Two years ago when I discovered the Bioferia in Parque Reducto I was very impressed. A completely different demographic shop at the expensive market instead of the Mercado Surquillo or Central. A large percentage of the customers are foreigners, a lot of hippies that you don’t see much of except in very specific restaurants or areas (Barranco, for example), and well-off Miraflores families. This is not a market for the everyman or woman. When a single avocado costs 7 soles (a little less than $3) but costs maybe 2 soles (less than a dollar) at other markets, and tastes about the same, it’s hard to sell the general population on the value of organics.
Returning two years later, I find the market is much the same. It’s a sight for sore eyes and sore Lima bellies (too much MSG and unclean water in these parts). So I’ve gone a couple of times since arriving, but when I went to Surco the other day for the Sunday Bioferia market in the park by the Caminos de Incas and Benevides, I found it didn’t exist anymore! A little dismayed, I headed to the Mercado Surquillo to buy some non-organic fruit and vegetables instead, but lo and behold, the organic market had a line of stalls set up outside in the pathway! So the organic market was now competing directly with the standard market! I didn’t buy that 7 soles avocado, mind you, and my favourite vendor (Chef Enrique Vera DuBois from organic vegetarian restaurant, Almazen) wasn’t there, but it was still great to see beautiful organics smack in the middle of a dirty, though awe-inspiring marketplace of exotic fruit, meat, fish and nuts and spices. Note: Don’t buy the olives on the top of the buckets in the main Surquillo market. The vendors touch them all with their unclean fingers – every single one – to place them in a nice pattern for you. Dig deep. The brine will sterilize the lower ones a fair bit.
Unofficial List of Vendors
1. The woman who ignores me when I try to buy her shelling peas. For approximately 5 minutes every time, she will not give me the time of day, then she suddenly acknowledges my existence. Sometimes she’s serving someone else (slowly), but most often she’s doing nothing but not helping me. Efficient she is not. But after 5 minutes, suddenly I’m a person worth selling to – and her peas are very good, fortunately.
2. The nuns. I love these women (and girls) selling yellow or green tamales heavy with fat and chicken and cheese, or sweet versions with manjar blanco (sugar and sweetened condensed milk). I can’t eat them, and they’re probably made the traditional way with lots of lard, so even if they’re dairy-free I wouldn’t eat them (they’re all gluten-free), but I encourage others to do so in my stead.
3. The organic cotton sellers. Two years ago they sold me a pillow case they swore would help people with allergies sleep better, which is importnat in dust, mold and pollution-heavy Lima. I don’t know if it worked because I gave it away as a gift, but they still sell really cute organic cotton baby clothes and t-shirts for everyone else. they’re so soft and come in a lot of colours, and for the quality they’re completely worth the Astronomical (for Lima) price.
4. Honeys – There are two honey vendors at the market. One sells a honey that’s a mix of the creamy version and bee pollen. It has a very unique taste with a little acidity before the melting sweetness.
5. Another vendor, La Chita de la Perla and Eco Fields, sells the Algorrabina molasses-type syrup, along with my favourite lucuma powder, mesquite powder maca, and other super foods.
6. There’s an Asian vendor who makes his own soy sauce (gluten-free! Naturally fermented, so there’s sediment on top! But it’s 17 soles a bottle…), miso, beans, flours and sprouts. I like what he stands for and if I was rich I would buy more from him.
7. There’s a guy who makes wheatgrass juice fresh with a hand-cranked juicer. Grass goes in, juice comes out. He also sells a selection of sprouts and a dehydrated nut and sprouts bread that’s as dense as they come. It’s delicious, however. Unfortunately it’s made with sprouted wheat, which I didn’t realize, and ended up with a fair bit of indigestion, gluten-free person that I am.
8. There’s a fresh herb vendor that sells huacatay. I’m not talking about the one with the greens that are wilting and the vendor tries to sell them to me anyway. I’m talking about the one with the selection of lemon balm, oregano, cilantro (culantro), and a selection of other things I don’t recognize. The basil here is different too. I ask what things are, but the words mean nothing to me. Huacatay, I figured out, is used in a few traditional dishes including as a sauce for chicken blended with this crazy jungle tomato that you blanch and a yellow aji amarillo chili pepper, plus some milk and queso fresco – fresh cheese. I skipped the latter two and added some salt and Bob’s my uncle. It’s bitter, this green, and pungent…and addictive. I’m currently enjoying it with boiled and mashed potatoes. A Limeno friend makes fun of me for this, but he doesn’t like chili peppers (in the land of chili peppers) so we’re even.
9. Almazen!!! Chef Enrique and his staff are on hand serving up squares of potato casserole with spinach and tomato, stuffed Mediterranean eggplant with quinoa, sweet potatoes and the sweetest cherry tomatoes; he bakes instead of frying with stuffed potatoes and yucca (the yucca is better) with lentils, carrots and onions and a salsa criollo with pickled onions; made-to-order fajitas with hummus or pesto; quinoa tamales; cheese and onion quiche, stuffed peppers with cheese; and eggplant lasagna.
Yes, you can make tamales with quinoa. In fact you can make a lot of things with quinoa as it turns out, from savouries to sweets.
From the left, moving clockwise below: Stuffed baked potatoes with, I think, corn meal for texture on the outside. the inside was lentils and potatoes and carrots and vegetarian comfort.
And here’s what I ordered and split with a friend for 30 soles (the baked potato and yucca were 5 each and the casserole and eggplant were 10. The first two were definitely worth the price. The others were delicious, and worth trying, but I wouldn’t spend the money on them again. A fine lunch for 15 soles. From top left moving clockwise: Potato casserole with spinach and tomatoes, stuffed baked yucca with pckled onions and cilantro and chili pepper salsa criollo (yucca is sweeter than potato. This snack was so addictive, stuffed with lentils and a slightly different filling than the potato), stuffed eggplant with kale, lentils, sweet potatoes and a ton of olive oil, and stuffed baked potato.
And don’t dare skip the (often) gluten-free, and (more often) dairy-free desserts: Chocolate fudge and orange muffins with algarrobo (molasses-like syrup), chocolate quinoa cake (a bit dry and wonderfully bitter from the dark chocolate), quinoa mango jelly roll with cashew cream, apple strudel, apple crisp, gorgeous raspberry tart, chocolate mousse cake, and strawberry cream pie (the strawberries here are incredible right now – like wild fraises du bois). Wash it down with a complimentary glass of homemade emoliente (macerated fruit strained to juice) sweetened with agave.
These all look amazing, and are made with love, but I don’t think Chef Enrique has a real Limenan sweet tooth, since he definitely under-sweetens everything intentionally. Some of these sweets aren’t as delicious as their inspirations. For example, the fruit are high quality and are gorgeously presented, but the quinoa flour is bitter in the crusts and cakes, and the cashew cream in the mango jelly roll and dairy-free custard made with agar-agar in the strawberry pie leaves your tongue hungry for flavour.
I couldn’t try the apple crisp but it looked amazing. The strudel is no where near as delicate as a traditional apple strudel with phyllo, but it’s probably a lot healthier for you here.