Ode to my Mercado, City Center of my Heart

12 Oct

I adore el mercado, the market. I love that it’s our unofficial city center, even though here in Puerto Escondido it’s not where the plaza is, not where the government buildings are, not where the cathedral is. Our town’s important structures are scattered, not centered in one central plaza, defying Spanish colonization’s mandates about the heart and soul of the place. No, around here the heart of our town is far from the church and the government, right in the chaos and raging colors of the mercado.

I love that the market encompasses an entire block, and is the landmark for everything in like a mile radius around it. I love it’s vibrancy and the madhouse variety of things you can buy within it. You can buy hammocks, mosquito netting, clothing, shoes, cleaning supplies, errand bags, birthday candles, toys, plastic tupperware, floats and beach balls, tacky souvenirs, and much more.

Mosey down the row of fresh flowers for a break from the onslaught of recently killed meat that’s hanging out in your face (try passing that with morning sickness- whew!) You can eat at a multitude of budget-priced comedores (dining areas which in this case are all close together in rows, each its own restaurant but mostly offering such similar food and the seating so limited it might as well be all one restaurant). You can get fresh juice and smoothies at many stands (Lucia and I love “vampire” juice- beet and carrot and oranges, yum). You can go down the row that’s half full of tamales and half uncooked local or wild food (like squash blossoms and chile tusta and verdulagas). There are plentiful herbs everywhere for cheap, including basil, although people here think it’s totally bizarre to eat basil, since they use it to cleanse people of negative energy or to attract customers to their business.

Most often we go there for the several rows of produce stalls. Of course, there’s no refrigeration, no sudden “showers” washing it off every half hour. Some produce is fresher than others, of course. There are two days a week when huge deliveries come in from Oaxaca City (which is really stuff that’s grown in various parts of Mexico and beyond), so those two days are prime pickings. Inside these areas of the market you might suddenly one day come across brussel sprouts, okra or snap peas, none of which qualify as a normal find around here. You can always get ginger and eggplant and a few other things that never seem to appear in the typical Oaxacan diet, but must get used somehow because they seem in-demand enough. And of course all the staples are at every stall, year-round- tomatoes, onion, jalepeño, etc. 

Even more fun than the normal stalls are the folks that post up along the back row, behind the meat and fish and cheese and chickens rows, on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I wouldn’t call it a farmers’ market because some of what they’re selling is still just imported from who-knows-where. But there are always several folks (especially little old ladies and children, mothers with babies at the breast) who are indeed selling stuff from their land at really good prices. There are six year olds who put U.S. teens to shame with their rapid ability to make correct change. And their food is fresh and free from chemicals. This is where I buy my jicama and sweet potato, red bananas, limes, baby onions that don’t quite qualify as spring onions, and all kinds of other deliciousness.

Misperos, the newest fruit I've tried from the back row Saturday market (delicious! a little like peaches but no fuzz, big seeds inside)

Misperos, the newest fruit I’ve tried from the back row Saturday market (delicious! a little like peaches but no fuzz, big seeds inside)

And if you are bringing the kids, not to worry because there’s a playground attached to the market. If you want to splurge you can buy a popsicle or an ice cream from one of the seemingly hundreds of vendors pushing their little cart around. You can people watch, which in itself could be an all-day adventure. You can run up and down the ramps that go from one section to another- an extra exciting fun time if you’re a two year old, particularly. Or find a fallen lime and you can have a mini soccer game. The market is anything but boring.

Lucia on the swings at the market

Lucia on the swings at the market

And if that weren’t enough right there, I love that there are a ton of other vendors right outside the market’s walls, selling fruits and vegetables and fish and other random wares, usually for cheaper than inside the market, every day of the week. Some are selling giant watermelons from their truck for 10 pesos each (less than a dollar, folks). Or selling papaya from a wheelbarrow. Or they’ve got a bicycle cart full of coconuts. There’s folks just standing around or sitting on the ground selling hammocks or nopales or matches or whatever. On all the streets surrounding the market, you can buy food for cooking, ready-to-consume snacks and drinks (including the fresh cut coconut for 1/3 of the price you pay on the beach), clothing, and more, right there outside. It’s like the market just keeps on expanding, chaotically and beautifully, all around, making the heart of my town bigger and bigger, making my love of this town grow along with it.

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