How I love visiting markets in foreign countries! It's like a glimpse into the way the locals shop, eat, cook and really helps you understand their culture's perceptions around food. Do they use the whole animal or mostly prime cuts? Do the vendors want you to sample and try things you've never seen or are they more reserved and focused primarily on the business aspect of their stall? Are there fully prepared foods to eat or is it just an ingredient marketplace? You can learn and understand so much from one quick stroll!
The San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru is no different...it's like you can feel the pulse of the city as you explore row after row of fresh produce, just squeezed juices, handmade scarves and wares, freshly cut meats, handcrafted cheeses and breads and brimming bowls of just made Peruvian soups. If it wasn't for Christian I would spend a full day at this place, but at the very least let's take a quick tour:
The produce at the San Pedro Market is incredible! Each row you walk down smells of another sweet, intoxicating smell so finally we gave in and tried Sweet Passion Fruit for the first time, which is shown above. We immediately fell in love with this new fruit...you can read more in my post all about the sweet passion fruit.
Beyond produce there is an amazing array of freshly baked breads, artisan cheeses and of course the staples of the Peruvian diet; corn, potatoes and coca leaves! Coca leaves have a similar effect as caffeine but more mild. You can chew them directly (kind of like chewing tobacco) or have them as tea, candies...the options are pretty limitless. I'm not 100% sure that they actually helped our altitude sickness but if nothing else they certainly had a nice placebo effect on us!
In addition to all of the great food there are also quite a few rows of goods to buy. Some are cooking related but others are simply local trinkets or clothes. As you can see here a lot of the clothes are actually made by the women selling them right at the market...pretty amazing to see these beautiful old sewing machines in action.
As you near the back, less frequented corner of the San Pedro Market beware...it's not for the squeamish. The wonderful thing about most other countries is that they truly appreciate and use every inch of the animal that has given its life to feed them. And I mean every inch. So at markets like this you often encounter interesting items like (clockwise from top left) the full head of a cow, guinea pigs, ox testicles and intestines, a pig's head and alpaca jerky. While these may be unfamiliar to most I would encourage you to try what the locals eat whenever you get the chance....for my experiences eating guinea pig while in Peru check out my post here.
So wherever you're heading on your next trip make sure to do a little research beforehand to figure out where and when the local markets take place. In my opinion, no visit to a new city is complete without a market visit if you want to get an authentic sense of place. Happy exploring!