I’ve been putting off writing this, because every time I look at the photos of this market in the north part of the city of Lima I want to cry. Editing them was very difficult for me. I see mangoes and I can taste their juices. I see heaping piles of dark purple yams and I salivate. I see a huge wall of watermelons and my jaw still drops in awe.
Clockwise from top left, avocadoes and mangoes; all avocados; heaps of giant pineapples; mangoes green beans and a view of a market lane with sheets hanging above stalls and reusable thick plastic bags for lugging around your purchases. All prices are in kilos (ex: fuerte avocados on the top left are 3.50 soles per kilo – a little less than $1.50 a pound. Mangoes are 1 sol per kilo – about $.40…per kilo, not each…)
This is a giant wholesale market about an hour north of downtown Lima. It’s still Lima, but very much not what tourists think of as the capital city. I went with a student of my percussion duet partner who lives in the area. He took me on a tour of the market, explaining to the vendors that I was Canadian and wanted to take pictures. They obviously knew I was a foreigner, since I was the only gringa there in a market of Peruvians. This is enough reason to justify my nosiness, apparently – my being foreign. Most vendors were friendly enough, though not exactly enthusiastic. But the student spoke fast and didn’t wait to get a ‘no’ before telling me to snap away.
Tons and tons of potatoes. Clockwise from top left: all yams and sweet potatoes (purples, orange and yellow). Yams and sweet potatoes are different. Next: More sweet potatoes and yams, but different kinds – not my favourite Japanese purple ones that taste like dessert because of their high starch and sugar content. They’re just lying on the dirty ground of the market here. By the way, Lima has around 3000 kinds of potatoes! About 50 of these were at the market. Not many, when you consider how many there could be, but still a lot. Imagine 50 kinds of potatoes in a North American grocery store…it’d be the whole store! Next:”wirapasna arenosa” potatoes, amarilla, huayro moro, amarilla peruanita, and huamchtanga (?) huayro moro; more potatoes: amarillo ambo, yungay arenosa, perichola, all between $.40 and $1 a kilo…)
Grains, lentils, flours, and corn. Everything from chickpeas and white beans to quinoa, flax seeds and ground kiwicha flour. Next: Dried white choclo corn ad yellow toasted corn; more potatoes; more potatoes.
That’s all corn. Reminds me of Wisconsin in summer, but dirtier. Those giant things that look like watermelon but have yellow insides are giant squash. They’re used for stews and soups. Next: All potatoes. Just so, so may potatoes…Next: Green beans, green apples like crabapples, and something sort of like caihua, which is sort of like a mild green pepper mixed with a zucchini. They’re steamed and stuffed usually. Next: Beautiful mangoes (papaya varieties. I don’t know what that means but they’re incredibly sweet and juicy, and incredibly cheap). Next: chamomile (the ones with the white flowers) and huacatay leaves (black mint), avocadoes and green hot chilies. Finally, coca leaves. Tons and tons of giant coca leaves for chewing.
Gorgeous mangoes; mamey fruit (they’re not very acidic – mostly starchy and a little sweet), and next to them are small yellow mangoes. The small ones have a petroleum taste around the skins and aren’t as sweet and juicy as the larger ones like the mango-papaya for 80 soles a kilo ($.32/kilo). Next: a view of the market lane with a ton of bananas in the middle (Peru has jungle, yes, so that’s where the tropical fruit mostly comes from if not from the lush river valley in the middle of the desert terrain). Finally, giant papaya with the bad parts cut out (also so you can see the colour of the flesh. It should be bright rose and smell a little funky – like sugar just starting to ferment with something bitter).
Grenadillas (what we use to make grenadine syrup for cocktails. Inside the tough shell are these slimy bitter seeds covered in a placenta-like grey slime that’s so delicious. For the syrup you need to remove the seeds, but when people eat the fruit they often eat the seeds too because it’s next to impossible to remove them easily. Next: Aguaymato (gooseberry, but not like the ones we know. You peel them from their papery wrappings (the skins) and they’re a little like super sweet cherries with a little bit of a bitter aftertaste, which just makes you want more to get that sweetness back. Also i the picture with the aguaymanto are fruits that look like persimmons mixd with yellow peppers that are mildly sweet and somewhere between crunchy and soft, and ripe green mangoes. Again there’s that petroleum flavour to the mangoes with less sugar than my juice heavy favourites.
The chili peppers! The orange ones are ironically called “aji amarillo” (yellow chili peppers), and they’re medium hot, while the reds are rocoto and are fiery hot. In the next photo the oranges mixed with yellows and greens are all aji amarillo, but they’re picked at different stages of ripeness, giving them a different flavour but probably the same amount of heat. I like the photo on the bottom left with the woman seeming to hide the peppers in her bag, like they’re a secret she only shares with a lucky few. In Peru chilies are used in everything. Most restaurants will have a selection of two or three salsas on the table made from puréed peppers, salt and oil (and often crackers or dairy to thicken). They also stuff large hot peppers with meat and cheese, and blend them into rice and stew and soup and sauces…basically everything.
Caged rabbits, guinea pigs, chicken, and hens. This area of the market stank. It was hard to walk through there. There are definitely some hygiene issues, and some of the cages are pretty crowded. But if you want fresh guinea pig for your cuy picante (guinea pig stew), it’s a better option than the ones I saw let out of a bag to run around at the Gamarra Market…the guy wouldn’t let us take a photo of those, indicating that what he was doing was illegal. Some of the vendors at this market didn’t want photos either, though I’d say it’s maybe more legal what’s going on here.
This market isn’t just for restaurants and wholesalers. Families come and vendors being their kids. A lot of younger people work and grow up in the market. In the top left photo a child eats a slice of watermelon in front of a stand of bananas. The tiny fingerling bananas and larger green plantains are something no North American chill will see. Next: The baby in the stroller looks pretty calm despite the cacophony of the market day. Next: A vendor points out a good pineapple for making mazamoro morada, a steeped pineapple and dried fruit and purple corn dessert. Traditionally you use these smaller, more brightly coloured (and supposedly less juicy and flavourful when ripe) pineapples for the dish. You cut off all the flesh and then boil the “carcass” or core and the skin with sugar and water and a bunch of dried fruit and purple corn cobs. It’s delicious.
Next: A wall of watermelon. So many watermelon. This stack is about 14 feet high. That’s two basketball players. It would take you a year to eat that watermelon, by which time they would have gone bad. How do they get the watermelon off the top row? Actually, how do they get the watermelon ONTO the top row? That’s a chicken and the egg-type question, isn’t it?
Here’s a shot of the market entrance. Like most of Lima the ground is sandy dirt. Some of the market is outside, but much is covered to keep the food and vendors out of the bright sun.
Here are those watermelon again, but the small shot didn’t do it justice. What are they going to do with that basket all the way up there? Seems like a waste of a basket.
Potatoes and dirt and messy stalls.
Giant pineapples, and to the left, bananas and black plantains. They’re ripe when they’re black. Some bananas are black too, I think. They’re not overripe. They’re perfect. We just don’t know what all these kinds of bananas are supposed to be like. Darn you, Dole.
Just bananas. Green ones. Yellow ones. Small ones. Big ones. Dr. Seuss would have a field day. He definitely wouldn’t have written about fish if he’d known about these bananas.
Only potatoes. THAT is the story of Peru – So many potatoes.
I’ve already cried once today. It’s time to stop writing because the day is just getting started and there are so man more tears I could cry when my heart aches from these photos and memories.