George Bernard Shaw once said that there is no sincerer love than the love of food. While he was likely referencing the enjoyment we receive when partaking of food, the sentiment is even more apt when applied to the production of food: the growing of vegetables, the sorting of grains, the preparation of dishes. To learn how Cusco lives and loves, you only need to visit its most popular market, where locals have gathered since the time of the Incas (when it was just an open field) to sell and procure items for their daily needs. It’s a bustling atmosphere offering products and flavors that are exotic to foreign eyes; and unlike other popular sights and attractions you’ll see in and around Cusco, the San Pedro Market offers a glimpse of the true face of Cusco.
You can peruse stalls packed high with vibrant fruits and local products. Just the local selection of the country’s many potato varieties is fascinating. (Our own favorite is the olluco, with its telltale yellow skin and fuschia dots- perfect when stewed with dried alpaca!) The meat section, not for the timid, offers everything from pig heads and cow tongues to guinea pigs and live frogs.
Those on a tight budget can buy lunch in the market, which is a great cultural experience although the food is rather plain compared to what a restaurant can offer. There are plenty of humble options from chicken stew to beans to fried fish. (You are, however, advised to avoid the salads, as vegetables not washed in treated water can upset travelers’ stomachs.) If you are in the market around breakfast time, don’t miss the popular Peruvian breakfast drink of quinoa and apple. Or, if you’re planning a trek, you can stop by the market to stock up on local breads or other snacks.
At the very least, try a fruit juice or smoothie, or sample unknown fruits like the lúcuma and the guanabana- it’s a delicious way to learn more about the area! If you’re interested in preparing some coca tea to mitigate the symptoms of slight altitude sickness, you can purchase loose leaves at the San Pedro Market.
Textiles and other artisanal crafts are also sold, though, as in any of the country’s market, you should haggle. There are even certain goods sold for pre-Columbian Andean rituals such as payments to the Pachamama (Mother Earth). If you spot a dried llama fetus, that’s what it’s for…