Today I found out what I've been missing.
Before coming to Chile, I heard about fabulous food prices and upon arriving was dismayed by the prices in the local supermarkets: ground beef for $4+/pound, eggs for $3/dozen, cheese for $7/pound.... In season fruits and vegetables could be had for $1/pound on a really good day, which was good, but I'd done as well at the supermarket in the states.
There are other nearby, cheaper alternatives to the supermarket. We'd found better quality and prices at a local produce market that delivers. There are nearby kiosks with small selections of varying quality where I often buy tomatoes. There are also ferias (open markets) around town, but with no delivery and no car, it was hard to see how that could be worth it, when you're buying for a family of 6.
Despite the fore mentioned food avenues, we were spending more on our grocery bill than we had been in the states. That's not what I'd expected from Latin America.
That changed on this happy day.
A friend introduced me to La Vega, the queen of ferias. I saw for myself the great deals to be had on produce here in Chile. La Vega is a seven-days-a-week feria that serves many local fresh markets and restaurants, as well as the public. The feria is located in Recolta, the comuna to the northeast of Providencia, about a 10-15 minute drive from us. My friend Andrea likes to arrive a little after 9, before the main marketplace opens at 10am, to snag deals from the men with trucks full of produce. She parks her sedan right in among the delivery trucks, then makes the rounds to find the deals. These trucks are there delivering food to the inside vendors, but they're happy to sell to the public too. At 10:00 they're clearing out of the parking lot, hopefully with empty trucks, to make room for the mass of customers who come to shop inside.
Walking among the trucks, there's a continual smell of ripe food. In one place there's a melon-y smell. As you walk it merges with cilantro, then strawberries, then just a generic smell of...vegetables. It smells wonderful. Almost everywhere you walk there are leaves from lettuce, cabbage, celery, or what have you sprinkled around on the ground. There are a couple of fork lifts that scrape the scraps into heaps. Imperfect veggies that don't sell get tossed on the ground to get scraped into the trash heaps. I saw more than one savvy customer spot a slightly bruised large yellow pepper that had been left on the ground, shrug, pick it up, and put it in her basket. I might have too, but I didn't get a chance to think about it: they were all nabbed up.
Our best deals of the day were found among the trucks. So, I know you're wondering -- what kind of deals did we get? We got a flat of strawberries for $2. A watermelon for $2. A Wal-mart bag full of carrots for $1. 7 heads of lettuce for $2. A box of tomatoes for $6. Three bunches of beets for $2. Bananas for $0.25/pound. The bulk items (the strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, and carrots) we split between the two of us.
The inside area of the market is covered but open air. It's huge. The prices on the inside are still good but not as great as directly from the delivery trucks. I thought we'd be limited to fruits and vegetables, but there were nuts, meat, fresh fish, eggs, cheese, grains, etc.
I picked up some cheese and nuts but steered clear of meat and fish this time, though I do want to try those things. Maybe sometime when I go sola in a taxi -- I really don't want to stink up Andrea's car...
There was a Peruvian sector of the market where I found some sweet potatoes. We'll be having those tonight with a big salad and some meat from the supermarket. Now, if only I could find some natural peanut butter...
Back at the apartment, Marathon and I spent more than an hour washing and prepping strawberries to freeze - they were ripe and delicious and something needed to be done with them right away.
The lettuce is still waiting to be cleaned, so off I go.