While in Sucre, Bolivia, we stayed at the Hostelling International Sucre Hostel, which was just down the street from the Mercado Campesion, the local farmer’s market. Luckily, the hostel had a kitchen and we were able to cook up some dishes using the local vegetables. The streets of the farmer’s market are lined with beautiful, brightly coloured produce. And it’s sooooo ridiculously cheap. We had to make sure we went with lots of small coins because you can’t even break a $10 Bolivian bill there.
Several times during our shopping trips, we found vendors handing us big bags of carrots, bananas or tomatoes all for one or two Bolivianos, just pennies in US dollars. For $2 Bolivian Bolivianos ($0.29 USD), one lady tried to give us more than a dozen bananas. When we tried to hand half of them back, knowing there was no way we could eat all of those bananas during our stay, she actually tried to give us change.
For $0.50 Boliviano cents ($0.07 USD), we could have got a huge pile of spicy peppers. Instead, we asked if we could just take four or five. The abundance of fresh produce must be a problem for vendors, they seem to have quantities that would be impossible to sell without at least a few days work. And, of course, most produce would be past its prime if it took that long to be sold.
The Mercado Campeino has lots of exotic fruits and vegetables, some of which I’ve never seen or tried before. We had some delicious prickly pears, also know as cactus fruit. They have the texture of kiwi, giant seeds like guava and taste similar to a sweet watermelon. They have a thick skin, a bonus feature for any fruit or vegetable you’re buying in South America. Thick skin means you can cut away the dirty part and don’t have to worry about cleaning it with bottled water. We’ve actually cleaned a lot of thin skinned fruits, like apples, with boiling water. It’s a pain but necessary.
Another interesting fruit we had a chance to try in Sucre was pacay, which grows in pod like beans that hangs from trees. To get at the white fruit part, that covers large black seeds, you have to pry open the thick, green outer shell. The white fruit is fuzzy and feels similar to velvet. It’s quite sweet, the taste reminded me of cantaloupe.
While wondering around the market, we spotted these light green vegetables and, feeling adventurous, decided to pick some up for our soup. These hallow vegetables are known by many names, but most commonly refereed to as caigua. Other names include caygua, caihua, cayua, achocha, achokcha, slipper gourd, lady’s slipper, sparrow gourd and stuffing cucumber. When we added one to our soup, we didn’t find it added much flavour. From doing a bit of reading online, I’ve learned caigua is sometimes used, in liquid or capsule form, to treat obesity, high cholesterol, cellulite and hypertension.
The caigua joined a variety of other vegetables, including carrots, squash, tomatoes, peas and onions in our soup, along with some lentils and tomato sauce. It was a great, hearty and filling soup. Soups have slowly become our favourite thing to make in hostels. They look and taste especially good when served beside large groups of people chowing down on white pasta and tomato sauce.
For lunch one day, we used some local vegetables to make burritos. I found some whole wheat tortillas, that weren’t made with milk ingredients, and we decided burritos were a must. Sadly, tortillas are hard to find and tortillas without milk are extremely rare. Finding whole wheat tortillas without milk was cause for celebration. It didn’t matter that we didn’t have any salsa or re-friend beans. We managed to squash some kidney beans into the right consistency and make some salsa using fresh tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, onions and dried herbs. The results were fantastic. We thoroughly enjoyed our burrito feast.
Farmer’s markets….they’re beautiful and the root of culinary inspiration.