Eating on the cheap at the Pisac Sunday Market
I can’t recall how we got the notion in our heads, but Peru is not a bargain travel destination. After a few too many expensive and yet disappointing restaurant meals, Todd and I are thrilled by the food stalls at the Pisac Sunday Market.
The market vendors offer street food at its best: local dishes made with seasonal ingredients, cooked fresh, and served hot enough assure us that we won’t need to pop Cipro later. The food is wholesome and filling—and very, very cheap.
Staying safe when eating street food is usually as easy as saying no to uncooked food. We regretfully skip the dazzling purple and red colored beet, tomato, and onion salad that comes with a plate of lomo saltado, accepting an extra ladle of lentil stew from the hard-working cook instead.
The one blissful ignorance of food safety rules we allow ourselves in Pisac and throughout Peru is for salsa picante. Spice addicts that we are, we convince ourselves that the fiery aji renders any hot sauce safe to consume. Besides, for spice this good we’re willing to take a chance.
We’d been told that the corn in Pisac would be at its peak, the best we’d find in the Sacred Valley as the local growing season trails to an end. In season apparently means popular, as we pass by dozens of pots of boiling choclo throughout the town’s main square.
We trade a coin for a cob and are handed a steaming ear still wrapped in its husk, smeared with a paste of cilantro and hot pepper, along with a chunk of fresh country queso for co-chewing. Todd takes a messy bite of the corn before we notice how easily the locals snap off the large kernels with their fingers, one by one. It tastes earthy and starchy, not at all sweet like the summer corn we’re used to in the U.S.
At a busy booth, a woman doles out bowls of soup, porridge thick. “Maíz!” a man at the table tells us as we squeeze onto a wooden bench. We ford the yellow pool with our spoons and find chunks of potato, fava beans, and bone-in meat stewed to tender shreds. “Vaca!” we’re informed, as if mystery meat could stop us from emptying our bowl of the savory, satisfying soup.
Once we finish, without a signal or word, the woman in charge takes our bowl and starts to refill it. Unsure whether this is a smooth upsell technique or simply the way it’s done, we quickly say “No no no,” patting our bellies with a smile to avoid insulting the cook.
After trying several disappointing vegetarian empanadas from shops on Mariscal Castilla street, we wander into Inti Killa on Manuel Prado just south of the square.
Though we’re put off by the empanaderia‘s tourist-ready signage, inside we inhale a promising smoke from the horno tipico colonial. Looking neither colonial nor typical, the oven’s rounded top is covered with soot-blackened sculptures of the sacred puma, condor, and snake.
After waiting for our carne empanadas to warm for just a brief minute next to the wood fire, it takes an even briefer minute to devour them.
Would you take a chance and eat the street food at the Pisac Sunday Market?