While Sucre has three grocery stores, one being a derivative of Walmart, the place most locals go to buy food and household supplies is the local market. Set up something like a grand farmers‘ market, the maze of passageways and splitlevel stairs make the building a world of its own.
Jordan and my hostel is a block away from Mercado Central, the nearest market to the city center, so we trek over there often to buy food, spices, and other random things we want.
It took us several trips to the mercado to realize it, but there are signs on walls and hanging from ceilings to direct people to the various corners of the market. For example, on the second floor are the local spices and sauces that the Aymara women sell.
The colors and noises of the market are fun to explore. However, if you aren‘t careful, you will get sold produce at gringo prices, and chances are the produce is already overripe. Jordan bought rottingt fruit on more than one occasion, as well as meat that was not what he ordered. We decided it was because he didn’ t know as much Spanish as I did, he was a man, and he didn’t know as much about developing-country shopping as I did. So now I go out and buy all of our food.
The market isn‘t a place to barter on prices–those are already set, though they might try to raise the price on gringos. However, if you are friendly and polite, chances are you will get good food. I always test the fruit and vegetables they give me, gently squeezing and looking it over, of course. I also avoid stalls where the woman calls out to me. If I approach a vendor on my own, without her trying to get my attention, I think it is more likely to get fair, local prices. If you are nice enough, you might get a sprig of parsley for free.
The first floor is devoted primarily to meat, vegetables, and nonperishables. I bought my shortening, sugar, and pasta from the woman who also sold cat food. The smells in the market are an odd mixture of raw meat, stray dog, and spices. The stray dogs, of course, spend their time at the meat section.
Here you can tell they‘re selling real cow meat because of the faces set out on display. Still, if you’re buying red meat, I think it is better to go to an actual butcher. The prices might be higher, but you know you’re getting real cow and that it is still fresh and safe. Chicken I buy at the market because I know a dead chicken when I see one. No one will sell me a different animal because I’m not a stupid gringa. I do try to buy meat in the morning, when it is freshest, and cook it as soon as I get back to the hostel, however.
In the far courtyard of the marketplace are the juice sellers, right next to the row of potatos vendors. These people make smoothies or juice mixes. It is delicious and very cheap. Two glasses cost me seven bolivianos, or a dollar. Interspersed through the fruit sellers and flower vendors are household items, such as plasticware, spatulas, and bowls. Beside the egg aisle is the cake aisle, where women have pasteleria shops with beautiful cakes. Above them is the spice section and along a forgotten hallway the flower vendors sell their wares. It looks like spring exploded.
In the highest level is where people sell prepared meals. This is usually soup or some sort of chicken-and-rice concoction. Usually only local go up that many stairs to eat there, and the tables and floors aren‘t exactly clean. But if you do brave the food up there, you can probably get a full place for 10 bolivianos.
Don’t miss the local markets if you go to Bolivia! They are a good place for cheap food and practically a tourist attraction in and of themselves.