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One of the hours-or-so I liked best in Arequipa was going to the market. It was a bit of a goofy outing, since I didn’t have a kitchen, and was somewhat concerned about getting some travelers’ ick (which I got in spades, that very night, but it had nothing to do with eating anything at the market), but I love markets, ferias, fairs, etc, any place where you can go and talk to people about food. The market in Arequipa is just one manzana (square block), and I’m sure this is just the central one, and that there are more for people who live in the hills up above Arequipa or down below.

I won’t pretend I’m the first traveler to have ever seen what I saw there at the market, but maybe you’ve never been, or will forgive me repeating some of what you already know. I should have gone on a Saturday morning to get more of the feel of the bustle of the place. As it was, I was there on a sleepy afternoon (some of the sellers were, in fact, sleeping). I had lots of room to move around and people were generally pretty friendly, despite the fact that foreigners galore probably walk through their market on any given day. On this day it was just me though. Marvelling.

Like at the fact that in Peru there are many, many types of potatoes to be had. Where are all of these varieties of potatoes at our local market? And how much better would our potato dishes be if we had a special potato for each one?

And the olives! Why did no one tell me about the olives in Peru? We had olives with almost every meal, and I was happy to eat every one of them. I adore olives. Tasty and salty and perfect on top of papas a la huancaína, which I actually ate surprisingly little of.

And there were these, which I had a great conversation with the woman selling them about, which started with me asking what the name of the vegetable was that looked like a tongue. I asked if I could take a picture of the vegetables, and she said of course, then later asked to see the picture. I’m quite sure that she didn’t want to see the picture, just wanted to see it I’d lied and asked to take a picture of her and her gal pals. I had not. And I present the caihua/caigua. Which is apparently aslo called a stuffing cucumber.

And then there were the chaco people. Chaco is a soft rock (actually dried mud), which comes in chunks, and then they break up with a spoon and sell it in small bags for 1 or 2 soles. It’s good for gastritis, and is dissolved in hot water for consumption. It apparently tastes like a cross between flour and mud, which is not surprising, given that that’s what it is. Here’s a little boy helping his mom fill the bags. I asked if I could take a picture and they tried to pose him, but he wasn’t having it. Smart kid.

There was also lots of cheese, pictured behind these people. There’s a cheese that is pan fried and eaten that was delicious, but I’m not sure which it was. The cheese in Arequipa was generally fissured, crumbly, salty and squeaky. Double plus like.

And the dried frogs. How could you not take pictures of dried frogs? No word on what they were for, but are they ever not what’s on the menu where I’m from. They were in the food section, not the medicinal section (like the chaco), and I asked what they were for, and was told “for soup” but I had a moment of doubt. I definitely never saw dried frog soup on any menu, and they must travel from pretty far away, since Arequipa is too dry to support a lot of frogs. Sorry Kermit.

These sweet breads are called guaguas (babies). The head of made of plaster, and the woman who sold them had zero interest in talking to me about them, but I saw them later in a bakery (pricier), and they’re special for October and November and tasty. No word on what to do with the face once you’re done eating the baby. I’m supposing it’s not reused like the plastic baby in a king cake for Mardi Gras.

Do you stop in at the local market when you’re travelling? Which market should I absolutely without a doubt not miss?