by Jessie Maguire
Welcome to The Gastro Center
Cochabamba has a reputation for its excellent cuisine, in fact, it’s known at the gastronomic center of Bolivia. Eating is huge a part of the culture here, and food is pretty inexpensive, which can make sampling, cooking and eating out all the more enjoyable.
Most cochabambinos love eating out, and getting an almuerzo at lunchtime is a great option if you’re on a budget and want to experience what local people eat.
The price of lunch in most small restaurants in the city is around 15Bs tops, but if you’re vegetarian, on a low-carb diet or just love cooking at home communally or for yourself, there are still a bunch of options available to you.
How to Buy Fresh Produce in Cocha
There are three options when it comes to buying fresh produce in Cocha. The first option is unarguably the worst option – the supermarket. Supermarkets are great – if you’re looking for snazzy, (relatively) expensive Cranberry juice, pasta sauce in a jar, a wide selection of different salamis, seafood, etc. However, their fresh produce leaves something to be desired.
The second option is going to markets like Mercado 25 de Mayo. We love supporting independent producers/suppliers. It’s completely up to you where you shop, of course. The supermarket may be a handy place to pop into when you’re looking for that special thing that reminds you of home you can’t find anywhere else, but the markets should have pretty much everything you need, and the prices are usually lower, too.
The 5 Best Markets, as Rated by Us
Cochabamba is full of little markets called ferias that appear once a week in a specific location. You’ll also find that you can wander around the city and pick up a wide variety of Andean foods to cook at home (like chuchusmuti/tarwi, for example. Here‘s a recipe you could make at home), snacks and drinks you’ve never tried before.
But if you want to buy everything you need for the week at once, it’s nice to go to a bigger market where you can do just that. Here are the five we’ve tried and tested over the years, just for you.
1. La Feria de la America
We rate this market as the best one-day market in Cochabamba. It’s peppered with high-class faces and is not one of the cheapest markets in town, but if you want to taste a few delicacies and rest assured that your food is clean, this is the market for you.
Let me guide you round Saturday’s Feria de la America (you’ll find it where Av. G. Villarroel and Av. America meet).
To begin with, it’s useful to know that this Feria is shaped like a small H. There are two streets (we’ll call them “West Street” and “East Street” here for simplicity) that join at the top, with West street extending on a bit further north.
Meats and Fish
At the South end of West Street are the meats, fish and cheese (going North). You’ll also find some European foods right near the bottom of the market. The stall owners have crepes, pizza bases and other amazing-looking products. They’ll be there with a little platter of things you can try.
If you want to buy fish, bear in mind that it usually comes from a distance part of the country or Peru. It’s a good idea to freeze or eat it as soon as you get home for that reason. I’ve noticed that it doesn’t keep for very long.
Just after the fish section on your right is a special place for all you meat lovers. This puesto, or stall has an amazing selection of processed meats that are amazing for a special occasion or just to treat yourself.
Try Some Cheese
If you’re a fan of cheddar cheese, or mature cheese, you might be disappointed with the sorts of cheeses most people go for in Bolivia. However, at this feria, you can taste a few different kinds of cheese if you stop on the left-hand side as you go up West Street, just before you reach the junction that connects West and East Street together. This kind lady has blue cheese that’s to die for and “Misque madurado”, which is our personal favorite.
Fruit and Veg
Go straight up West Street after the junction and you’ll find a mountain of fruit. Go right and you’ll find health foods to try and a wide variety of traditional drinks to quench your shopping-induced thirst. Then you’ll find yourself going down “East Street”. This is where you can buy your veggies, including yuca (yams) and locotos (mild-medium hot chili peppers).
Supporting Bolivian Sustainable Agriculture
For organic veggie lovers, there is also an organic stall, but get there early if you want to make sure you can choose from their full selection, as this is a popular stall. The expat community loves it. It’s about ¾ of the way down on the right. They sell organic, unpasteurized milk, yogurt, fresh cheese and herbs, a wide range of veggies (including bok choi) and other bits and bobs that might take your fancy.
2. Mercado 25 de Mayo
Finding the Market
The 25 de Mayo market is open every day, and its selection of goods is pretty unbeatable. The market is accessible from calle Sucre (although we’ll be amazed if you can find out how), calle San Martin (just look for the fruit outside, then sneak into one of the markets’ corridors), calle Jordan and calle 25 de Mayo, of course.
The Two Corridors
The two corridors that run East to West are the place to buy clothes, makeup, toiletries, and some food. We recommend finding a way to get into the big market hall area to the South of the market. Pass by the refresco girls and see if you don’t get tempted by a sweet, coconut drink (haha, I see you!).
To the east side are the nuts, the veggies, etc., and there are dried goods all the way round the outside of the big market hall area.
To the West, more or less, are the meats and there is a stall or two that sells fish on the South side. All the fruit is pretty much outside, though you will find some on the South West corner. It’s quite nice getting lost in there, though. It’s not one of the cleanest markets but you can go there and pick up everything you need in one go.
3. La Cancha
Explore one of the Biggest Markets in South America
La Cancha located to the south of the city center. It’s one of the biggest markets in South America. You can find almost everything there (except blu-tack!). The best way to experience it is to get a local friend who knows their way around to take you, or you could go and explore as a group. There are roughly defined areas where you can buy specific types of things, including a whole area full of artisanal products at great prices.
The Calatayud area of la cancha is great for supermarket-style products like bread, cheese and pasta. They also sell flowers and fancy dress costumes there.
The San Antonio area (which can be found where calle 25 de Mayo and calle Punata meet) is good for cake, artesanias and sports goods.
El Mercado La Paz is full of clothes of all kinds (new ones). El Cerro is behind the La Paz market. That’s one of the places where you can find second-hand clothes.
Cheap as Chips
La Cancha is one of the most economical markets in the city. If you want to support the poorest, smallest suppliers, farmers and traders, you’ll find them in La Cancha. It can be quite an experience going there. It’s full of people and hard to get in and out of La Cancha, especially on Wednesday and Saturday, the official market days. However, once you get your bearings, it’s one of the most authentic ways to experience Cochabamba culture and pick up fresh produce picked that very morning, electrical goods, clothes, shoes, flowers, presents for people at home or your host family, mementos, etc, etc!
It’s best not to take anything valuable into that area of the city. Pickpockets have pinched passports, wallets, credit cards, phones and other important things from foreign visitors, and the only way to avoid being the next victim is to leave anything you don’t mind being stolen at home. It’s best not to take a bag at all, too. Hide your money in an inside pocket, body pocket or money protector to protect your cash and other valuable items.
The SB Map
There’s a big map in the entrance area at Casa P that will help you navigate around La Cancha, or at least take a look at where its limits are and where you’d like to go.
4. La Ecoferia (Wednesdays only)
La Ecoferia is the most eco market in town. It’s a small market that appears on Wednesday markets and then disappears early afternoon every week in Parque de la Torre. Small farm owners and vendors sell small meals there (which are very popular), organic veggies, milk and yogurt, natural toiletries, a few different fruits, bread and a wide range of packaged health goods. Going here is a great way to support sustainable agriculture in Bolivia.
5. Friday morning market at the East End of Heroínas
The Friday morning market at the east end of Av. Heroínas is very handy if you’re living at Casa P or Casa Lopez. It’s just below the Cristo de la Concordia, and their fish is really fresh (unlike at La Feria de las Americas!). You will find a wide variety of products there, from laundry soap to fresh vegetables, but you could also pass by for some ceviche.
Other Markets You Love
Have you discovered any great markets you’d like to share with others? Please feel free to comment in the SB Social Club.
Images courtesy of Flikr users kristin miranda, Roco Lucia, vincentraal, Cultura de Red, www.bluewaikiki.com and Yann Duarte.