The Cost of Groceries in Peru

Saving money with food costs in Huancayo

How much money can you save?

Look at all of the locally produced, farm fresh, wholesome fruits, vegetables, eggs, cheese and bread you can get for S/. 61.10, which at the time of posting was $22.04 USD, in Huancayo, Peru!

fresh, Andean, farmers cheese

Andean Fresh Farmers cheese from the Mantaro Valley (Huancayo area).

A lot of foods are a great deal cheaper in Huancayo than anywhere in North America, and actually less expensive than many other places in Peru, like Lima. But why? Huancayo is the breadbasket to Lima, and it’s proximity to the jungle, and ideal climate (for vegetable growing) mean that all of the above items are abundant and cheap. Of course, we are nearly at the top of the Andes, so some things (those items not produced in close proximity) are more expensive than many other places. So we’ll start with the good news and then we’ll level the playing field a bit and explain what other goods cost in a furute post.

For me, and others here in the Andes, we get by just fine without having to purchase a lot of those more expensive items. It is a matter of simple-lifestyle. Eating a great deal of really healthy foods, produced locally and served within hours of harvesting far outweighs the cost of more expensive technology, or fuel. I mean where on earth can you get farm fresh made, farmers cheese for $1.14 per pound? We’re working on a post all about cheese so stay tuned.

How Much Food is that and what are the costs?

Let’s see:

  • 6.6 lbs. Organic Potatoes S/. 2.10 ($0.76)
  • 2.2 lbs. Organic Limes S/. 2.50 ($0.90)
  • 2.2 lbs. Organic Passionfruit S/. 4.00 ($1.45)
  • 2.2 lbs. Organic Bananas S/. 2.50 ($0.90)
  • 2.2 lbs. Organic Chirimoya S/. 6.00 ($2.17)
  • 1.1 lbs. Organic Plums S/. 2.00 ($0.72)
  • 10, 100% Whole Wheat, Stoneground Rolls S/. 1.00 ($0.36)
  • 3.5 lbs Organic, Fresh, Farmers Cheese S/. 11.00 ($3.98)
  • 50 Organic, Grazing Hen Eggs S/. 15.00 ($5.38)

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Total: S/. 61.10 or $22.04 (!)

 

organic eggs

Organic, Jumbo Peruvian, range, eggs costing $3.38 per 50, or $1.29 per dozen

Looks like a lot of food, and it is. Fifty eggs seem like a lot to buy, but eggs are inexpensive and (unless you are allergic) good for you. You can, however buy just as many as you need in the market. These are also much fresher than eggs you would typically get in the USA or in Supermarkets just about anywhere, even Peru. When you buy eggs from a farmer, you are likely getting eggs than were laid within the last few days. Not a month ago. Unlike USA eggs, eggs in Peru are unwashed as they are in most of the world, such as the EU by law. Ask any farmer, and they will tell you that unwashed eggs are better. Why? Because the egg comes naturally coated with nature’s own preservative, which is really a biologically produced shield genetically designed to prevent moisture and carbon dioxide loss and to ensure that other contaminants don’t penetrate the shell. Called the cuticle or bloom, this natural shield is a good thing.

eggWashing a laying egg will kill the chances of the chick hatching. It also quickly diminishes freshness and requires immediate refrigeration. Eggs in the USA are generally old and biologically dead. Literally, the USA requires eggs to be chemically treated with a sanitizing agent. Unwashed, natural eggs are shelf stable and require no refrigeration (stored at moderate temperatures typical in a home). Farm fresh eggs produced from hens that graze on natural food (worms, grubs, seeds, etc.) are like night and day different from factory produced eggs where chickens are stuffed in cages, fed antibiotics, hormones, and fed a mono-culture diet of genetically altered corn. Yuck! Crack a real egg open and you will see a deep orange (not pale yellow–a sign of the feed) yolk that stands up tall with a high rounded cresting center (doesn’t lie flat–a sign of an old egg). Here is a good Forbes article on US and EU eggs that I found surprisingly accurate and if you can’t tell already I like the subject of eggs so I found it interesting as well.

Eggs in Peru are often consumed hard-boiled, which is a healthy way to eat an egg. Though they do fry and scramble them as well and that is never a good way to eat eggs, health wise that is. Personally I like soft boiled or poached eggs, also healthy ways to prepare eggs. Ask any knowledgeable doctor or nutritionist, and you will learn that eggs are not in themselves a cause of high cholesterol. It is a misnomer that cholesterol naturally found in food contributes to high cholesterol in the body. Rather, it is the fat commonly used to cook eggs (fried, scrambled, as an omelet) that causes a condition of high cholesterol in the body. To reduce cholesterol in your body reduce fried food, butter, margarine, fatty meats and oils in general. So eat farm fresh eggs from naturally grazing hens and cook them without fat!

 

organic produce peru

Over 16 pounds of farm fresh fruits and vegetables.

Over 16 pounds of organic, farm fresh, fruit and potatoes with an average price per pound $0.43, and a total cost of $6.90–what a deal!. Nowhere in the USA will you pay fifty cents a pound for organic produce. Even if you factor out the heavy nearly free potatoes you are only paying $0.56 per pound for organic fruit. This isn’t what is called conventionally produced fruit in the USA. Here in Peru, where organic is king, conventionally most food is organic (though we have unconventional farmers growing factory food as well).

The potatoes are called white, but they are the color of a Yukon Gold and are particularly all purpose. The potato in the back (partially covered) was the largest potato I ever saw! It weighed 1.5 pounds and made fries 9 inches long! You can’t beat organic potatoes for $0.31 per pound.

Granadilla FruitPictured in the upper right of the photo, the golden colored fruit with a stem, is one of the three varieties of Passion Fruit, the sweetest and easiest to eat, called “Granadilla’. Pronounced “Gran-ah-dee-ya”. You can crack them open and suck or spoon out this gelatinous seedy flesh, which you consume seeds and all. But because the seeds are coated with jelly, and you don’t chew, but drink, it isn’t an issue. On a hot day you can pick one (they grow wild in many places), or buy for 18 cents in Huancayo, and the inside will be cool, sweet and very refreshing!

Just below that is my very favorite fruit in the whole world, Chirimoya, which is an amazing enzymatic, sweet juicy fruit with big black slippery seeds and a thin green skin. It tastes like a pear and a banana combined with the enzyme like sensation of papaya and a touch of strawberry, pineapple and peach and flavors as well. Clearly the most expensive thing I bought, by weight costing nearly a dollar a pound (people complain about the high price of Chirimoya) and worth every penny. Unfortunately, it doesn’t transport all that well so you are only bound to find it in specialty fruit markets outside Peru, not in your supermarket. High in Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Potassium, Magnesium and dietary fiber it has real value to offset its high sugar content. I’m going to go to the Chirimoya festival next time and will do a whole post on them. Don’t leave Peru without trying it!

BananasBananas in Peru are quite different from the mono-culture bananas produced by countries like Ecuador for expert to the rest of the world. There are many, many kinds all with distinct flavor. Once you try a Peruvian banana you are never going to really enjoy a “Chiquita Banana” again. Sorry! This variety is a little less sugary than the mono-culture bananas I grew up eating, and they are so much more flavorful! There is even a hint of tartness, but still ever sweet. The flesh is orange and a bit triangular in circumference.

The plums found in Peru, as the apples, are nothing special. They are good, but lack the sophisticated qualities that selective breeding in other places of the world have produced.

peruvian limes

A bowl of particularly large and yellow Limóns

The Limóns are not “Lemons”! They are really limes, but not at all like a lime from the USA. The Peruvian Limón has its own flavor and highly acidic qualities. I read where some say that the Peruvian Lime is the same as a Key Lime, and that is so not so. Having grown up in Southern California, walking through citrus orchards daily, I come to differentiate citrus flavors and the Peruvian Lime is much more sour and acidic than the Key Lime, and has a very strong flavor. I’ve made what is equivalent to a Key Lime Pie with Peruvian Limes and the result is not great. So yes, if you can’t get a Peruvian Lime, use a Key Lime (and twice as much) as a substitute, but don’t think they are the same!

peruvian whole wheat bread

Small dense stone ground hearth oven baked whole wheat rolls

Finally, the 100% Whole Wheat, Stoneground Rolls taste really great and are quite inexpensive costing only 3.8 cents each roll. All breads in Peru are comparably cheap to comparably wealthy foreigners. I recently read a lot from foreigners in Peru about bread and I’m about to do my first post on the subject so not to spoil it, but Peru has a great wealth of breads, whole wheat included. However, if you are looking for bread typical to the USA and the EU supermarkets or bakeries your out of luck. Be adventuresome, try some of the dozens of kinds of bread I see every day in the Andean markets when you are here.

Gringo-Peruvian Potato Salad

North American potato salad with different potatoes

Potato Salad, but not really Peruvian cuisine.

Here in Peru I’m surrounded by hundreds of varieties of potatoes and a myriad of new ways to prepare them.

Raw, whole native Peruvian potatoes

Not always available, these are wonderful and super tasty!

But with all of the new recipes and exiting Peruvian cuisine, sometimes I just get a hankering for good old North American potato salad. But who can resist these “Papas Nativas Peruanas Andinas” starchy, golden-purple colored spuds, I can’t. The flavor of these is really rich and while I’m not going to give you a recipe (everyone already has their own ways of making potato salad) I will say that I used yogurt instead of mayonnaise and it really was good. It does look a little kooky, but much less so than the last time I experimented with a completely purple variety. I think next time I’ll garnish it a bit more sparsely, as it had quite a gaudy look.

 

Andean potatoes

These Native Peruvian Andes potatoes are so good!

When boiling these you have to watch them closely as they explode when they are done. Poking them with a fork accelerates this so pull them out of the boiling water at the first sign of splitting. Otherwise 3-4 minutes later you will have potato soup.

sliced potatoes for potato salad

Sliced Papas Nativas Peruanas Andinas

As you can see, I like to keep the skin on, after all there is more nutrition in the skin of a potato than the rest of the potato. And the range of nutrients is much greater with the skin on.

Potatoes at Huancayo's Mercado Mayorista

There must be a thousand farmers selling their potatoes every day in all of Huancayo.

I kid you not, there are more potatoes in this one part of Huancayo’s “Mercado Mayorista” at any one moment than I’ve ever seen in my whole life. Hundreds of varieties and at least a thousand farmers selling with stacks-and-stacks of “papas”. When visiting Huancayo, please go to the food markets, it is a sight to see!

Note: The term Gringo isn’t considered an offensive term (by me and most) in many places such as Peru. When I first started going to my local markets in Peru many people (especially older ladies and many children) would smile and point and say: “Gringo!” or “Hola Gringo!”. I always stop and talk to anyone who does that and I’ve never gotten anything, but warmth, usually accompanied by healthy inquisitiveness. This doesn’t happen much any more to me in Peru, partly because I now speak better Spanish, and because as a good neighbor, I know a great deal of folks in my community now. People are used to seeing me, my funny looks, and know more about me as a real person, not a caricature.

That said, if you are a really ugly person, typically from the USA, talk a certain way (very loud with no regard for learning or attempting another culture’s language) you might get a mean comment about being a Gringo. This has never happened to me, and I’m only reporting what others tell me. Gringo isn’t derogatory, though it can accompany derogatory remarks (on TV), it can’t even be considered offensive like the “N” word truly is or “Queer” is to some people, though I reject that personally. So don’t get your panties in a twist, learn to embrace people, extend the olive branch, and always look at yourself critically first before ever attempting to do so with others.

“Feria Dominical” Huancayo Sunday Outdoor Market

clothing at the outdoor market in Huancayo

La Feria Dominical de Huancayo

Feria Dominical is Peru’s largest outdoor market, which is in Huancayo every Sunday, from 9 am to 10 pm, and stretches about 12 blocks on Av. Huancavelica (usually from the Coliseo Wanka to Colegio Salesiano Tecnico Don Bosco). Huancavelica runs parallel with Real a five block walk from Plaza de la Constitución. To find it from there, stand with your back to Catedral de Puno and walk down either Puno to your right, or Breña to your left five blocks.

 

Andean crafts

unique carved and painted gourd owls

While not specifically a tourist market, or a food market you can find a little bit (or a lot) of just about everything including arts, crafts, textiles, clothing, shoes, hats, housewares, street food, fruits, vegetables, dry goods, small pets and animals, wooden furniture, household appliances, tools, books, magazines and much more.

 

textiles at Huancayo Sunday Market

The largest outdoor market in Peru offers something for everyone!

The Sunday Outdoor Market was established in 1572 to promote trade in the region and continues to be one of the oldest markets as well as the largest in Peru.

 

If I’m headed there I might pick up fruits or vegetables (though there are two every day markets with hundreds of farmer vendors which offer much greater selections see: Mercado Mayorista and Mercado Modelo). Tourists can pick up inexpensively priced handicrafts at Feria Dominical, or at Casa del Artesano (offers a greater selection) across from Plaza de la Constitución, or in the local towns and villages where the crafts are made. Going to the villages is more fun, offers a vastly wider selection, and affords you the opportunity to meet the artisans and possibly see demonstrations. But you can beat the convenience of Feria Dominical!

 

Textiles and hand painted, hand carved, gourds.

Textiles and hand painted, hand carved, gourds.

Condor, puma, serpent, sun and moon gourd

Hand-painted, carved gourds are a specialty craft in several Mantaro Valley villages especially Cochas Chicas/Cochas Grandes. Huancayo Craft Gourd VaseThe tradition of carving gourds goes back to pre-Inca periods and today you can find a wide selection of purely artistic creations to artistic and useful items such as: gourd birdhouses, baskets, musical instruments, mobiles, wind chimes, desk accessories, kitchen accessories and more. Art Gourd Sun DesignI like them because they have intricate and interesting depictions of nature and Andean life. Huancayo Art GourdThey make excellent, unique, economical gifts and your purchase supports the artists and their families, many of whom rely in this income to survive.

 

Hummingbird Art GourdGourd carving has been practiced for generations, and the skills have passed from area to area via trade routes and travel amongst the craftspeople. Today family members pass the skills intergenerationally along with the stories of Andean celebrations, traditions, rituals, myths, weddings and so on. It is fun to look and try and decipher what a specific gourd might be saying. If you purchase gourds from knowledgeable craftspeople or their family members they are usually able to tell you what is depicted.

 

Huancayo-Hualhuas textiles

All natural and handcrafted.

The Sunday market offers a few textiles, but if you are looking to pick up a handmade rug or other handwoven authentic textiles try to make it to small town of Hualhuas about 12 km North of Huancayo. There you will find beautifully crafted, original and traditionally designed had woven textiles made from handmade, hand dyed yarns. I’ve gotten one-of-a-kind, amazing handmade area rugs there for $100-$150. Compared to machine made tourist items you can’t beat a completely handmade piece, and Hualhaus has some of the most exciting designs in South America. The craftspeople are very friendly, honest and informative and I’ve never felt pressured into buying anything there.

 

Huancayo Sunday Market

A popular place for locals to shop for clothing, textiles, housewares, toys and etc.

If you are looking for hand and machine knitted sweaters, blankets or other clothing items you can a good selection at the Huancayo Sunday Outdoor Market, or may I suggest going to the second floor of the Mercado Modelo, where you may find a better selection (that is where I buy all my blankets). The sweaters are nice too, but I prefer to have my sweaters custom, knitted to my specifications by a wonderful woman in Lima (I pay her twice what she asks, $40 per sweater because of her work is so good). Look around when you pass market stalls all over Peru and you will see ladies knitting there in between customers. When you find someone with work that you like, ask if they are willing to make something custom for you. I had custom hoodie style sweaters knitted and they are really colorful and amazingly comfortable (Alpaca is nice to wear!).

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