Sucre markets make me happy

Fruit and veg at the Mercado Central, Sucre

Dinosaurs and karaoke aside, Sucre has a more worthy sight worth visiting: the central market. Over and over I lost myself in a wander through mazes of stalls, feasting my eyes on colourful stacks of fruit and vegetables, cakes and candies, spices and sauces.

I chatted to a couple of Dutch travellers who said that back home they rarely go to the market but here in South America they can’t stay away, and I thought, yep, it’s the same for me. So what’s that all about?

The alternative to the markets are the supermarkets, of which there are two close to the centre of town. Compared to European standards, these supermarkets are teeny and they are fairly well hidden and under populated. The one time that I visited the ‘big’ one I was surprised to find a somewhat under stocked ghost shop. A total contrast to the usual supermarket experience.

The rich people shop in the supermarket’, my Spanish teacher told me, ‘they don’t tend to buy at the actual market.’ ‘But the food is so good there’, I argued. I didn’t get it.

Realistically, though, I did get it: it is about convenience and excuses.

Back in my old existence, life was full. Independent sellers had closed by the time I wound up working for the day. Fruit and veg, meat and fish, all the things that are better fresh from a proper, local source, I bought these in the supermarket on my way home. Weekends would have been the time to go to the markets and to visit these specialist shops but those two precious days off? – I couldn’t bear to give them – or a single moment of them – over to shopping. So it was a choice. Possibly, a pretty bad choice.

Because since travelling in South America, I have discovered the joys of the markets: the bustle, the colour, the fusion of smells, the scurry of crowds, the sale songs. Hacked up animal parts and snouts might not do much for me, but the fresh fruit juices and simple, cheap meals quickly became favourites of mine.

One of many entrances to Mercado Central

Behind the scenes

Best place to stock up on veggies

Chamomile and aloe vera amongt other things at Mercado Central, Sucre

Cow snout and tongue, anyone?

It became a habit, then, that each time I arrived into a new town I had to go check out the main market. And quickly.

After my friend Max introduced me to buñelos, trojori and api, I made it a habit to breakfast upstairs in the market during my three week stay in Sucre, building rapport with the vendor and introducing other backpackers to the magic and busyness of the local way to start the day.

I quickly discovered that I preferred to drink trojori (or api blanco) over api morado, it’s thick, sweet, yellow warmth with chunks of softened corn giving me energy for the day. I heard that trojori is loaded full of nutrients and is often given to breastfeeding infants when their mothers can’t produce enough milk. Having been through the mill with continuous illness where my diet consisted predominantly of antibiotics, it felt good to give my body something wholesome and rich and warming.

And buñelos! Ah! What can I say? An indulgent doughnut style pastry over which you could choose to either sprinkle icing sugar powder or drizzle syrup. Granted, a little greasy and not particularly healthy but everyone, from businessmen having a quick bite before work to street children looking for a hand out, joined in the enjoyment of these treats.

Overall, a cheap, rich breakfast that is probably far too high in sugar and fat, but it definitely helps start the day nicely in such a chilly climate. Expect to pay 1Bs. (£0.09/US$0.14) for two buñelos, or together with a trojori or mixto drink Bs.3.50 (£0.32/US$0.50).

So… if you’re ever over South America way, don’t get scared off by the worry of chaos and hygiene in the marketplace. Instead, wind your way through the colourful stalls, sit yourself down in amongst locals and order up a home-cooked dish. You may well not know what you’re actually eating but that’s all part of the fun, right?!


Filed under bolivia, culture, food & drink, south america

4 responses to “Sucre markets make me happy

  1. Leon

    Hi Lola,
    Are U well and healthy again? I hope so!
    But I am puzzled by something.. hope you can explain:
    You write lyrical about the marketplaces in South America, about nice people, fresh- new- and exotic foods… but then I read the ‘not so in love story’ about the real bold medicins you had to swallow in order to get rid of your (obviously food related) complaints….. so, this seems to me contrary… please enlighten me..;)

    Love from (a bit worried) Uncle Léon

    PS, Did u get the pics of oma’s birthday??

    • Correct, correct. I loved the markets and eating the food and drinking the juices (which were probably made with tap water) but the markets didn’t love me back quite as much! – and I got very unwell. But then I also got unwell from eating out in normal restaurants, to the point that a doctor told me NOT to eat out at all, which was very frustrating. Most people I met were fine though (although a bout of Bolivia belly is to be expected at some point), many brushed their teeth with tap water and some even drank tap water. As soon as I left Bolivia, my health improved significantly (this blog is very behind) although my immune system is now shot after five lots of antibiotics in four months. Time to get healthy! The photos from Oma’s birthday – I haven’t been based anywhere speedy enough to download them yet! But I should be able to soon. Thanks for sending them through. Lots of love to you all!

  2. I’ve never been one for markets back home either but there’s something about drifting through a busy marketplace in a foreign country, pretending to be a local. Good post!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post. Yeah, pretending to be a local for a few minutes is, I guess, part of the appeal of travelling. And stepping out of your normal routines and comfort zones.

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