I couldn’t help but think back to Dorothy’s famous line in the iconic childhood film Wizard of Oz “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Todo” when I first realized there were no more double espressos or maple pecan tarts to be had at my beloved favourite Canadian coffee shop Second Cup. Naturally, I was a little bewildered and a tad lost wondering where my Peruvian neighbours purchased their food or even daily household necessities. With my curiosity piqued to its max, the other volunteers and I ventured out into various mercados (markets) and into a world of churros, hamburgesas, tortas and much much more.
Let me begin by saying that if you long to escape the over-trodden path that is the typical tourist circuit of Lima, begin by heading over to your nearest mercado to experience an authentic representation of Peruvian life. The morning is the most opportune time to cruise into the heart of these delightfully overwhelming mazes of fresh produce, butcher’s, baker’s and most likely, I wouldn’t be surprised, even candlestick makers. The majority of venders are out at this time selling their goods and most Peruvians purchase their food early in the morning for the entire day since freshness is an important component of Peruvian way of life. As we entered one of our first markets in Pueblo Libre the sight of newly baked chocolate cake, and warm caramel-filled churros immediately seized all of my attention. It took a lot of will power but eventually I was able to draw my gaze to the local wonders of exotic produce; sweat mangos and papayas, buttery paltas (avocados) and tangerines, half of which I found difficult to identify and most of which were locally grown. Almost anything can be found at this mercado from household items, clothing and toiletries to even the infamous orange powdered Tang of the 90’s which apparently still exists and is going strong in Lima as I have seen it in a few markets so far.
After gorging on a delicious meal for roughly 4 soles (approximately $2 US) consisting of steak pieces, fried onions, rice, potatoes and a bowl of soup, I recommend heading over to Emancipation street in Cercado de Lima. This bustling street of shops and stands is divided into themed sections, one of which we volunteers have deemed “surgical alley” for its odd assortment of test tubes, ambulance beds, microscopes and oxygen tanks for sale. Almost anything you will ever possibly need is conveniently located right here and a lot of which is sold at an inexpensive price. Would you like to know how many pounds you’ve gained after a hardy market meal? To my amazement, this is indeed made possible by the people selling the chance to hop on a scale for 60 cents along the sidewalk. Forgot your cell phone at home? No worries, just ask one of the guys soliciting calls from their cell phones on almost every other block.
I have also recently discovered the many wonders and fruitfulness of my own neighbourhood of Planeta. Just around the corner from our humble abode lives the popular “Hamburger Man” selling delicious hamburgesas from his own front door topped with fried eggs fries and salad for less than 2 soles. Further down from him is “Cake Lady” who, after the freshly baked caramel-filled cake I had last night, I’m hoping will become my new best friend. After tasting the mouth watering fruits and foods bursting with flavour available right in my own neighbourhood, it is clear that I may not be in Kansas anymore but I’m sure I’m pretty close to heaven.
Christina Baker is a volunteer with the Karikuy Volunteer Program