Sunday, November 2, 2008

Abastos - Guadalajara's extraordinary produce market

The fruit from outer space. Recently, my friend Tom and his wife Vivien invited Carole and I to visit the Abastos in Guadalajara with them. Like us, Tom and Viv are also expats from Oregon, where he worked as a dermatologist. The Abastos is a huge open-air produce market ----one of the largest in all Mexico--on the southern side of the city. The Abastos serves Jalisco State and several other states in western Mexico.  One can buy any kind of fruit or vegetable in any quantity from a truck-load to a single piece. Tom told me that the Abastos stretches for 40 blocks and I can believe it. We wandered around for at least three hours and barely scratched the surface. For a map of the Abastos, click here. And, as you will see below, more is sold than just produce. I have no idea what the fruit above might be, but I really liked its alien appearance. Anyone who would like to enlighten me is welcome to comment below.  

(Since I first posted this, I got a response from Cristina at the Mexico Cooks! blogsite. Cristina informs me that the fruit above "is a cactus fruit used for medicinal purposes".  I note below where Cristina has made other helpful comments or corrections. Please see the link to Cristina's  blogsite under "Other sites to check out" on the right hand column of this page) 

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.
I want to give a final thank you to Cristina for her many useful contributions to this posting.  I always enjoy hearing from people, especially when they can help correct mistakes or expand the meaning of what I am describing. Be sure to check out her blogsite.

Hasta luego!

5 comments:

  1. The cooks looked Asian (Korean) but ate Mexican.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mexico Cooks! says:

    It's interesting to look at your pictures, but it's always helpful to understand what you're seeing.

    I wonder if you, Carole, and your friends Tom and Vivien know that the Mercado de Abastos is the regional wholesale produce market for the state of Jalisco and several neighboring states. It's one of the largest wholesale markets in all of Mexico. And although you say that the Abastos is on the western side of the city, it's really on the south side of the city, fairly close to downtown Guadalajara.

    The first picture at the Abastos is a cactus fruit that's used for medicinal purposes.

    That sign warning parents to keep children from playing with the beans isn't about protecting children. It's about protecting the beans. Buyers don't want beans that have been handled by grubby-pawed kids--or grubby-handed adults either, for that matter. It's very tempting to run one's hands through the beans, but don't do it.

    The 'fruta yaka' from Nayarit is known in English as jackfruit. You don't have to buy the whole fruit; the vendors will sell portions of it. Did you taste it? It's delicious and refreshing.

    The multicolored 'coco' in jars is actually coconut, as you suspected. It's just been dyed various colors for cake decoration.

    The 'jamaica sudán' is actually dried hibiscus blossoms, used for making agua fresca de jamaica. This particular jamaica is called 'sudán' because it is imported from Sudan. This nomenclature differentiates it from jamaica that is actually grown and dried here in Mexico. The product imported from Sudan is substantially inferior to the Mexican dried hibiscus blossoms. The vendor wants you to know the difference and is also telling you that he/she is honest.

    The chile de árbol isn't grown on a tree. It grows on a regular chile plant. It's one of the hottest chiles and is often used to make a delicious salsa. You need to watch out for chilé de árbol that's imported from China or Japan. That chile will usually have a sign saying 'chile de árbol japón' or 'chile de árbol china'. The imported chile is very much inferior to the chile de árbol that's grown and dried in Mexico.

    'Sin cabo' simply means that these chiles are being sold without the stem.

    When you buy beans in bulk, you are buying *frijol*. Your purchase only becomes *frijoles* after the beans are cooked. You don't buy *frijoles* from a bag.

    The piñata isn't just a party game. It's descended from a catechism lesson. This 'comment' has gone on long enough! Ask around in Ajijic until you find someone who can explain it to you!

    Cristina
    Mexico Cooks!
    http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. I don't remember how I found your blog, but I very much enjoy reading it.

    As a lover of travel, and someone who lived in Guadalajara for a few months a while ago, I love to reminisce with your amazing pictures. Thanks.

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  4. In eight years living in Guadalajara I've never been to Abastos! Your photos have convinced me and we're going today!!!

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  5. dEAR GOD, THE CACTUS IS THE MOST STRIKING THING I HAVE EVER SEEN, AND I HAVE SOME PRETTY EXOTIC PLANTS. wOW I WAS ON THE WEB, LOOKING FOR MEXICAN FOLK ART AND POOF!!! HERE WAS YOUR PICTURES, jALLULIA! I WENT TO TALAPAKI FOR MY BIRTHDAY IN DECEMBER, AND SPENT CHRISTMAS, AND NEWYEARS, I STAYED WITH A FAMILY THAT TAUGHT MR TO MAKE PASOLI, WITH A HUGE PIG HEAD, yum, GOT FLAN FOR D-DAY, AND NEW YEWRS MADE TAMALIS ON A 100 YEAR PRESS hurray< I MADE AN OFFER ABOUT 4 BLOCKS OUT OF THE MAIN CENTRAL TOWN. I THINK I CRIED MORE THAN I EVER HAD, I FELT SO LOVED BY PEOPLE I HAD NEVER MET, fun,fun. I WANT TO COME BACK AGAIN, ARE THERE ANY LITTLE PLACES THAT ARE NEAR THE MARKET THAT YOU SPEAK OF IN YOUT BLOG? I WANT TO STAY THERE FOR AT LEAST A MONTH, OR A ROOM I COULD RENT IN SOMEONE'S HOME, I AM LOW MAINTENANCE mY NAME IS dIANA nICHOLS, I AM A DESIGNER, AND A HOUSE FLIPPER, AND rEALESTATE OWNER, ( OR SHOUD I SAY IT OWNS ME hE <hHEMY E MAIL IS MONEY 44 AT COX.NET I DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT COMPUTERS AS THOUGH YOU COULD NOT TELL, ! IT LOOKS LIKE A SMALL CHILD TYPED THIS THANKS FOR THE THRILL OF MEXICO.

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