I thought no other market in the world could beat the Chinatown markets across the globe or the food markets in the metropoles of Southeast Asia. Then, I came to Peru…
… where going to a market means, even at times of a Covid state emergency, the chance to obtain hundreds of types of veggies and fruits of various seasons (as Peru includes the high altitudes of the Andes as well as the ever so hot Amazonian jungle), some of which can only be obtained in Peru, such as yacón, locally farmed meat, eggs, legume, honey, herbs, various medicinal treatment in line with the shamanic tradition, incense and other prayer and worship items, flowers and even some basic clothes. On top of that, you can get your knifes sharpened, shoes repaired, clothes tailored and lids for pots repaired as well as other kitchen items.
To me, especially during the time of the current state emergency, when seven regions, including Ancash, where I am living, are still in quarantine, going to the one and only big market in Nuevo Chimbote is something like Sunday church going. I dress all nice, especially on Saturday mornings (as it is the time when my partner goes with me and as it is pretty likely we will encounter our friends, Vanessa and Arturo, doing their weekly shopping there too), put on a cool handcrafted face mask, which has been an obligatory accessory for the last four months, and off we set for the adventure.
One hour later, you could see me carrying a plate of eggs worth 14 soles the size of each is literally that of a half of my palm (and yes, they do have two bright yellow yolks though they had not been genetically modified), a bag of 25 quail eggs worth 3 soles, a bunch of flowers (usually three roses and some meadow flowers amongst) worth 5 soles, as well as two kilograms of dog and cat food (yes, for the street babes) worth 6 soles, and my partner carrying about 8 kilograms of various veggies (including fresh turmeric, yucca, cucurbita moschata, various kinds of corn, asparagus, leaf spinach, a part of a massive pumpkin which the sellers cut in front of your eyes, huge avocadoes – seriously at least the size of a hand and a half of mine, etc.) worth circa 40 soles, and about 5 kilograms of fruits (including lucuma, soursop, papaya, pine apple, various berries – also gooseberry, i.e. physalis peruviana, pitaya – dragon fruit, and three types of bananas: the common type to eat, the big ones to fry, and the tiny baby ones, oritos, which I love for their sweet taste) worth circa 35 soles. Once we leave all the things in the car, we go back to the market to choose our reward for the shopping task fulfilled: a half a litre or a litre of fresh juice (worth approximately 4 to 8 soles).
My favourite side dish is potatoes and rice (yeah, no too keen on pasta or bread) and this country happens to be one of the biggest producers of high-quality rice and the agriculture of approximately four and a half thousands of potatoes which actually originate in the wild Andes of Peru (near the shore of Lake Titicaca)! This worldwide treasure crop is a star in the Peruvian cuisine of which it has been a part for more than 10, 000 years. The Incas have allegedly been the first to cultivate potatoes up in the Andes, at about 3,800 m above sea level.
The Peruvian potatoes come in every shape and colour, including blue, yellow, red, pink and even bright purple! The markets in every town and village overflow with fascinating potato varieties (of which there are more than 4, 000), so you can always try out a different type – and most probably, you won´t be disappointed by the taste.
In Lima, you can find International Potato Centre, founded in 1971, a research-for-development organization with a focus on potato, sweet potato and Andean roots and tubers (such as yacón – see below). It delivers innovative science-based solutions to enhance access to affordable nutritious food. The headquarters in Lima has a research presence in more than 20 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The country even celebrates the National Potato Day, annually on 30 May.
Yacón, Genomic Heritage and Biopiracy
The history allowed it that potatoes were brought to other parts of the American continent as well as other continents. The same is true e.g. about yacón, the Peruvian ground apple (possibly named so due to the French name of potatoes in general: pomme de terre = ground apple), a delicious tuber which is composed mostly of water and fructooligosaccharide. The honey made of it (which looks and tastes a lot like molasses) might be one of the best things you will ever try out.
Yacón is connected with the religious beliefs of earlier Incas. In the Moche era, it was used on special occasions such as burials where it served as a nourishment of the dead as well as offerings to the lords of the other world. Moche depicted yacón on their ceramics too.
Now, those of you who follow the Netflix series Down to Earth by Zac Efron and Darin Olien might have heard that the planting of yacón outside of Peru is an illegal act of bio piracy, as it is a part of the genomic Peruvian heritage.
The truth is that the plant occurs naturally also in the Andes of Colombia and Argentina, and can be found also in other climates with only gentle frosts, such as Kathmandu in Nepal, Southern Australia (incl. Tasmania) and New Zealand.
The plant was introduced to Japan in the late 1980s (also thanks to the fact that Japan and Peru have been having good relationship thanks to president Alberto Fujimori), and from there, its cultivation spread to other Asian countries, notably South Korea, China, and the Philippines, and is now widely available in markets in those countries. Yacón has also recently been introduced into farmers’ markets and natural food stores in the United States and United Kingdom.
The Healing Power of Maca
Another plant native to Peru is maca, which grows in central Peru in the high plateaus of the Andes Mountains. It has been cultivated as a vegetable crop in this area for at least 3000 years. Maca is a relative of the radish and has an odour similar to butterscotch. Its root is used to make various kinds of medicine.
However, whatever you have heard in the Western world about maca powder and its help in weight reduction or gain is nt essentially the truth. Maca can help you gain energy but if you exercise, you burn it easily. On the other hand, it will barely give you enough energy to make you feel like you have to exercise – and thus lose weight.
Maca does, however, help the growth of hair!
In the traditional Peruvian medicine, maca is commonly used to enhance fertility and sex drive! Yes, cheers to another aphrodisiac!
Bread and Bakeries
Bread in Peru is available in various forms and shapes and tastes, salted or sweet, in every bigger or frequented street (where it is sold by street vendors, being stored in a huge wicker basket, covered with a linen) as well as at the markets, where you can usually find a bakery (panadería).
You usually buy bread “for one sol” which would be a mix of approximately six pieces of bread, e.g. four buns and two cinnamon rolls. If you want to buy a dessert, postres, like alfajores, you usually pay a sol for each piece in a bakery – but in Moro, a village in Provincia Santa, these delicious desserts are huge, one can easily feed two people, and their price is higher, about four soles each.
Virgilio Martínez Véliz
He is not only young, handsome and amazingly good at skateboarding, he is also the country´s top chef, having his Michelin Star flagship restaurant, Central, in Lima.
What is so special about his restaurant? Each dish is prepared solely from ingredients of one altitude in Peru, so locally grown and well-balanced…
Marie Claire magazine has called him “the new star of Lima’s gastro sky“. On April 29, 2013, Central, entered as number 50 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants as awarded by the British magazine Restaurant. In 2014, Central jumped to number 15, winning the “Highest Climber” award, and later that year was named Best Restaurant in Latin America.
Now – would you know where this guy does the food shopping for his restaurant mostly? Yes, that´s right: at the local markets in Lima…