Eating Fresh and Local: Cusco’s Market Scene

Street-side produce vendors near the San Pedro Market in Cusco
Street-side produce vendors near the San Pedro Market in Cusco

I love food. More specifically, I love fresh, local food that feels like it’s nourishing me more than just filling a void. So, I was pretty stoked on my first day in Cusco when I discovered how readily available and inexpensive fresh produce, meats, cheeses, bread (insert food group of your choice here) are within walking distance from the Plaza de Armas (main square in town).

My first market experience was the San Pedro Market, located several blocks from the main square near the Plaza de San Francisco. This is the biggest fresh market in Cusco, and a food lover’s dream come true. But, I should clarify: in addition to the rows and rows of colorful fruits and vegetables there are rows and rows of meat vendors that leave nothing to the imagination when it comes to knowing exactly where that pork loin came from. Apparently, there are no “spare parts” in Cusquenan cooking; they are all available for purchase. If you are feeling queasy after your long flight, you may want to hold off on the San Pedro Market for another day.

The San Pedro Market is really as close to a semi-outdoor mega-supermarket as you can get in Cusco. You can get all the fresh ingredients for a kick a@$ meal, a bouquet of gorgeous flowers, and all the spices, condiments, etc you could ever need here. Head over to the booths that sell candles and a handcrafted ceramic vase for those Gladiolas, and you’ve got yourself a pretty cheap romantic dinner or hillside picnic lunch. And, if you work up an appetite roaming the aisles of deliciousness you can get a fresh juice, or a meal of local fare for dirt cheap.

Today I had a plate of ceviche with rice and sweet potato for 5 soles – that’s less than $2. HOWEVER, I’m going to give you the warning I’ve repeated several times in past posts: be careful about where/what you eat. You should probably stick to the fully cooked dishes and exercise caution if something looks amiss sanitation-wise.

Further from the center of town are the San Blas and Wanchaq Markets. The San Blas Market, on the corner of Tanda Pata and Lucrecalle, is the smallest, but if your hotel or hostel is in this neighborhood you should definitely hit it up. You’ll find most of the fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses offered at San Pedro, just less of them. There are very few frills (i.e. handicrafts, toiletries) available at this market.

The Wanchaq Market is somewhat of a hidden jewel, located in the more modern Wanchaq district of downtown Cusco on Calle Huascar. This market is more segmented: an area for fruit, another for vegetable, another for meats (occasionally there’s some crossover, I’m generalizing a bit here). This is good if you want to pick up an avocado, without learning more than you ever wanted to know about the fine art of butchering, but takes away from the open market feeling you have at San Pedro and San Blas.

Lining the market are individual stalls and shops that sell toiletries, clothing, and household items. Note: so far a stall in Wanchaq is the only place I have seen coconut milk for sale in all of Cusco. Which is truly a shame; all the ingredients for a curry served with mango lassi are right there…minus this one, crucial ingredient. It’s tragic, really.

I don’t have a refrigerator in my apartment, which seemed really inconvenient at first. That is, until I realized it was a perfect excuse to visit the market every day. This, and the downhill single track around Cusco, combine to make me a very happy quasi-Cusqeunan.

If you do make it to Cusco, I’m the gringa with the starry look in her eyes, slightly drooling over the tropical fruit selection.


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