While the salmon-colored Mercado Central building is a self-contained, orderly area with impressive wrought-iron architecture and orderly seating areas, La Vega is anything but. This is Santiago’s main market for the purchase of fruit, vegetables, and meat, and also disposable containers and bags, items made of wicker, and even some terra cotta dishes from the nearby town of Pomaire. But most visitors come here for the controlled chaos, the bustle, and of course, to spy some foods you might not find at home.
Different areas are home to different kinds of foods, with a wholesale berry section, an area of Peruvian goods (where you’ll find sweet potatoes and purple corn), and even an area just for hot peppers, including merquén, a spicy smoky mix of hot pepper with cilantro seeds and salt.
There’s a method to the madness at the Vega, in that you usually stand in front of a stand, and when the vendor looks at you, say what you’d like, a kilo of this or that. So if you want a kilo of avocados (and trust me, you do), you’d say, “quiero un kilo de palta.” Or just point to the avocados, and hold up a single finger. Quicker than you can whip out your cash, the seller will have your avocadoes in a plastic bag, tied at the top, and will already be helping the next customer.
Come in the morning to mid-afternoon for the most activity and the most open stands. Wear closed toe shoes due to crowding and as in any busy area, keep a hand on valuables.