I don’t know if it was the altitude or the extra oxygen being pumped into the hotel room, but in Cusco, I was an early riser.
My first few days in this city in Peru weren’t spent in Cusco at all — each morning I embarked on an excursion to feed alpacas, explore Incan ruins, and climb Machu Picchu. On the fourth day, I rose early, with nothing to do but get lost in Cusco’s steep and winding streets. The first stop of the day was the San Pedro market.
The first thing I noticed was the aroma of baking bread. The market was divided into sections (butcher, cheese, bread, produce) and locals wandered through making their daily purchases. The second thing I smelled was the distinct aroma of chicken soup. As it turns out, this is a popular breakfast in Cusco. At the center of the market, benches full of locals lined counters overlooking steaming cauldrons of chicken soup. I was told that the stock had been simmering for hours, and that only “real chickens” were used (as opposed to the “fake” chickens we are often accustomed to in the States). As I watched ladles filling deep bowls and locals tucking in, I began to regret eating breakfast.
I did have room for juice. The front section of the market was full of juice stalls, piled up with brightly colored fruits and vegetables, some recognizable, some new to me. Carrots, bananas, pineapples, mangoes — they were all thrown in the blender. I was told that local boys loved coming to the market for juice — the juice ladies were rumored to be the prettiest in the market. I ordered a mixta, no ice, and dug deep into my college Spanish vocabulary to catch the gist of what the ladies were chatting about while waiting for their next customer.
Fresh cheeses and cookies, herbs and grains, the market was full of endless eye candy. Not only is it beautiful, but the market occupies an important role in the daily life of locals. I thought of New York and overly-curated markets with outrageously expensive produce and lamented the loss of this type of somewhat-gritty market, with all of its lovely imperfections.
If I was awake early again the next day, I knew where I would be headed: straight for the chicken soup counter.