Peruvian Market Stories
Visiting the local market is one of the best ways to get the pulse on a location. It can also be the source of the most memorable experiences. We visit markets everywhere we go. When we were in Corfu, Greece during a cruise stop, we had a couple of hours to spare so we found ourselves “window shopping” at the seafood market.
Markets are often not the plot of travel stories. They are not even the main setting. Rather, they add texture to travel experiences. One of the reasons I love visiting markets, especially when I’m traveling, is how they add texture to my memories of places and make them even more unforgettable.
The following is a collection of small stories taking place in markets throughout Peru. I’ll go ahead and say—nothing riveting happens in any of the stories. This is just a collection of the small moments of human connection that take place when there are no barcodes, just a lot of humans bumping into each other as they exchange currency for sustenance.
These stories are admittedly small, but they are the stories that emerge periodically when I look at a map of places I’ve been or when I’m using a particular ingredient in the kitchen.
Surquillo Market, Lima
Surquillo market was the first market in Peru I got to know. The first time I visited Surquillo, I didn’t even go inside. Instead, we visited the food stalls on the outside. Surquillo Market, Number 2 eventually became a regular stop for me every time I visited Lima.
Even though it would generally be years between visits, one particular ceviche vendor started recognizing me. As soon as she saw me, she would pull up a chair for me and thurst a menu into my hand.
At some point, I wanted to research the other ceviche spots in the market for my guidebook. I feared that she would take offense if I didn’t eat at her restaurant so I ended up devising a plot where I would take another entrance. The other spot was not nearly as good. The next time, I used the main entrance and ordered my customary lunch at her spot.
Since the pandemic, she no longer remembers me. I sometimes wonder if I’ve aged that much or the fact that I now visit Surquillo with Mariela. Or the fact that I usually don’t come with my camera anymore. I’ve also since branched out to ceviche spots surrounding the market.
Cayma Market, Arequipa
An oft-quoted fact is that Peru has five thousand varieties of potatoes. The quoted number varies from one thousand to five thousand, dependent on the exuberance of the person doing the quoting. Early into my investigation of Peruvian food, I wanted to better understand the differences between each type of potato so I headed to a small market in the neighborhood of the Airbnb where I was staying and bought a few of every type of potato the vendor sold.
Paola and Tom, the hosts of the Airbnb I stayed at, helped me translate and helped me with the tasting. We went back to the apartment and cooked every type of potato. I took meticulous notes about the appearance, textures, and taste of all of the different types of potatoes and recorded all of the info in a spreadsheet. Nothing ever happened with the spreadsheet, but I at least proved to myself that the different types of potatoes are indeed different.
They should definitely offer more potato tastings alongside the pisco tastings in Peru …
In Huanchaco, Mariela and I would wake up each day and find that her mother already left the house. After a couple of days, we realized that just days after her first-ever plane ride, Señora Lorenza had already established a morning routine in Huanchaco, a town that she had never before visited. She walked to the market by herself every morning and by the time we got up, she already had her favorite local breakfast order of fried fish.
Chiclayo’s market was pretty bare-bones. What made the market memorable was that there was a group of friends enjoying ceviche a large bowl of ceviche together. They noticed me taking photos and called me over to talk to them.
After we exchanged a few pleasantries, they extended a spoon and invited me to take a bite of the ceviche. It would be impolite to refuse so I had a taste, ignoring the flies buzzing nearby.
Belén Market, Iquitos
Belén Market was the market that I traveled the longest distance to experience. I featured Belén market in one of my rcent posts.
I was warned several times not to visit the market by myself. There were a couple of spots in the market that seemed slightly questionable. Overall, I was struck by how kind and open the vendors were. Here are some of the portraits that didn’t quite fit my original post. This was years before I started learning portrait techniques.
San Pedro Market, Cusco
I don’t love San Pedro Market. It’s chaotic and it’s one of those places that I feel like you’re bound to get ripped off. However, it’s one of those places you must go at least once.
San Pedro is also a favorite among video bloggers. My friend, Daryl, and I also featured it in one of the videos we made in Cusco. Rather than focusing on the “bizarre” things that are sold at San Pedro as most of the YouTube videos do, we try to show what it’s like to actually shop there.
Yes, that’s me haggling over the price of a handful of potatoes …
For everyday shopping in Cusco, I much prefer Wanchaq market in Cusco. Much calmer.
More Market Stories
I have many more small market stories to share. I think that my market stories from places outside of Peru are more interesting. Also, for whatever reason, I feel that I’ve taken better market photos outside of Peru. I hope to one day find a good venue for these other stories and photos.
Please post in the comments if you have any memorable market experiences during your travels.