I have read many times that the way to get to know a place is to visit its markets.
There’s a pulse, a rhythm that’s palpable at a local market. You can get a sense for how people dress. How they eat. How they interact with each other.
And you can definitely gain perspective on the economic situation.
For instance, take this pile of fresh mangoes. I purchased them for 25 Lempira. That equates to about 5¢ a piece. Yes, I said five cents a piece. And the spent mango seeds on the streets, everywhere we walked said they’re good, they’re plentiful and they’re probably priced well.
At my local Harris Teeter supermarket in Virginia, the current price for a mango imported from who knows where — probably chile — costs $1.00. An organic mango, will leave your wallet $1.99 lighter. Now, the mangoes I bought were the wee little ones that look as though they belong in a giant dollhouse, but nevertheless, they cost FIVE CENTS A PIECE and packed a powerful punch of sweet, juicy, tropical flavor!
How does one pass up a bargain like this? And more importantly, how does a person not dive in and eat most of the 25 purchased at the market in one weekend?
Yes, I tried, but between that and the addictive and sweet, delicate miniature cherry tomatoes, my stomach let me know it was not a wise idea to continue so I turned the mangoes into purée and served a dollop on top of creamy Cardamom Rice Pudding at dinner the next night.
But let’s get back to the market. Ryan, Marcio and I piled into the car on a Sunday morning and headed to the market. People at work told me I wouldn’t want to go. That the produce is not that good. That it’s dangerous there. A few months ago on a Saturday I asked Jorge to take me there and he did. We drove down streets made narrow with produce vendors on either side of the road and people walking everywhere.
I knew it could be a place rife with pick pockets, but figured, like any other crowded market in the world, paying close attention, not carrying a purse or holding onto it tightly would take care of the danger of having it disappear, so on a quiet Sunday morning with a couple of guys from work, we headed into the city.
Jorge was not in favor of taking me there. He told Marcio, who so graciously translated for us, that he knew I wanted to go, but we only drove past it that day because “it smells” and I “wouldn’t like it.”
Or Jorge, we’ve been together for almost a year and a half and you don’t know me well enough to understand that this is what I love? To see people in their element, hawking and interacting and making a living for themselves while their customers flit from stall to stall, looking and questioning and bartering and walking away with the prize of ingredients for the next meal. This is what the market experience is all about.
Like this guy in his Alcatraz visitor’s shirt and the mysterious one hanging back in the window behind the bananas with an onlooker off to the side after they motion to me to take a shot; the market is filled with interesting vignettes like this.
And the smell of not-so-fresh meat or produce that’s on it’s way to great methane production is what gives a fresh market its vida, it’s carácter.
Just like when I was a kid. My mom would take us to see the fish monger, to pick out a perfectly fresh Dover Sole or to pluck 4 lobsters out of the tank. We’d go in through the back door of the shop, a few feet off the parking lot and I loved walking through the sawdust strewn on the floor to sop up the sea water and melted ice that became part of the floor. The aroma of creatures from the sea wafted over the entrance and drew me in. I know. It doesn’t make sense. “Normal” people run from that smell, but it was welcoming to me.
Outside the buildings that make up the market, “retailers” as Jorge refers to them, purchase produce from wholesalers and set up their own make-shift stalls, making it easier for shoppers to pick up what they need and go. It was kind of late for a market morning, so the trucks were half empty, but there was plenty to be had and far less mankind filling the streets and alleys.
All kinds of business opportunities arise out of the market. Working out in the hot sun, with the pavement radiating heat, people need to quench their thirst and a snack is a must for some, so people like this guy selling mangoes and juice and crunchy snacks makes his living while riding his stall around the busy streets.
And saying hi to familiar customers and friends.
Retailers set up shop wherever they can find an empty space and shoppers with bags and cash are rewarded with local produce.
There’s no need for a “shop local” movement in a place like this. These markets are not a trendy farmer’s market with hired musicians playing in the background and clowns brought in to keep the kids happy.
They are truly the place local farmers and ranchers bring their good to market.
These markets are a way of life and the people that shop here aren’t likely to be found in the pricey “American style” supermarkets in town.
These kernels of corn make me wonder if they’re popped on top of a stove in a special pan or if they end up in some other dish I am totally unfamiliar with.
These oranges must come from a part of the country or the region I haven’t explored yet, because I have never seen an orange tree on my travels.
I can’t imagine having to catch a pineapple with my bare hands, but this guy probably does this every day and may not even think twice about it.
There is more to the market than food, but this man selling loofahs of all shapes and sizes was a surprise. It tells me people like to be good to themselves and while you can find loofahs in the markets in town, why bother with a big store when you can get what you need on the streets at the market and probably for a fraction of the cost of a store?
I have a scene from City Slickers running through my head thinking about cowboys and loofahs.
The ingredients in the 5 images above are all that’s needed to make a delicious and filling meal, dessert included.
What would you make with jalapeńos, rice, beans, oil, sweet mangoes, ginger, cilantro, parsley, mint, banans, eggs and pomelos? I am thinking a Bi Bim Bap, vegetarian style would be a good mid-day meal with bananas, and mangoes for dessert and a tall icy glass of pomelo juice to quench the thirst of a morning at the market.
These are the mango variety that sell for up to $1.99 at the supermarket in Virginia.
Nothing goes to waste. You know those tamales you like so much? These banana leaves are a major component of the recipe. I think I need a lesson in tamale-making soon.
Bananas shine in Honduras. They have been the mainstay of the Honduran economy for decades as their emerald green color signifies. But don’t call Honduras a Banana Republic any longer. Things have progressed and there’s more to this country than the shining emerald green fruit.