One of the joys of Latin America are the many and various markets. Its is possible to buy everything from household goods to fruit to T shirts to crafts on a street side market if you know where to look!
Every large town has a market, usually covered, selling meat, fish, vegetables and fruit alongside spices, grains, nuts, local cheeses and flowers. The stalls are usually grouped by type and there is considerable friendly rivalry. The meat stalls sell every type of animal product imaginable and unidentifiable innards are displayed alongside trotters as well as the usual cuts of meat and chicken.
There are usually plenty of places to eat too, and although they do not look too savoury, the produce is good quality, hot and cheap and safe because there is a very quick turnover. Empanadas and corn dishes are always popular
Tourism hubs such as Humahuaca, Purmamarca and Cafayate have extensive craft markets. Woollen goods are widely available in traditional styles and a myriad of colours, most people invest in an Andean hat after a trip to the Salt flats ! There are also all sorts of basket weave, jewelry, pottery and wooden carvings. You can find everything from cocktail sticks to salad servers, and cooking pots to tapestries They make attractive and inexpensive souvenirs and gifts. Many of the carvings are based on traditional Wichi designs using various differing coloured hardwoods found in the Chaco region like Palo Santo or Bulnesia Sarmiento (green), Guayacán or Caesalpinia Paraguariensis (dark brown), iscayante and algarrobo or Locust tree (both reddish) and Palo Blanco or Phyllostylon Rhamnoides (light brown or yellowish).
Most of the small villages and towns have their own markets which sell similar produce but because they are used by the locals the prices are more competitive.
Working towns like Tilcara, have a profusion of ferreterias ( ironmongers) and household goods shops amongst the coffee bars and hostels but the hub of the town is the central market.
The best place in northern Argentina to buy fresh lamb, goats cheese, pickles, andean potatoes and beans of every description. Alongside the fruit and food market is what is known as the American Feria, this where clothes donated in the USA are sold to locals through a collaborative.
It is possible to find real bargains at very cheap prices, some still have store labels on them. There is plenty for children here too with toy stalls and sweets and the inevitable dogs chasing around. The touristy craft market is around the town plaza and really comes alive in the evenings when it is serenaded by the competing penas (folk music)
Cooking to the seasons !
My local market is the San Martin Mercado in Salta and I love the vibrant atmosphere with all the colours, aromas and noise. I learnt early on not to plan menus then shop, as recommended in all house thrift and cookery books, as all produce here is seasonal.
However learning to live with the seasons is great and although many vegetables are slightly odd shapes and the fruit very ripe, the flavours are amazing and it is a pleasure to find new ways to cook or adapt favourite recipes. I am still an oddity here as most locals shop for vegetables on a daily basis and Im still in the weekly mode, partly because we live a little out of town and its the habit of a lifetime, but fruit is definitely best bought on an as you need it basis.
Finally its ok to haggle if you are buying multiple items. Most market traders will round down or offer additional fruit to make change easier
Happy shopping ! Ceri