The Fresh, Safe, Belen Market; Learn About It Here

by Captain Bill

The Fresh, Safe, Belen Market; Learn About It Here

Marmelita with fresh head of cauliflower from the Belen Market

Marmelita with fresh head of cauliflower from the Belen Market

The Belen Market has a bad reputation that I hope to repair with this article. If you follow along with Marmelita and I, we will show you the best places to buy your groceries. Some tourists only see the two day old chicken in the sun, the salted dried fish, the lower market with drunks passed out in the mud, the afternoon garbage, and buzzards. Please don’t go there unless you just want to slum, which can be interesting and is part of the story, but I want you to know about the fresh, safe, Belen Market. Learn about it here. First tip, only go to the Belen Market in the morning.

You won't find fresher better bok choy than these except picked fresh out of your garden.

You won't find fresher, better bok choy than these unless you pick them fresh out of your garden.

The Belen Market is a great, huge, third world outdoor super market that covers 20 blocks or more. Everything that can be bought or sold, is bought and sold there. In this article Marmelita and I are focused on purchasing supplies to outfit an expedition in Dawn on the Amazon. Follow along with us as we purchase only the the best and freshest fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, herbs, and spices.

You want fresh fish? Come here.

You want fresh fish? Mariela Macedo is the woman you want to make friends with. Watch out for her cleaver.

We buy all of our dorado fish from Mariela Macedo. She is located in the large blue building in the first stall of the fish section at the top of the stairs. We trust her to make sure our fish is the freshest. Of course we trust, but we verify. The gills were still moving this morning. The price per kilo is S/18-S/24 depending on supply. If Mariela is not working her fish stall, her daughter Katarina will take good care of you.

Ha, ja,

The head is special for soup.

Shopping at the Belen Market is a microcosm of life. Building relationships of trust is so important. Dawn on the Amazon is a good customer. We pay when we buy, and we only want the freshest and best. Marmelita is a charming woman. She jokes a lot, and they laugh, and business is built around the relationship. I am confident Mariela will never sell us yesterdays fish. She wants us to come back to her.

Fresh basil at the Belen Market

Fresh basil at the Belen Market

Don’t buy your basil or other herbs in the stores because they are brought from Lima. This basil at the Belen Market was harvested fresh this morning.

Only the ripest ahi dulce peppers for us.

Only the best aji dulce peppers for us.

For long expeditions we buy some fruits and vegetables completely ripe, and some to ripen (and not spoil) along the way.

Fresh head of broccoli at the Belen Market

Fresh head of broccoli at the Belen Market

The Belen Market has this store called El Cruz del Chalpon, and we think it is the best place to buy many fruits and vegetables. But we always check around to make sure theirs are the freshest. We do not have a great relationship with them. The owners have been hard to get to know or to get along with.

Cabbage and squash for soup at the Belen Market

Cabbage and squash for soup at the Belen Market

The Belen Market is safe, but you should use the normal precautions as in any crowded area. Don’t look or be vulnerable. Be alert to pick pockets. Don’t carry unnecessary valuables with you. Carry everything in front of you, backpacks, fanny packs, purses, camera bags, etc. I keep my camera out, strap around my neck, but I also keep one hand on it at all times.

Keep your wallet and change purse in your front pockets, preferably zipped up. Keep some small sole bills and change in a separate pocket, so you never have to get your large sole bills out to show anyone you even have them. No vendor will want to make change for a S/100 bill for you to buy a S/2 mango anyway.  US currency is nearly worthless here, change to small bill soles before coming to the Belen Market. This is not a tourist place, this is real life, which is the reason some tourists like to come here.

This seller of cecina wouldn't cheat the young nuns, or Dawn on the Amazon.

Veronica, this seller of cecina, wouldn't cheat the young nuns, or Dawn on the Amazon.

The Belen Market is about building relationships. Marmelita thinks according to our experience Veronica has the best cecina. As long as she is loyal to us, we will be loyal to her.

Our chicken is guaranteed to be fresh. We butcher them just before we cook them.

Our chicken is guaranteed to be fresh. We butcher them just before we cook them.

This chicken cost us S/15 soles.

Ginger at the Belen Market

Ginger at the Belen Market

The Belen Market.

This is Gilber. He is the most helpful clerk in the Belen Market. He speaks English and has a great attitude. If you ever need any help, he is your go to guy.

This is Gilber. He is the most helpful clerk in the Belen Market. He speaks English and has a great attitude. If you ever need any help, he is your go to guy.

Gilber speaks English and wants to help. He works at the store before Chalpon. Some fruits and vegetables might be fresher here. We always double check.

This is Veronica wrapping our fresh heart of palm in bijao leaf. She is nice.

This is Veronica wrapping our fresh heart of palm in bijao leaf. She is nice.

A small niche that needs filling is supplying baby carrots, new potatoes, tender spring green lettuce, and the long skinny “burpless” oriental cucumbers that you can eat the skin. At the Belen Market, bigger equals better.

Fresh lettuce and Chinese green onion.

Fresh lettuce and Chinese green onion.

Dawn on the Amazon is the only tour company, restaurant, or store that rinse all of our fruits, vegetables, and herbs in pure water, then we soak them in pure water and then we rinse them again in pure water, all so you don’t have to worry, and so I don’t have to worry.

Marmelita choosing the limes.

Marmelita choosing the limes.

This corner of the Belen Market has the best juicy limes.

De Dei selecting the mandarins

Deydi selecting the mandarins.

We are lucky to have great avocados and mandarins at the Belen Market

Amanda always makes sure we get the sweetest pineapples.

Amanda trys to make sure we get the sweetest pineapples.

I have to admit, either she has lied to us or it is not easy to choose the best pineapple. Our relationship is jeopardy

We brew a delicious tea twice a day from fresh rosemary.

We brew a delicious tea twice a day from fresh Rosemary leaves.

Try poking holes in your potatoes before baking, and sticking fresh sprigs of Rosemary in the holes.

This is the spice and herb man. Now we are buying guizador, for our steamed fish.

This is the spice and herb man. Now we are buying guizador, for our steamed fish.

In hundred of trips to the Belen Market to purchase supplies we have never been robbed or threatened.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes

The Belen Market.

Tapioca for a special sweet, cinnamon, milky drink we love.

Tapioca for a special sweet, cinnamon, milky drink we love.

Did you know Tapioca is an Amazon Rainforest product made from yuca? I didn’t.

I like these pepino fruits, and there is a funny story about them.

I like these pepino fruits, and there is a funny story about them.

A decade or so ago, during my second year in Iquitos, when I knew just enough to be dangerous, Edson and I were outfitting a three week Peacock Bass fishing expedition with my friend Mark in the original Dawn on the Amazon, we were running out of time. We had most of the supplies.

Just because we don’t have refrigeration for three weeks doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a nice crisp salad. We start with cabbage, tomatoes, onions, carrots, and cucumbers. By the third week we are usually down to onions and carrots, and foraging for heart of palm, but by then all raw vegetables are a treat.

This story is about cucumbers. I forgot them, so Mark went to the Belen Market to buy three weeks worth. As he left he wisely asked, “What is the Spanish word for cucumbers?”

I replied, “Pepinos”, he wrote it down and was off to run his errand while I paid for our fuel.

I have forgotten a lot of things in the last 10 years but I still remember as if it were yesterday the expression on his face and his explanation when he returned with two huge bags of pepinos.

“Bill, the cucumbers here are round, and they aren’t green.”

Oh, oh! That is how we learned about one of the best tropical fruits, pepino frutas. We also learned they keep in good shape for a long time if handled gently without bruising. Now we take them on every expedition when they are in season. Lots of our guests like to compare them to something they know. The best “comparison” I heard was, “like a pear only juicier, crossed with a cantaloupe”. I think we should just accept that, like Mark and I years ago, we don’t really have any basis of comparison.  Pepinos frutas are uniquely Pepino frutas, pepinos on the other hand, are large cucumbers.

Mark and I have been friends for thirty years, and we have laughed about this a hundred times or more. Mark, if you read this, and I am sure you will, something I appreciate, you trusted my word, pepinos equal cucumbers, even when your own eyesight and instincts must have been telling you these aren’t cucumbers like we raise in Indiana, and that is a very valuable characteristic in a friend. I wasn’t wrong, and you weren’t wrong.

Back then Mark and I were like a lot of first time visitors, making quick observations and judgements. We tended to see the two day old chickens and dried fish as the story of the Belen Market. Now I realize those are discounted in price, and poor people wait to buy them for soup. Poor people can not pay S/15 soles for a chicken. That is 3 days manual labor wages.

Many different varieties of beans and grains.

Many different varieties of beans, nuts, and grains.

We buy Canario beans, wheat and quinua here.

Nearly all of the food served in the restaurants, lodges, and cruise ships operating in Iquitos Peru comes from the Belen Market.

I hope this article will bring a better appreciation and awareness of how the food chain is fresh and safe at the Belen Market, in Iquitos Peru. Maybe you will be relieved to know.

This would be a good place to leave a comment about your experience at the Belen Market. We would really like to hear from you. Do you have a better vendor to buy pinapples from? We always want to improve. We don’t know everything. Help us learn to get better. Thanks.

The Fresh, Safe, Belen Market; Learn About It Here

Bill and Marmelita, Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises

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