Sunday, April 29, 2018

Tlaxcala Part 9 of 11: Mercado Sabatino, the place where you can buy (almost) anything

A flower customer examines her choices. Flowers are only one of the many items for sale here, including a variety of live animals. After we visited the Museo de Artes y Tradicionales Populares (see previous posting), we noticed the street market a short distance away. The Mercado Sabatino (Saturday Market) occupies a large area stretching along the malecón bordering the Rio Zahuapan. Open-air mercados are another of our favorite places. We like the bustling atmosphere, the variety of colorful products, the always-friendly vendors, the people-watching, and--for me--the splendid photographic opportunities.

One of the mercado's many entrances. Mercado Sabatino is a maze of stalls and merchandise displays set along narrow, crowded aisles. Each section of the mercado sells a similar kind of product. All the fruit and vegetable stalls are grouped together, as are those for clothing, meats and fish, leather goods, etc. Unless you have a good sense of direction, you can easily get lost in the maze of aisles and walkways. However, finding your way out can be fun, too, as you discover products and scenes along the way that are bound to intrigue and delight you. Close to major holidays, the mercado's aisles become almost impassable. This is particularly true during the Christmas-New Years period, according to local news sources. They describe a "strong influx of people" who wage a "titanic struggle to acquire the best vegetables and fruits." It's probably wise to avoid the Saturday Market on those occasions.

A shopper considers a cucumber. Foreigners who buy fresh vegetables in markets like this are often astonished at the quality and taste of their purchases. They are generally superior, as well as less expensive, than anything you will find in one of Mexico's U.S.-style supermarkets. Compared to the US, the prices are much cheaper. For example, the sign over the cucumbers above reads 2 kilograms for 25 pesos (4.4 lbs for $1.33 USD). According to the US Department of Agriculture, as of April 18, 2018, the average US price for 4.4 pounds of fresh, unpeeled cucumbers is $5.72 (USD). Similar price differences hold true for other fruits and vegetables.

A family business. In this stall, the family was selling corn kernels, which have been removed from the cob in a process called "shelling". They were such friendly folks that I asked to take a photo, a request that was immediately granted. In my travels all over Mexico over the last ten years, I have found that Mexicans are some of the warmest and most hospitable people in the world. This holds true for people from all walks of life.

Blue corn is one of many varieties found in Mexico. These blue kernals are called maiz azul and are grown in Mexico and the Southwestern US. They are ground into a dough called called masa, which sometimes becomes the main ingredient of tlacoyo, an ancient food dating to pre-hispanic times. This very popular dish is made by stuffing the masa with various fillings like pinto or fava beans, mushrooms, and cheese. Tlacoyo is cooked on a flat griddle called a comal, which used to be made of clay and heated over a wood fire. Nowadays, most comales are metal and heated by propane, but the process for preparing tlacoyos and the shape and use of the implements for cooking them has not significantly changed over the last 500 years or more. In the early 1500s, Spanish conquistadors wrote about the tlacoyos they saw cooking in outdoor markets similar to Tlaxcala's Mercado Sabatino.

Stacks of dried fish stand in front of bins of beans.  I haven't been able precisely identify the fish, but it may be cod which has been salted and dried in a process called desiccation. The fish will keep for several months, if stored in a dry place.

Two women sell an assortment of goods. Their stall displays clothing, shoes, and a child's doll. They were deep in conversation as I passed, and didn't notice me when I took this candid shot with my zoom lens. While the primary purpose of the mercado's activity is economic, there is a definite social aspect as people meet and greet their friends among the customers and other vendors.

Heaps of used clothing filled a number of tables in this section. The customers, who were primarily women, crowded around the piles and sifted through them until they found something interesting. Recycling is an economic necessity, since many Mexicans can't afford new, store-bought goods. Selling clothing you no longer need is also another way to make money.

Trucker hats with creative designs. Sadly, the classic Mexican sombrero has been replaced in most areas by north-of-the-border trucker hats. You have to go pretty far out into the countryside to find anyone who still wears the old-style broad-brimmed sombrero. Instead, trucker caps and Texas-style cowboy hats are the favored headgear.

Sign of the times. A shoe vendor, bathed in the pink shadow of his overhead tarp, texts on his cell-phone. The cell-phone craze has certainly reached Tlaxcala and other cities, but it has penetrated even the remotest areas of Mexico. The vendor wears an Old Navy t-shirt displaying a large American flag. He may have lived for a while in the US and then returned, or he may just like the design. Even if they don't have family connections to the US, many Mexicans wear t-shirts with English messages on them. Carole and I are sometimes startled to see buxom young Mexican girls wearing t-shirts with logos like "Hot Stuff! Come and Get It!" emblazoned across the chest. We don't know whether the girls understand the English, but we're pretty sure their mom's don't.

Goats crowd around a water pan. At first, we didn't realize that there was a live animal section in the Saturday Market. Then, as we wandered the crowded aisles, Carole tugged my sleeve and discreetly pointed at a woman carrying a large shopping bag slung from straps over her shoulder. Peeking out of the top of the bag was a live baby goat. For a second, I thought it might be some sort of pet, but then I realized that the little creature was probably destined for the family dinner table. Cabrito (baby goat) is a favorite meal in Mexico.

Live chickens strut about their cage, waiting for a purchaser. The rooster was keeping an eye out for rivals who might try to lure off his small harem. Not all chickens were kept in cages. Some were simply tethered by one leg to a leash attached to a stake in the ground.

A calf eyes me warily as I take its photo. The calf appears to be a Holstein, one of several dairy breeds. Most cattle raised in Tlaxcala are either dairy cows or fighting bulls. Over the centuries, more than 1000 haciendas grew up in Tlaxcala, and raising cattle was one of their primary activities. Only about 200 haciendas remain today and many are in ruins, or have become hotels/restaurants. However, some still raise cattle, often bulls used for fighting. The city of Tlaxcala still has one of the finest bull rings in the country, architecturally speaking.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz... Piglets snooze in the back of a pick-up truck. When I first noticed these little guys, I thought it might be a stack of carcasses. Then I noticed them softly stirring, snuffling, and snoring. I found myself tiptoeing around, speaking in whispers, so as not to disturb their blissful slumber.

This completes Part 9 of my Tlaxcala series. I hope you have enjoyed it and, if so, that you will leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below. If you leave a question, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

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