Suitcase and World: Going to the mercado!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Going to the mercado!

Eyeing the mangoes.  The variety was astounding.  We tried as many different ones as we could.
We found the mercado on our first day in Antigua and thanks to the Fruit Obsessed One aka my brother, we returned nearly every day we were in Antigua to buy fruit.

As with most markets, Antigua's is divided into sections.  The first set of stalls sell day-to-day wares for the locals and there were a fair share of souvenir vendors.  Valiant, the Sharp Eyed One was always on the look out for something to buy.  At the end of the trip, he won my award for most purchases made.  The guy loves to shop and haggle.  If that was a sport, he would be a champion :-)

There was a large open area dedicated primarily to vegetable and fruit sellers.  Of course, that's where we spent a good chunk of our time.   The first thing that strikes you about the veggie and fruit market is the variety of stuff that's there.  Just the veggies alone - more varieties of squash and potatoes than I've seen in any market in the DC metropolitan area.

But since we had no way to cook veggies and we had the Fruit Obsessed One in tow, our eyes only focused on fruits and what an awesome variety we found.  We tried as many ones,  familiar and unfamiliar, as we could.

Marañón - the fruit of the cashew nut.  Better as juice than eaten whole.

Mangoes!  This vendor was selling the varieties that ripen to a red/orange color.  The bananas on the *top row*
are the small varietal bananas that are common in tropical countries.  We ate our share of these as well!

Caimito, commonly known as the star apple.  This was a very interesting tasting fruit.
The edible flesh is the white part - very soft and sweet with a very subtle fragance.
The core has small  blackish/brownish seeds.  We bought a small bag and ate
most of them before we left for Tikal.  Three days later,  my brother opened up one of the
remaining fruit to eat it and found maggots inside.  Ewwww!!!  Well, at least we
know it was organically grown :-)

Soon and Valiant had their eyes on the chikos, which is a common fruit in Malaysia where it's known as chikoo.
Me, standing in front of another fruit stand.  This is the only one we saw selling noni fruit.
 I had heard of noni and had even seen it in juice form at the local Korean supermarket
I shop at but I had never seen it as a whole fruit.  We were told it's not good to eat
we didn't buy any.  Next to the noni, are plastic bags flled with peeled and sliced mango.
Very commonly sold prepared this way, it was a good and cheap snack.  Behind this stall
was the vendor who was selling fresh coconut juice and young coconut flesh.  That we bought!
Sampling a jujube which we had never eaten fresh before.  There were a couple of different
vaieties being sold.  They're sweet and have a texture similar to a plum.  They were tasty
enough for us to walk away with a bagful of them!
Picking out some carambola or as we call them in Malaysia, star fruit.  These were
the smallest and most sour star fruit I had ever tasted.

Bananas.....the little ones.  They're much firmer in texture, much more
 fragrant and much more sweet than their larger counterparts in the US. 
We ate a few bunches of these. 

Looks like he's picking out oranges but in fact, it's a fruit that when we cracked into it, reminded us
of a passion fruit.  The fruit has a thin, slightly hard shell - sounds very holllow when you tap on it. 
Inside, are a lot of small, slime covered seeds. Doesn't sound appetizing but that's
what a passion fruit is like.  You pop the seeds in your mouth and enjoy the sweet crunch.

This fruit is loquat which I believe is a fruit native to China.  We only came across this one vendor selling loquat
and she only had it on the day we were there.  The fruit has the look and texture of an firm apricot
but the scent reminds me of an apricot.  Of all the new fruits we tried, this was my favorite.  The flowery
looking fruit, on the sticks, is peeled mango - vendors carve it to look like a flower. 

On our first visit to the mercado, we saw these. As the vendor explained it to us, these
are the unopened flower buds of the corozo palm. It's used for decoration during Santa Semana
and we did see the palm flowers used in the alfombras and the pods as display bowls. Very unusual sight.
In the picture below are the unopened flower buds of the pacaya palm.
One night, I had the palm flowers for dinner - dipped in an eggy batter, fried and served with
a tomato salsa sauce.  I found them to be bitter....a bit too bitter for my liking.  I thought maybe
I had a bad lot but apparently, they are bitter and the sweetness of the tomato
salsa is suppose to offset that.   Suppose to but it didn't do it for me :-(
The pacaya palm flower bud, split opened to expose the flowers, used as decoration.

Watch this video for a feel of what it was like to a) be in the mercado in Antigua, b) be at my brother's side as he buys a bag of mangoes, c) be pestered by a cute little boy asking me to buy from his father which is what we were doing though I was telling him we weren't just in case we changed our minds and d) be completely unaware that you are inadvertantly filming a group of women making tortillas....and I really clueless.

With all the fruit we bought, this is what our *pre-breakfast* table at the hotel often looked like.  That's Carol Bowers and Ernie Sowers in the photo.  They're a retired couple, originally from Pittsburgh, PA but now living near Guadalajara, Mexico.  They were the funniest pair of people - kept me laughing throughout the trip!

Our platter of exotic fruits. Clockwise from the upper left, starting with the fruit with the black seed showing: chickoo, red jujubes, the *passion fruit* like fruit, loquats, and marañon. 

On one side of the mercado in Antiua is the Artisans Market aka the souvenir sellers.  Guatemala has great handicrafts - everything from woven textiles, to wood carvings to leather goods.  Haggling is a must and if you're a good haggler, you can walk away with a very nice item for relatively good price.

Carved wood - bowls, statues, masks could be seen everywhere.  I left Guatemala with
six wooden masks.  Luckily, I ran out of luggage space or I might have bought more  :-)
Textiles woven by native Mayans could be found in every nook and cranny of the mercado.

On another side of the mercado is the covered area....what is oftened referred to in many countries as the "central market". Inside is a maze of narrow walkways, flanked on both sides by vendors selling every food item under the sun. There, we found the meat and seafood vendors. Though not as plentiful as the fruits and vegetables, Guatemalan cuisine is heavy on the meat side so it was not surprising to see plenty of chickens (live and dressed), whole sides of beef and sausages (chorizo and longaniza) for sale.

Inside, there's also a food court of sorts. Restaurants offering meals to shoppers. I dragged the boys inside for breakfast one morning.

Truly eating with the locals :-)

The kitchen.  I don't think this would pass US inspection but it works just fine in Antigua, Guatemala!

At the mercado, we also bought nuts to snack on for our hike up Volcán Pacaya, Guatemalan chocolate, for making hot chocolate, and one of my personal snack favorites - chicharrón which is fried pork rinds. Yum!! I found this young girl at the mercado selling chicharrón - that's all she was selling and it was really, really good chicharrón.

So, as you can tell we spent a lot of time in the mercado. It was not only a great place to fill up on our fruit obsession but it was most certainly entertaining for those of us who normally only buy food that comes pre-washed, sealed in styrofoam pack, canned or frozen to see our food completely unadulterated.  Food in its raw state....a true thing of beauty!