Sunday, July 26, 2009

Oaxaca: Markets

(Note: If it isn't already obvious... 2009 has been quite the year for me. I apologize for basically abandoning the blog and will try to return to some semblance of regularity after two more things: getting married and honeymooning in New Zealand. :))

I love markets (street markets, marketplaces, etc.) and I've always lamented the lack of them in Southern CA. I'm not talking about a supermarket, which is a whole different thing. I'm talking about a big place with various stalls, manned by vendors who sell one thing or one type of thing. Southern California has farmers' markets, but they aren't permanent fixtures. One of my favorite American marketplaces is Reading Terminal Market in Philadephia.

Oaxaca is filled with markets. There are some really big markets that draw tourists and locals alike and several smaller ones that have the homier feel of a neighborhood deli. After breakfast at La Olla, we started wandering towards 20th de Noviembre. On the way, we wandered into the Benito Juárez market.

My first, of many, encounters with
quesillo, which is fresh Oaxacan cheese very reminiscent of mozzarella. In fact, the coils have the texture and taste of string cheese, only a whole lot fresher.

I didn't take a photo, but Benito Juárez was where I first saw chapulines, or grasshoppers. I consider myself to be a brave soul when it comes to food. I thought I was fazed by nothing, but when I looked down at the pile of thoraxes and striated abdomens, I froze. The kindly vendor offered me a sample, but I could only smile weakly and say, "No gracias, Señora."

Epic fail. I blame sleep deprivation.

I did recover my sense of adventure to try them at a later point.

Tons of mole paste for sale. I'm told that you can bring the jarred stuff back to the States, but this freshly packed paste? Not sure if it would clear customs.

Carne (meat)... lots of it. I loved the variety, the links, the fact that it doesn't come shrink-wrapped in pre-cut, unidentifiable pieces. I love that the smell, while a bit overwhelming, was actually of fresh meat. I know that elicits a scathing duh from some, but if you grew up in suburbia like me, that smell isn't always part of the meat-purchasing experience.

Chiles... the sheer variety was stunning.

We headed a couple of blocks south to 20th de Noviembre.

We walked through that bright blue doorway and promptly found ourselves in a glorious hall of meat. Lots of it. Grilled to perfection with real charcoal.

We were a little full from breakfast, majorly sleep-deprived, and a little overwhelmed by both the crowds and the warm weather. Grilled meat wasn't exactly appetizing at that moment, but boy, did we miss out.

Surrounding the markets and dotting the Oaxaca City center were Mayordomo chocolate stores. We watched a young man feed cacao beans and cinnamon into a hand-cranked machine to make chocolate paste. The paste fell onto a pile of sugar, which was hand-mixed.

Later in our trip, we had a chance to visit the Sanchez Pascual market, which was smaller and located in a quiet residential neighborhood.

It was far less crowded and hectic than the other markets, filled with fruits and veggies of all kinds.

These look like the perfect stereotype of an heirloom tomato. Perhaps they're just "tomatoes" (or, more appropriately, tomates) in Oaxaca.

We were at Sanchez Pascual because of our cooking class at Casa Crespo. Our instructor mentioned that a lot of the vendors grow the fruit and veggies at home. Talk about local.

Ah, who can turn down a sugared pastry filled with custard. Not me.

We also visited the huge Abastos market, which was incredibly overwhelming and we didn't spend enough time exploring it. Unfortunately, our short visit also precluded pictures, but it was an incredible and chaotic mass of people, products, and activity.

My favorite online resource for Oaxaca markets was Planeta. The interface isn't the most user-friendly, but the information was detailed and excellent.