Food Culture

Supermarkets Swarm into Cuzco

Which One Do You Prefer?

Modernity is taking over more and more of our beautiful and traditional city of Cuzco. For example, before I turned thirteen there were no supermarkets in Cuzco. All we had were our original, public markets. Now there are many supermarkets throughout the city. This is a big change and it makes some people happy and other people sad.

A supermarket is an urban commercial establishment that sells consumer goods in a self service system. You can find in them food, items of personal hygiene, perfumes and scents, as well as home cleaning.

They tend to be part of chains, generally in the form of franchises, which can have other stores in the same city.

Their products are organized by sections, or aisles classified according to the nature of the goods: fresh foods, frozen foods, drinks, cookies and crackers, cereals, fruit, etc.

Tourist Buying Fresh Fruit in San Pedro Market
Tourist Buying Fresh Fruit in San Pedro Market

They intend for the client to make the widest pass possible through the store. That is why the most bought products are scattered in different points of the store. Generally you find meat and fish, for example, on the opposite end of the space from the entrance and the cash registers. Bread and soft drinks are in different places and frozen foods are in extensive refrigerated cases that stretch through the store.

As I remember, the first supermarket where today one finds the Mega on Matará street, was one called El Chinito, The Chinese person, remembering the role of Chinese grocers in developing this market and distribution network in commercial and industrial foods. As a result it is not surprising that in Lima one of the largest supermarket chains is called by a Chinese name, Wong.

Afterwards the same place became Di Mart and only later became Mega. According to a Wikipedia Entry Mega purchased the Di Mart chain allowing it to grow, since the first Mega was on Garcilaso Avenue, near the center of the town.

Entrance to Mega Supermarket
Entrance to Mega Supermarket

‘The last ten years have sen an explosion of supermarkets throughout the city of Cuzco. In part this is from the expansion of small neighborhood, or corner markets into stores offering ever more packaged and canned goods, as well as the acquisition and concentration of them into larger stores and chains. Ever more capital is now required to open a supermarket as well as formal contracts with producers and suppliers.

During this time the people of Cuzco who have money have become ever more accustomed to the quality and taste of regulated and industrial food, instead of the local produce they grew up with. People from rural communities, with all the prejudice they faced and the struggles to improve their situation, find walking the aisles of a supermarket and pulling down its boxes or cans of food, or buying meat from a long, refrigerated case, and carrying it home in a closed plastic bag, a symbol of success.

More and more people want this commercial food instead of what Cuzco traditionally produces.

Vegetable Stands in San Pedro Market
Vegetable Stands in San Pedro Market

David, from the United States, finds this funny since in his world where supermarkets have long been the main place people got food, here is a movement to re-open markets like the traditional markets we have in every neighborhood, or like our fairs, where farmers can either bring their produce directly to people or someone can buy from them and then resell it.

Well off people seem to prefer the farmer’s markets to the supermarkets there in a trend that is the opposite of what we are living. Here, more and more people want the commercial, supermarket food instead of what Cuzco traditionally produces.

Mega followed the course of buying up other grocery stores and is now considered the largest chain of supermarkets in southern Peru. Now there are six Megas in our city as the chain has extended like a spider’`s web to draw more and more Cusqueños into its doors. It has also opened stores in nearby towns of Quillabamba and Abancay and has plans to expand to other cities of the south. Its largest store is on the Avenue of Culture in the neighborhood of Wanchaq.

A Small Market, One Block of the Plaza de Armas
A Small Market, One Block of the Plaza de Armas

However there are also other stores in our city. In the center of the city is a smaller supermarket called Gatos Market. It used to be under the Portal Belen on the Plaza de Armas but moved this year to the Ruinas Street where the new Marriott hotel is opening. We also have an Orion Market across from the traditional San Pedro Market, and also the Casa Market. The supermarket business is seen as competitive and so other businesses open to try to draw new customers, as people convert from the traditional market to the supermarket, and to draw customers away from the established stores such as Mega.

As part of the competition, the different stores have a different arrangement of products including different brand names.

These stores are always found in plazas or main streets where lots of people travel.

Entrance to Orion Supermarket
Entrance to Orion Supermarket

In Supermarkets people generally make their rounds with carts or baskets to hold their products until they can get to the register and stand in line. Generally these are found at the exits from the buildings. Even though they are different enterprises, it is funny how similar the set up is of all the city’s supermarkets. It is like a kind of discipline we learn as we move through them.

Personally, I prefer to make my rounds through the traditional markets and speak and joke around with the sellers we call caseras. When I was a child I almost always accompanied my mother when she went to do her purchases for our house. We would visit the different stands of my mothers caseras and I could see how important that relationship of casera was. Everyone of her caseras would have a different personality and a different spirit. They would spoil me with kisses, tickles, and they would give us some extra goods as a gift, a yapa as well call it. One could find all kinds of goods in the markets and find reasonable prices.

You can still see this variety and the traditional way in our markets such as San Pedro, San Blas, Rosaspata, and Ttio among others. Although you can find some packages of food and some canned goods most of the food is fresh and comes from the different regions of Cuzco and other parts of Peru.

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