By Karen Snider Leiva
So beloved is Chile’s congrio (conger eel), that even famed poet Pablo Neruda wrote about it in a poem called Oda al Caldillo de Congrio. To taste congrio soup is to know heaven, he said.
I got my first glimpse of congrio at the historic Central Market in Santiago, Chile. The market first
opened in Santiago in 1872 and is now touted as one of the largest in the world. Sipping mote con
huesillio, a drink of peaches and barley, I strolled past stalls of newly-picked grapes and fresh
strawberries, so rich in colour and mouth-wateringly sweet, before entering the hall to the market’s
famed seafood market.
While fish mongers were hawking their catch of the day, locals were shopping for their weekend
barbecues and tourists snapping photos of striking mounds of seafood, including the conger eel. It
didn’t appear heavenly; ugly, long, and thin with razor sharp teeth.
I got to sample congrio at a nearby restaurant, frequented by locals and famed for unexpected guest
appearances by celebrity musicians. Sitting near the bar amongst a mish-mash of Chilean art and black- and-white photos from celebrities of the 1950s, the server first brought a pitcher of clery – a mix of white wine, sugar and strawberries.
The eel was served in a traditional tomato- and potato- based soup. When stewed, it is a hearty white
meat with a mild flavor. The soup is a simple, but delicious, broth spiced with coriander, garlic, bay
leaves and pepper. The secret to its flavor is that the spine of the eel gives the broth its flavor.
It is, indeed, as heavenly as Neruda boasted.