Come and get it! Typical of most Abastos stands and shops, the goods are displayed informally in sacks and boxes. Here are chile peppers, beans, garlic cloves, and many other staples of the Mexican table.
What it's all about. A produce seller makes a deal at the counter of his small stall. The produce is very fresh with wonderful bright colors. No high tech here, the seller uses an old fashioned balance scale. Notice the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe just to his right. The Virgin is the patron of Mexico and particularly of the poor and the Indios. Her image, along with small altars, are found everywhere.
Tamarindo. Seeds from the tamarind tree are heaped in a bin. The seeds are about 3-4 inches long and 1 inch wide. The tamarind originated in Sudan and was known to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. The tree is useful for its wood as well as the fruit and seeds shown above. Introduced into Mexico very early by the Spanish, tamarindo is used as a snack, a seasoning, and a fruit drink called agua de tamarindo.
How did you get that bean up your nose? Most of the produce in the Abastos is open for examination in boxes or sacks. Notice the hand-lettered sign at the lower left that says "be careful that your children don't play with the beans". Kids are the same everywhere, and grubby hands don't belong in the food.
Ready to do business. I really liked this guy's mustache. It was a serious mustache, for a man who means business. He was friendly enough and readily assented to a photo. I have noticed that Mexicans often assume a very serious facial expression for a picture, even though they may be smiling immediately before or after. If you look closely, you can catch the twinkle in his eye.
Fruta Yaka. This rather mysterious fruit was huge, about the size of a small beach ball. The booth owner said it came from Nayarit State, in the mountainous jungle. (According to Cristina of Mexico Cooks, it is known in English as Jack Fruit and is delicious and refreshing.)
Ready to eat! This rather grumpy-looking fellow was actually quite friendly and struck a pose for this picture. He was a hard worker and we ran into him repeatedly throughout our meanderings around the Abastos. Tom and I each bought some of his rolls. They tasted great, and the seller was happy to make a sale.
Cinnamon sticks. I am told that brewing these with your coffee gives it a great taste. They are very inexpensive: 10 cents US for a handful of sticks, which would last a long time.
Frijol Asufrado. Frijoles are beans, and azufre is sulfer. Perhaps the sign indicates the color of the beans. The price is in pesos per kilo. Pesos are now $12.82/US dollar. A kilo is 2.2 pounds. So the price in US dollars is about 70 cents/lb. (Cristina notes that beans sold in bulk are known as frijol and only become frijoles when cooked.)
Colorful coco. I was attracted to this row of large jars filled with different colored substances labeled "Coco". However, I have never encountered red, yellow or green coco, so I'm still not sure what they were selling at this store. Looked good, though. (Cristina identified the contents as coconut, dyed to different colors).
Time for lunch? This friendly guy was helpfully waving away the smoke rising from his grill so it wouldn't spoil the picture. Death by cholesterol never looked so tempting. His was a popular food stand.
Jamaica Sudan. As far as I could tell, this is some form of tea (help me out, readers, if you know better.) I was intrigued by the name, as I couldn't imagine two more different countries than deep-desert Sudan and the Caribbean island Jamaica. (Cristina says these are dried hibiscus blossoms imported from Sudan from which Mexicans make a drink called agua fresca de jamaica. Mexico grows its own superior variety and the vendor is apparently doing a little "truth in advertising" by letting us know it is from Sudan.)
Arbol sin Cabo. Pictured here is one of many varieties of chile pepper. The name indicates it originated from a tree (arbol). Chiles are used for seasoning, and also directly as food. Archeological evidence traces the chile back over 5000 years in Mexico. They have various levels of spiciness from mild to "get the fire hose!" (Cristina corrected me that chiles grow on bushes and not trees, and added that "sin Cabo" means without the stem. She cautions readers that chiles identified as from Japan or China are inferior to the native variety.)
"One-eyed green monster on aisle 12!" The abastos contains much more than fruits and vegetables. On one aisle, we found row after row of pinatas, including this very cheerful critter. He (she?) was about 4 feet tall and quite startling to encounter around a sharp corner. Pinatas are paper mache animals filled with candy and hung from the ceiling until the right moment in a party.
Let's go for a walk! These fellows seemed eager to go for a jaunt with us. It seemed a shame that the children would have to beat on them with a stick to break them open for the treats inside. It is a fun tradition, though, and the kids get very excited when one of them is blindfolded, spun in a circle and set to whacking at where she or he imagines the pinata to be hanging. (Cristina notes that the use of pinatas descended from their use in catechism lessons.)
Lee's Korean lunch-counter. By noon we were all famished after walking for blocks through the Abastos. We had noticed an interesting lunch-counter earlier and the wonderful smell drew us back to Comida Coreana "Lee". Coreana is Spanish for Korean. According to the 1999 census, there are approximately 15,000 people of Korean descent living in Mexico, mostly in Baja and northern Mexico. There were about ten seats at the counter, and the food was cooked by some very energetic young Mexican men right in front of us, supervised by a middle-aged Asian woman we supposed was Ms. Lee. She declined a photograph, so I had to settle for the sign. The meals were pictured overhead, but it was a little difficult to tell what they were. The plates pictured had what appeared to be Japanese and Korean names, but no prices. So it was a mystery what we were ordering and what it would cost, but we were not disappointed. Although the price turned out to be a little on the high side, there was plenty of food and Carole thought it was the best Asian food she'd had in Mexico.
Globalization for lunch. Shown above is Tom's selection: Japanese food, at a Korean restaurant, prepared by Mexican cooks, and eaten by an American. Mind-boggling. However, when it came time for the cooks to make their own lunch, we noticed that they served themselves a very traditional Mexican lunch. There's no place like home, I guess.
This completes my posting on the Abastos. Future postings will cover the artisans of Tonala, the pre-hispanic art collections at the Guadalajara Regional Museum, and our visit to Zapopan.