Posted by: Jessie Kwak | September 19, 2009

Shopping in Tarma

The Tarma market seems to expand a bit more every day as we move into the weekend. This morning we walked out the front door of our hotel only to find that our street had been turned into a shoe market.

Men’s shoes, women’s shoes. Rows and rows of rubber boots. Athletic shoes displayed on racks, sensible leather loafers positioned with the heel of one stuck into the hole of the other so they stand together at attention; rows of shoes with their toes pointed to the sky.

On other streets there are stalls and carts of produce: yucca and more potatoes than you can imagine from the mountains, other vegetables from the fertile Palcamayo Valley, fruits trucked in from the jungle below. A woman sits on a corner, bunches of fragrant cilantro spread over her shawl.

Corn is huge, of course. In popularity, if not in size. Fat cobs the size of my fist are displayed half-shucked and laid out in trios on a shawl while two women break kernels off into bags. Sold to other venders and then toasted with salt, the kernels are sold once more in small plastic bags: “Canchita, canchita!” is the cry.

Everyone is knitting. Women sell produce while knitting, and walk down the streets knitting, dodging moto-taxis without missing a stitch.

While there are big stalls stuffed with merchandise, there are also individual venders standing in free spaces and intersections, such as the man with the box of puckered-elastic granny panties at his feet, a dozen cheap pastel bras dangling from his hands. A man and a woman together are selling neon sweaters—“Ocho soles, amiga, ocho soles!”—and across the aisle a man sells battery-powered toy trains that run on cardboard tracks. “Ju-GUE-te para NIÑ-oo! Re-GA-lo para be-BÉ!”

One can buy movies, women’s clothes, toilet paper. In a small rolling booth a young man grinds copies of keys. A girl walks through—“Torta, torta!”—with a chocolate cake, half gone, pink frosting dripped deliciously down the sides. From behind cooking carts men and women dispense fried chicken and spaghetti, both served over french fries. Large tubs of ceviche and chicharrones are propped up to entice, the “leche de tigre” (ceviche juice) pools at the bottom.

We buy golden-brown torpedos and bite in—mashed potatoes filled with meat, beans, and olives, then deep fried. The olives are tiny, their seeds immense, their flavor bitter and oily.

There is a street of bicycles, one of yard implements. A man stands with a rack of cell phone covers. A few stalls on a quiet street sell dried herbs in bins, and colored liquids in frosted plastic bottles labeled with astrological signs and pictures of animals. An old woman sits at a small table piled with chocolates and pastries. Beside her, two dogs argue over something in a plastic wrapper. Beside them, four men play cards.

Before returning to the hotel we stop at a stand advertising “Picarrones,” which requires four people to keep up with the flow of customers. Rob and I sit on one of the rickety benches that ring the stand, and wait. Mamá puts the dough in the deep fryer. Papá pulls the golden rings out with a hook and hangs them above the fryer, and when they are three he puts them in a bowl and pours a thin syrup over them, then hands them off to Brother, who brings them to one of the waiting customers. When they’re done, the bowl is returned to Sister, who washes and dries them, singing along with the radio and not missing a word as she tears off two squares of toilet paper to hand to sticky-fingered customers.

The syrup is not too sweet, and it tastes of cloves and honey. This is only Thursday night. I can’t wait to see what a Friday night in Tarma will bring.

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