Govinda Lila is located inside the typical Cusco market of San Blas. It is by door number 3 next to the row of prepared food vendors who offer a whole range of dishes from Monday through Sunday. Beginning a noon clients begin to arrive to delight in the list of main dishes written on the small blackboards. The caseras, vendors, generally charge 4 S/ for a lunch that includes soup and a main course. Lila though is different. Her food is vegetarian and she charges 6 S/ for lunch, about 2$ US.
I remember the first time I asked Lila what she had to eat that day. With a brilliant smile she responded, “vegetarian food. None of the dishes I make has a name. But I make out of vegetables the same things everyone knows.”
Lila serves us Monday through Saturday. It is impressive how her stand fills every day. From noon on it is full. If one wants to enjoy her vegetarian creations one must wait for others to finish and then sit at a table with other people.
She wears a green apron and her kitchen is visible to all. Her pots, her utensils, her refrigerator where she keeps everything fresh are all clean and orderly.
A large bench seats four people by the edge of her stand where she also exhibits her handmade chocolates next to a bucket of a fresh-made beverage. Two white tables and benches fill the rest of her space
On each of the tables in Lila’s space you wills see a bowl filled with an orange hot sauce that she has blended from peppers and different seasonings. There are also silverware and napkins in small cane baskets ready to be used.
Eating vegetarian is based on an ample variety of vegetable foods. Lila’s vegetarian meals are a powerful and pleasant way to get healthier.
I remember when Lila had a restaurant outside the market. The fixed lunch menu cost 5 S/ and her place was always full, the tables tightly packed with people sharing conversation about how tasty her food was. While eating, I heard another diner call her food “the magic of Lila’s food can be seen in her ever restless hands.” That idea filled my mind.
Yesterday I ate at Lila’s. The lunch menu consisted of a vegetable soup consisting of cucumber, squash, carrot, spinach and brown rice to which we each added hot sauce to our satisfaction. I loved it. But what grabbed me was what followed: a scramble of vegetables containing cucumber, eggplant, and crispy fried potatoes cut in little squares. This all let off a gravy that alone seduced me. In each spoonful I could identify the various vegetable flavors and so I ate it all slowly, enjoying each sip and bite.
It filled me and left me satisfied. I told her that her lunch was filled with flavor. She said “I am happy you liked it” and then gave me a sip of cinnamon infused pisco without sugar.
Very happy with what I had eaten I said good by “You need a larger place.”
She answered, “I am fine. I do not need much. The number of people who eat here is perfect.”
“You always manage to have lunch for all who come,” I said.
“If I begin to sell at noon, then everything is gone between 2 and 3 pm. Still I sabe some for my regulars. And, in the worst case, if everything else is gone, I have soy yogurt and a big slice of chocolate cake,” she concluded with a smile.
In the whole food section of the San Blas market Lila is the only person who make vegetarian. Even though her space is small, the same size as that of all the other caseras, the vendors, hers fills with people who come to eat healthful and clean food. You will find tourists from all over the world, devotees of Hare Krishna, hippies, and local and international artisans who love a healthy option.
They sit and you can see their anticipation in their faces and bodies as they wait a brief minute or two for their fresh-made food. They always end up recommending the place to others.
On the fixed menu lunch you have options. You can have soup or Exchange it for soy yogurt and there are usually two main dishes.
Lila’s good humor is contagious and makes her clients welcome and enjoy the best of her food. Her stand is always a great option for travelers who might have recently arrived and be experiencing a bit of indigestion. It is also wonderful for everyone else. I can’t wait for the next time I can go there.