Every Saturday morning, my host mom, Paty, and I make a trip to the local farmer’s market in Viña del Mar. The market, called la feria in Spanish, occurs in different locations in Viña del Mar and Valparaíso throughout the week, and is part of the routines of many families who live in the city. We buy all of the fruits and vegetables we’ll need for the week here. Well, except for tomatoes. We buy a lot of tomatoes at la feria but it’s never enough to last for the entire week. We eat tomatoes with every meal so we usually end up making a mid-week trip to the grocery store, too. It’s just the two of us, but we easily go through more than a kilo and half of tomatoes each week.
At las ferias in both Viña and Valparaíso, there are over 100 stalls of vendors selling fruits, veggies, eggs, fish, juice, plants, and dried fruits and nuts. Most of the fruits and vegetables are also available in the US but some are specific to Latin America and others only to Chile. The produce is often cheaper than what you would find in the supermarket and usually people that buy or sell produce at la feria are from the lower and middle classes.
La feria is a community. I’ve met vendors who have worked there for over 50 years and are close friends with the other vendors that they work with. Many vendors bring their children each week to help and they grow up learning how to run a stall at the market, sometimes taking over the business after their parents. Many customers have vendors that they are loyal to and will buy produce from week after week, even if their prices are higher one week.
Casero is a word that Chileans only use at la feria. It is how you refer to the person who sells the produce and also to the person who buys it. Someone buying tomatoes would say, “Hola, casero. Un kilo de tomates, por favor.” Then the vendor would give them the tomatoes and tell them how much it costs by saying, “Mil pesos, casero.” Everyone is a casero/a at la feria and it’s part of what gives the place so much charm.