One of my favorite things to do when I travel in a foreign city, is to visit the central market. In the past I have presented markets in Austria, in Spain, in San Francisco, in Paris and in Athens. The main food market in a city says so much about people, their behavior and their habits. Besides, it is usually colorful, and many times you are tempted to buy something and munch on.
Well this time, the visit was interesting but I did not buy anything. I entered the market from a side door, directly into the flower shop. So my first impression was nice. Soon moving in, I got totally disappointed . Maybe a better choice of word is disgusted. The conditions the meats were displayed were unacceptable. Hanging in plain view with flies flirting with them, or gathered in small piles on the butcher benches. Peruvian people eat guinea pigs, alpacas and other animals we do not. Just the sight of their heads looking at you. will turn any traveler coming from the North off.
The fruit and vegetable department is really colorful and the bakery department smelled good. Big round loaves and yeast breads (resembling challah bread) in various shapes with decorations looked like offerings. A large area is featuring fast food eateries. Local people cook right there, on the spot and shoppers stop and buy food. They sit on square high white stools by the counters and eat. They all start with a soup that I could not tell what kind it was. But I was not at any instance tempted to try anything. Not even the fruit juices sitting in plastic buckets.
In the middle of the corridors where small streams of dirty waters were forming, women sitting on those heavy woolen rugs were peeling corn or potatoes. You would be amazed with the variety of corn products and potatoes in Peru. One woman was selling live frogs. She was sleeping on hel bench while the frogs were desperately trying to climb up a plastic container and were slipping back in.
I decided to buy some coca leaves and bring them home to make some tea. This I knew I would like. I approached an old lady with a hat sitting behind a table full of herbs. I put on my smile. I said ” buenos dias” , and asked her about coca leaves. Note that at that time I did not know what coca leaves looked like. She started showing me oregano, rosemary and other herbs. Coca, coca I kept saying. She pulls a plastic bag under her table with some herb, looking like green chamomile. Coca she says. Not knowing how coca leaves looked like I said, how much, soles? She started speaking her native tongue and she took the bags and hid them again. She did not sell me whatever that was. Eventually I figured out that these were not coca leaves and still I don’t know what they were.
In the front entrance area of the market, there are booths with alpaca knits, those cheap ones that they sell in all the tourist places in Cusco. Also, very often you see sewing machines where you can take clothes for repairs. You may buy fabric and yarn and maybe you can have these people sew something for you.
Exiting the market and heading towards the San Pedro plaza, tens of vendors approach you trying to sell, pictures (aquarellas) , jewelry and alpaca knits. This is happening everywhere in the city in a pace you cannot possibly imagine. I learned to say ” no gracias ” very quickly.
The visit to the San Pedro Central Market was without a doubt a great lesson of the culture of Cusco.