The Tarija market, and I'm talking about the central market 3 blocks from Plaza Luis de Fuentes
, made me bend the healthy travel rules I usually set for myself.
My rule of thumb when I travel is "don't eat at the markets" even though I am very accustomed to the water and food in Bolivia, and I certainly almost never recommend a foreigner eat at a market. However, there are two markets where I do feel safe eating. One is in Sucre and the other is the Tarija market.
Bolivia's open markets are a great place to shop because you can find a bounty of just about anything, from fruit and veggies to clothes, toys and housewares and sometimes even things like car parts. In Tarija the market is also well-known for its good food. In fact, if you choose the right place and some specific dishes, you can eat a clean, healthy breakfast or lunch for under $2 any day. A BIG healthy meal.
First of all, at the main entrance of the market you'll find a couple of women who have set up some delicious fruit milkshake stands. They've got all kinds of fruit and several blenders and they'll make you any kind of combination milkshake you want. The fruit is peeled so you don't have to worry and they use milk, not water. Nothing more delicious than a really cold fresh milkshake in the morning for breakfast or mid-afternoon to cool off when it's hot.
Inside the market, if you walk past the fruit and veggie sellers, you'll enter a separate really large open space that has rows and rows of women cooking and tons of tables. Not there. Walk through that and into the next area which is a more enclosed cooking area. Each little woman has a stall separated by a wall from the next vendor. Here you'll find hot cooked meals like Tarija's typical saice, grilled fish, picante-de-pollo (spicy chicken with rice) and many other good meals, all for under $2. In fact, most are under $1 (about Bs. 5 or 80 cents!) for a full plate.
Look for Doña Pastora and you'll enjoy a lunch fit for a king. OK, well a president anyways. Several of Bolivia's past presidents seek her out when they're in Tarija and she's become sort of famous for her saice. However, because her food is really good and she begins cooking at about 10 am, you have to have an early lunch because by 11:30 it's all gone! That's unusual in a country where people typical eat lunch at 1 or 2. Doña Pastora is a tiny little woman with a big grin. She's very friendly and charming.
If you're looking for a different healthy breakfast, go a bit earlier to the same area of the Tarija market and you'll find the ladies making pastries like buñuelos and empanadas. Sprinkled with some powdered sugar, these are delicious with some hot purple corn api. Everything is fried, baked or cooked.
If you're just looking for a good place to shop, there are several markets in Tarija where you can walk among the vendors and choose from tens of thousands of products. The Tarija market is only 3 blocks up from the central plaza (just ask anyone "donde está el mercado" and they'll point the way). Others are farther out and you may have to take a taxi. Read my page about how to bargain prices at Bolivia's markets before you go. Looking for somewhere different to eat in Tarija? Click on the "Food" link.