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In Santiago, Chile, Searching For A Drink That Makes You Weak At The Knees


NPR's Phil Reeves went to a historic market in Santiago, Chile, in search of a significant stiff - a signature stiff drink. He found it, and he sent us this audio postcard.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: There is in the middle of Santiago a little gem. This is it. It's the Mercado Central, or Central Market. This is the place to come when you want to eat fish. I'm also here for another reason. I want to experience an Earthquake - more about that in a minute.

The Mercado Central has a beautiful 19th century cast iron roof like a giant lantern. The pieces for this structure were made in Britain. The roof dates back to the Industrial Revolution. Beneath that iron roof these days are cafes and restaurants. Customers are tucking into crab and clams and salmon and bowls of fish head soup. There are stalls selling sea urchins, octopus, conger eels and lots of other delicacies gleaned from Chile's two and a half thousand-mile coastline. It's a cold winter afternoon. There's no heating here. People are dining in coats and woolly hats.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing in Spanish).

REEVES: I'm listening to a singer who's dressed as if she's about to go trekking in the nearby Andes Mountains. Some of them are drinking Chilean white wine even though it's as cold as they are. I'm here, though, to sample another drink. I first heard about the Earthquake, or Terremoto, as it's known here, from a Chilean friend. My friend said it's a fearsome drink and that young people love it. At night, they down Earthquakes in bars around the market and then spend the next morning devouring seafood to get rid of the hangover, he said. I immediately wanted to try one.

Chile has had many actual earthquakes. Why, I wondered, would this country give a drink a name like that? I eventually find an Earthquake on sale here in a down-at-heel bar close to the market. It's a fermented wine called pipeno with a dash of grenadine and a big blob of pineapple ice cream on top. A Chilean barman apparently invented this concoction to slake the thirst of some visiting foreign journalists on a particularly hot day in the 1980s. The drink got its name because it made their knees wobble.

It's easy to see why. The Earthquake comes in a huge glass. It's very sweet, which means it slides down all too easily. After a couple of these, don't worry about your knees. This drink blows the mind. Now that I've recovered, I have some advice. If you're visiting Santiago, do go to the Mercado Central. It's a little gem. But stick to drinking white wine in your coat and hat. Philip Reeves, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS JOSS' "DRINK ME HOT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.