Most days on the road we spent the majority of time trying to meet our basic physiological needs. Finding safe food, water and a place to sleep often took the entire day with no time to climb to higher levels of Maslow’s Pyramid. However, some countries made it easy. In Bolivia we had no problem finding a good meal, cheap- we headed to the markets.
Eating local fare is key to understanding a place’s culture and traditions. However, this doesn’t mean you have to dive headfirst into the most exotic dishes or sample something that is sure to make you sick- it just means broadening your horizons a little bit. Ask questions and have fun at the market. Remember this is the perfect opportunity to hang out with the locals.
The markets in Sucre, La Paz and Tarabuco are bustling, bright and spark your curiosity to explore further. They offer a wide variety of fresh and prepared foods at affordable prices along with textiles, juices and plenty of coca leaves. Rarely was I let down by meals at the market because I didn’t have to rely on a complicated game of charades to ask for what I wanted. I could point to the chicken and know that’s what would arrive on my plate.
Bolivian food is basic at best, but it’s hearty. The women that get up early every morning to create pot after pot of bubbling stew, steamed vegetables and heaps of pasta are proud of their food and often have a loyal following of regulars. I often would take a stroll around the tables to see what everyone was eating before I made my decision. I found I could trust the locals taste, so if they were all favoring the mystery stew that’s what I ordered too.
Bolivian markets also proved to be the perfect place to people watch and browse. As you enter the market you will find the ubiquitous bowler hat wearing women sitting on the ground behind a mound of coca leaves or a woman with long braids insisting you come look at her overflowing baskets of fruit. The polished apples, dark avocados and vibrant red chilies all look tempting and often I would grab something for later after I ate lunch.
Bolivia wasn’t the only place we enjoyed eating at the markets, but it stands out because of the wide variety of options and the cleanliness. Almost all the market stalls had running water and kept their food hot- ready to eat. Be smart about what you eat, but don’t skip the opportunity to enjoy a local meal from a Bolivian market.
WHEN YOU GO:
Favor food that is hot, when in doubt about the food going with something that is hot means you are much less likely to be sick.
Get fruit you can peel, when buying fresh fruit favor an orange or banana, which is safer than grapes, which can be hard to wash
Ask questions, don’t be afraid to talk to vendors and ask what a certain dish is, you might learn something new!