Thursday, April 23, 2020

My Oaxaca Market

I had gone to the same vegetable woman everyday for the past month since I moved north in the city.  She sat elevated behind a mountain of vegetables directly next to, and across from two other women selling the same exact product, but I chose her.  Something about the way her tomatoes shined in the flickering light burning out above her that first day caught my eye and instead of battling in my mind for a half hour about who and how to choose, I followed the glow of the light.  That being said, I’m not sure she was happy I did.  She’d skip me when I was waiting patiently, and charge me a different price everyday for the same product I had paid a peso more for the following afternoon.  But like a bad relationship, I went back for more, hoping, thinking, she’d change. At this point, I thought it might piss her off more if I went to either of the other women, so I stayed safely by her side.  

After filling my bag with vegetables, I’d walk a few stalls down to the cheese woman.  She also wasn’t too keen on me, but she had the herby queso fresco, and the good quesillo, so I needed her, more than she needed me and my addiction to her salty rolls of Oaxaca string cheese.  She too would  over charge me, make me wait, shake her head or ignore me when I’d ask a question, but I kept hoping one day she’d learn to like me. 

I’d go up the stairs to get my fruit, the woman there always chit chatting with the dried goods man behind her,  telling me what was good, and giving me the best deals because she knew I bought a lot!  Mamey, ripe papayas, sweet baby yellow Mexican mangos that dripped juice from your mouth and down your arm as you’d bite into their sweet golden flesh.  I would always walk in and grab a few things and she’d convince me I needed more with a slice off of something or a speech about another.  She was always right.  I needed it, I needed her and her supply of fruit.  

After fruit, I’d walk left where sometimes an indigenous woman from a town an hour or so away would be sitting on the stairs with woven baskets filled with various snack items.  Big chapulines spiced with chili and lime, fried peanuts with whole chili de arbol, crispy garlic, and lots of salt, and my most favorite; crispy chickpeas with chili and spices.  I’d buy what was supposed to last me a week and eat it in a few days if it even lasted me that long, knowing I was taking a risk since she had no real schedule.  

Back down the stairs, was the other dry good man, where I’d get bulk rice, beans, nuts, and dried fruit.  He had large sacks of dog food, medicinal herbs, flowers, and every item one needed to make various moles.  A recipe containing every item in your pantry and then some, one can imagine the quantity of jars, sacks, and containers he had splayed about.  At prime time he had a line of abuelas waiting to get their goods   He was pretty popular, and incredibly talkative even with a line of impatient women yelling at him.  He would always show me something I had never heard of and explain it’s origin and how to use it.  I appreciated him.  He took the time to educate me, and had the patience to listen to me and my slow progression of Spanish language skills. 

I’d go past my veggie and cheese women again who paid me no attention, round the corner where the poultry stalls lay. The eldest chicken butcher with one lazy eye would always stare out and nod at me.  He had the sweetest young boy he brought under his wing, teaching him how to pluck feathers from a warm body, break down the corpse, and debone the parts.  The young boy would stop, look up from what he was doing, smile leading into a giggle, blush, and never utter a single word.  He’d focus his eyes from my blonde hair back down to the blood on his board and hands, quickly getting back to work before the old man noticed he was distracted. 

This is when we hit the line of indigenous women selling bags of prepared foods and blandas, or the largest burrito sized Oaxacan corn tortillas that they used for everything, including plates and napkins.  “Que le damos guera!” They’d all yell in a choir of one starting and then the next and the next, so that 6 women were at different points of asking me what I wanted at once.   Every item laid out on their color full tablecloths in pre-portioned plastic baggies. When I was lazy I’d get a bag of cactus salad, and some cooked black beans , flavored with the leaves of the local avocado tree, and pureed.  They were my favorite.  They’d offer me more things, sometimes so cheerfully forceful in their approach I couldn’t say no.  A bag of rice, some scrambled eggs with green beans,  a few blandas, still steamy and warm.  

I’d go to my juice stall next.  Super Jugos Angelita, where Angela herself would serve me, making my favorite juices in the city. Most days I’d go simple with a jugo verde; freshly squeezed orange juice blended with celery, parsley, and pineapple. She’d pour it into a plastic bag, stick a straw in, and do some sort of dizzying tie with the plastic and her fingers.  On other days, I’d tell her how I was feeling, and she’d whip me up a juice for cramps, headaches, hangovers, periods, anything I ever needed.  She was my juice doctor, and I came everyday.  

My hands full, my stomach grumbling, I’d take a sip of my juice, and head home up the steep hill to my little house.     I’d meet my roommate,  and we would talk about our day while spreading black beans on crispy tostadas, crumbling queso fresco on top, and adding slices of avocado.  We’d cut up chunks of ripe tropical fruit, and take shots of mezcal before heading to bed, dreaming of what juice we would get for breakfast the following morning at our Oaxaca market. 

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