Three times every day 50+ people sit down at wooden tables with colorful plastic plates piled high with food at Project Peru, the refuge my niece and I had been volunteering at outside of Lima for a week. I knew it was no easy process to put food on those plates every day, as kids and adults busily work for hours putting together menus that are well balanced yet economical. However, I hadn’t considered the first part of the process – how Project Peru found and purchased the food for so many kids.
Antonia, one of the many local women who work at the refuge, took Megan and me to the market along with two of the other teenage girls from the refuge. I pretty quickly learned they ran a well-oiled shopping machine. However, it didn’t appear that way at first as we left the walls of the refuge with a wooden crate and a few bags. Antonia made her shopping list on a soggy piece of paper while sitting on the crate waiting out in the rain for the bus.
Once we arrived in chaotic suburb of Puente Piedra the two girls left us and we went with Antonia. First stop was chicken and fish – my favorite part of the market – the butchers and fish mongers. Whole chickens, beef, pig heads, live crabs, and whole fish were overflowing in the market. Antonia didn’t waste much time and went directly to her preferred vendors and bought up a dozen whole chickens while I snapped pictures and Megan squirmed looking at the inside organs of a chicken. The people in the market were as excited to see me, the foreigner with a camera, as I was to see them and their butchering skills. Granted – I’m not sure how much of their excitement had to do with the fact that I was with Antonia. I’m not exactly sure how you’d be received there showing up on your own. But just remember, a smile and Hola go a long way in any situation.
It was clear not many foreigners ever came to this market – and that was just the way I liked it. Everyone there seemed eager to have their photo taken and even more elated when I showed it to them. There was laughter and smiles as friends in different stalls joked with each other and people vied for my attention like the kids at the refuge.
Strangely, Antonia kept ticking things off her list purchasing things, but didn’t seem to be accumulating anything. I later found out she had the good delivered to a particular stand in the market since there was no way she was going to be able to carry around a dozen whole chickens let alone fish, and a bag of potatoes. Occasionally Antonia would pick up a fruit or vegetable that looked foreign and give it to Megan and me to eat. We normally had no idea what it was – but would always try it anyway. Our favorite – the pacay pod -a green pod that when opened exposed a sugar-rich pulp, similar to cotton candy, surrounding the seeds. Sweet and delicious!
I could tell that Antonia had a few recipes in mind as she shopped, and I was excited to try the ceviche I knew she was cooking up in her head which translated to her purchases of fish and limes.
After walking around the muddy market purchasing in bulk for about 1 and ½ hours, Antonia smiled at us and led us to the stall where all of the deliveries were made. There we met up with the other two girls who had also been making purchases in bulk and accumulating everything at the one stall. We had a mountain of purchases. Crates of oranges, bananas, limes, clementines, and apples were piling up. So were bags of potatoes, and red onions – not to mention a dozen chickens and equal amount of fish!
If you are looking for a unique Lima market experience that brings you closer to the local culture, then visit the market on your own. The market in Puente Piedra is on every day and is a great experience to simply go and walk around. You can get there by local bus pretty easily from Lima. Go early in the morning for the best market action of course – and don’t be afraid to try things you are offered. You’ll soon be swept up into the hustle and bustle of the vivacious market culture. And it will be a local experience you’ll never forget!
Learn more about Project Peru and the many, many great things they are doing for this community here – projectperu.org.uk
If you feel like donating, please consider giving to the Intrepid Foundation as they match donations!
Donate here www.theintrepidfoundation.org