No Fear or Loathing in La Vega

I hate supermarkets for a number of reasons. The cold sterility and lighting like some giant padded cell. The death stares of the maddened old crones with their obstructive trolley loads of sardines and jelly. The treatment of cattle that is brutally chewed up and spat out by the thousand before it’s even fully developed. And that’s just the employees. If there were a list of mankind's most terrible inventions, supermarkets would be second on the list, just above banks, and beaten only by the atomic bomb.

 Photo by Katie David
Photo by Katie David

It therefore came to me as a lovely surprise that, contrary to my prior belief, I don't actually have to go to the supermarket. Not when Santiago boasts a market like La Vega, its very own independent, egalitarian and downright beautiful fresh fruit 'n' veg utopia, a kaleidoscopic paradise of sounds, colours, and smells, of spicy Peruvian sauces and saucy Peruvian spices.

 Photo by Katie David
Photo by Katie David

My first visit to La Vega was an awakening, like emerging from an underground tomb. I wandered around dazed and incredulous as unknown sensations filled my nostrils: the scent of fresh produce my companion informed me. We reached the avocadoes and I was compelled to touch one. "But... but... it’s soft. Is it dead?" I garbled. "No," my friend said, "it’s ripe." "You mean... I can eat it... today?" "Yes, you can." Utterly spellbound, I wandered the aisles of La Vega prodding and poking various fruits and squealing in delight at their wonderful squishiness, until a pineapple came hurtling towards my head.

My friend told me to buy something. A sea of fire engine-red tomatoes stretched out and I grabbed a couple, paid up and headed off. A hearty cry called me back to receive my change. Change? And plenty of it. Truly this was an incredible place. The numerous stray cats agreed with me.

 Photo by Katie David
Photo by Katie David

I am now a committed La Vega regular. Not only does a walk round the fresh produce section of the market resemble the colorful cover of Sergeant Pepper’s, but La Vega also sells all those other bits and pieces that you never remember to buy in other places: batteries, tupperware, padlocks, machetes and so on. Of particular interest to me are the decapitated pigs’ heads that grin from behind the glass at the meat counters, although I'm not quite sure what they look so happy about. Perhaps it's pride at being digested in a hundred sizzling choripans.

Like dollar bills and cocaine in the United States, it is said that every vegetable in Santiago is laced with the salty dust of La Vega. It is the supplier to the suppliers, la feria de las ferias and the city’s very own orchard. Are you sick of reaching the front of the queue and realising you forgot to weigh your bananas? At La Vega they do it for you.

La Vega
Barrio Patronato
Avenida Recoleta (with Calle Antonia Lopez de Bello)
Open every day from right early in the morning
Metro Patronato

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