaller than French oysters, but many a real oyster connoisseur will tell you that they are significantly tastier. For lovers of fish and seafood, the Chilean coastline is a dream come true.
It goes without saying that oysters are served with white wine – Chilean white wine, of course. Later, at the table, it’s worth taking a look at the wine list: Chile always produced good white wines, but in the past couple of decades the country set between the Andes and the sea has developed into a producer of some of the best white wines in the world.
And these white wines are a good match for other items on the menu. Like the machas a la parmesana, surf clams baked in the oven with grated cheese; ostiones al pil-pil, scallops in spicy garlic chili sauce; choritos al perejil, mussels in wine and parsley sauce; or pastel de jaibas, a baked casserole based on crab meat.
The menu includes everything that can be fished in the Pacific off those 4,000 kilometers of Chilean coast: crabs, mussels, sea urchin, shrimp, fish. And of course conger.