Thursday, May 28, 2009

At the Tostaduria

A year or so ago I started missing some items not in my local supermarket:  caraway seeds (for rye bread), gluten flour (to help my multigrain breads), tomatillos (for Mexican salsa verde) and okra (for gumbo).  With help from members of the International Association of Chile I discovered tostadurias:  stores specializing in spices, herbs, grains, legumes, fruits, nuts, condiments, and so on.  They didn’t have tomatillos or okra – I’m still trying La Vega for those – but they seem to have most everything that one might want in dry and preserved foods. 
My favorite, and the one where I eventually found caraway seeds (comino aleman or kumen) is Susana Kuschnir Silva’s in La Vega, Santiago's large public market.
Photo, front to back, left to right:
Dried tomatoes
Peruvian chili pepper (Ají panca)
Spanish chili[1] (Ají guindilla)
Toasted sesame seeds
Green peppercorns
White sesame seeds
Brown rice
Dried mushrooms (callampas secas)
Toasted Chilean hazelnut (Avellano chileno)
Susana, here surrounded by vanillas, vinegars, soy sauce, mustards, chocolates, agar-agar, jams, oyster sauce, etc., speaks English and has great patience if you need help figuring out how to ask for dried blueberries, or bittersweet chocolate.  

There are also Worchester sauce (salsa inglesa), sweet chili sauce, Nutela, Lúcuma paste, peanut butter, mustards and catsups.

And front to back, left to right:

Raw peanuts
Wheat mote [2]
Instant oatmeal
Goat-horn chili (ají cacho de cabra)
Cacao hulls
Chilean palm (Jubaea chilensis) fruit
Vegetarian “meat” (soy protein)
Garbanzo beans
Orange lentils
Green beans
White beans

She also has:  quinoa, couscous, bulgur, oats, corn, barley, flax, gluten, dried cherries, dried blueberries, raisins, prunes, dry figs, dry peaches, black and yellow mustard seeds, shelled walnuts, almonds, merken, thyme, sage, chocolate covered orange peel, candied peanuts, anchovies, and of course, caraway seeds.  And much more.
It is all weighed to the gram, (by the young lady at right) sealed in plastic bags and priced fairly (and inexpensively, if you are accustomed to supermarket prices.)
Susana Kuschnir Silva
Artesanos 801, Recoleta, Santiago
Tel. 735-2810 or 737-7821


Click on map to enlarge

And if you find tomatillos or okra--bamiyah in Arabic, and something similar among Palestinian-Chileans—let me know.

[1] Chile (Capsicum spp.) varieties are notoriously variable, and their names are even more so.  I have no idea if ají guninilla has an English name, but guindilla is Iberian Spanish for chili pepper, hence “Spanish Chili.”
[2] Wheat kernels, cooked in alkaline water, stripped of hulls and dried.  


  1. Hi Jim,

    My name is Liz Caskey and I am food/wine/travel writer living in Chile now (almost 10 years) and owner of Liz Caskey Culinary & Wine Experiences ( I am regular goer of the Vega and you can get fresh okra here in February-March. The stand is in the back towards the car entrance off Davila. The man, Antonio, has a wonderful stand of obviously Middle Eastern veggies and also gets native potatoes from Chiloé, tiny zucchini, perfumed arab cucumbers, and some native wild herbs like dandelion in the spring. You will have to freeze or pickle the okra.

    As for tomatillos, I have a Mexican casero who grows them for salsa verde. He won't sell them but he makes amazing Mexican food (brought all the seeds for chilis, etc. from Mexico) and the best corn tortillas. Drop me a line if you are interested. he only delivers.

    You can also get a ton of great stuff, like gluten powder, at a new store in Providencia on Andres de Fuenzalida (in front of Drug store) called Organisk. they have raw milk! hallelujah.

    Check out my blog when you get a chance: Eat Wine. It's on food, wine, culture, and life in South America:

    All the best. Buen provecho,

    Liz Caskey

  2. Thanks, Liz… I had hopes that my plea for okra and tomatillos would find a knowledgeable reader. I’ll scout out Antonio’s puesto next time I go to La Vega and will contact you about your source for comida Mexicana. And after a glance at your blog, I look forward to spending some time reading it.

    And I’m glad to know about your tours… they sound like a great resource for my foodie friends.

    Best wishes -

  3. I am growing both okra & tomatillos in my garden this summer. The tomatillos did great last year, and so far the okra is growing, abet more slowly than i expected. If they grow here, i would assume they would grow there too. Maybe next winter (summer)? I can mail you some seeds if you would like.
    love, c

  4. Ah Celina, wonderful idea but Chilean customs allows no seeds, plants, fruits, meats, cheese, honey, or other potential hosts to agricultural pests into the country. We’ll have to eat them there when I come to visit.

    Love - Dad

  5. Hi Jim-
    I've seen okra at La Vega on occasion, although unfortunately I couldn't tell you the name of the stand! At la Vega it's always a case of Seek and ye shall find!

  6. Thanks Margaret. Next Jan. and Feb. I’ll be exploring the far corners of La Vega to find it. Meanwhile, I’m off to Gringolandia for my son’s wedding and with luck, a big pot of okra gumbo. And the new edition of your book; will it be out soon?



Sorry, no more anonymous posts. I was getting too much spam. Email me (see my profile) if you would like to comment and have no account. Jim