Many of Quito’s neighborhoods have their markets, but the largest of them all is San Roque. Located in an indigenous barrio, it has all the actions of a village mercado, in the colonial heart of the city.
San Roque’s market is daily, but Saturday is the busiest day. Walking across the bridge over Avenida Mariscal Antonio de Sucre, you’re suddenly thrust into the bustle. In the alley alongside the main building, furniture makers are hawking their wares. On spread-out cloths, a strange miscellanea of items—from parts for blenders to cell phones—glisten in the weak morning sun. Another aisle has heaps of used clothing. Waiters run bowls of hot soup to vendors making another sale. Women stoop in front of pails full of snail ceviche.
Emerging onto Calle Loja, the scene is ablaze with fresh fruit and vegetable stands. On the west end, past the Esmeraldan women with yucca, onions and plantains, is the fish market.
Bundles of still-alive crabs clack their claws. Bags of shrimp shipped overnight from the coast are weighed. In cramped cages, chickens wonder their culinary fates.
The produce sections stretch for blocks, from Cantuña up to Cumandá, from Loja over to Calderón. Women, dressed in wrapped-around lengths of velvet
tied off with woven belts, wander the crowded streets. Plastic bags stuffed with homegrown vegies hang from their hands. In Quichua-shrill voices, they call out their offerings: Green peppers, 25 cents. Thirty limes, 50 cents. One holds a plastic bowl mounded with carrots. Another has a row of corn lined on her arm (seven for a dollar). A child has a bowl of peas.
The stands are heaped with pineapples (in this off-season, three for a dollar), melons (five for a dollar). As the harvests come, so do the bargains. Anything cultivated in Ecuador’s jungles, coasts and mountains are for sale here.
San Roque’s market is six blocks from Plaza San Francisco. From the plaza, walk
South on Calle Cuenca to Calle Rocafuerte. Turn right, walking uphill to Quiroga (where there is a stone wall on the southwest corner). Turn left. Just past the Japón public school, turn right and walk over the pedestrian bridge. (You’ll see the San Roque tunnel down below, to your right.) Soon you will be in the midst of the mercado. Once entering, turn left towards Calle Loja. It is extremely crowded, so beware pickpockets and leave valuables at home.