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We couldn’t put it off any longer, non-perishables were needed! Thus, instead of another long leisurely Sunday stroll like last week, my neighbor and I walked (keeping two meters apart) down to Soriana, our local supermarket. We went early in the morning and the streets were mostly empty — making it a piece of cake crossing a particularly dicey intersection. Ready to do battle with the virus, we came armed with alcohol wipes and shopping, paying, and bagging strategies. However, Soriana also was on emergency preparedness alert. Once inside the door, hand-sanitizer was pumped into our hands and the handles of our carts were wiped down with disinfectant.

As we had hoped, there were very few other customers and most seemed very conscious of maintaining social distancing protocol, — the workers stocking the shelves, not so much. There were signs posted limiting the quantities one could purchase of certain items and there were taped lines on the floor in front of the check stands indicating how far apart to stand. Though, one guy didn’t get the message and cut in front of me. I snapped, “sana distancia” at him, he glanced back at the crazy gringa and went to a different line.

My route to Soriana, usually consists of cutting a diagonal across the Plaza de la Danza, walking down the ramp to Jardín Sócrates, and crossing the atrium of the Basilica de la Soledad before tackling the steep stairs down to Av. de la Independencia. Alas, this trip, it wasn’t to be — the atrium doors facing the Jardín were locked up tight, as were the ones at the top of the stairs on Independencia.

Signs were tacked to the massive doors indicating all masses had been suspended until further notice. It was all quiet on the church front and the realization hit me that I hadn’t heard a single church bell in days, if not a week — which sounds about right because, on March 21, the Archdiocese of Oaxaca announced the suspension of all Eucharistic celebrations, including Easter. In addition, the Archbishop has called on Catholics to stay home during Holy Week, in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 between people and communities.

Health officials have been running public service announcements on the TV telling people to stay home and advising them, if they must go out, on methods to avoiding catching and spreading the virus. And, yesterday the Mexican government declared a state of health emergency and ordered a suspension of all non-essential businesses and activities until April 30th. For businesses, the restrictions are mandatory, however for people it is an “emphatic invitation.” President Andrés Manuel López Orbrador’s gradual approach to the pandemic has been highly criticized in some quarters, though the strategy has been praised by representatives of the World Health Organization. However, most agree that stricter measures will have to be implemented once the pandemic really hits.

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Yesterday, with a fair degree of trepidation, I ventured out onto the streets of Oaxaca. Even during these times of coronavirus, a gal has to eat, thus a trip to Mercado Benito Juárez could no longer be put off. Unfortunately, I got a late start and didn’t leave until almost 10:30 AM but, happily, my first observation was that traffic was much lighter.

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Walking east on Av. Morelos

However, much to my dismay the zócalo was lined with food and vendor stalls and continues to be occupied with a plantón in front of the Government Palace. This, after a caravan of municipal police trucks mounted with loudspeakers plied the streets on Monday advising people not to gather in groups, to maintain “sana distancia” (healthy distancing), and to try to stay home.

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Protest encampment in the zócalo

I walked through, trying to avoid coming within a meter of anyone and making a beeline toward the market. An aside: Afternoon temperatures continue to hover around 90º F and, yes, the sky is that blue!

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Facing south on Calle Flores Magón

I turned right on Las Casas and discovered cleaners power washing the sidewalk in front of Mercado Benito Juárez.

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Trying not to get wet, I ducked inside the unusually quiet market.

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Main aisle just inside Mercado Benito Juárez

I quickly made my rounds: Almita’s for pecans, my favorite poultry stall for chicken thighs, and my fruit and vegetable stand for avocados and carrots. Though the market was less crowded than usual, the aisles are narrow making it nearly impossible to maintain “sana distancia” and so I cut my trip short.

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Looking west on Calle Valerio Trujano

Avoiding the zócalo, I headed for home. I think I’m going to skip Mercado Benito Juárez (except for Mario, my coffee bean guy) for the duration and limit my shopping to the smaller Mercado Sánchez Pascuas up the hill and perhaps begin patronizing the people who sell produce from their truck on Monday and Thursday mornings just a block away. We are living in the days of making adjustments…

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Hidden behind community tables and surrounded by food stalls, produce, textiles, and artesania, is a wall of murals at the newest location of the Pochote Xochimilco Mercado Orgánico y Artesanal.

This incarnation of the Pochote Organic and Artisan Market is located in Colonia Reforma at Calle Almendros #417 (between Manuel Ruiz and Heroico Colegio Militar) and is open Friday through Sunday from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

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Located in the main entrance to the 20 de noviembre market, the mural by César Villegas González raises THE issue we should keep in the forefront of our minds when we set out to go grocery shopping.

Alimentación mortal — Food that can be deadly?

Or, Comida de los Dioses — Food of the Gods?

I choose to take a ride on the magical metate!

The mural was inaugurated in March 2019 as part of the “Vive tu Mercado 2019” program which seeks to promote the cultural and gastronomic riches found in the city’s mercados.

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Up until my first visit to Oaxaca, I had no idea that bananas came in any other color than yellow.  However, I soon discovered a Banana bonanza of sizes, shapes, and colors — and red bananas became my favorite.  I haven’t seen them for a while, but on a visit to Central de Abastos, I pulled up short in front of these babies!

Red bananas

This variety of banana is smaller and the peel is thicker than the common yellow Cavendish, but it hides a creamy sweet flesh that is perfect for slicing over a bowl of cereal or served with a sprinkling of lime juice and a dash of Tajín Clásico seasoning.  We asked what this variety is called and the vendor just shrugged and said, “Plátano morado.”  He says purple, I say red.  Whatever they are called, they are delicious!

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After three weeks in el norte, all my bags are packed and I’m ready to return to Oaxaca.  While malls and supermarkets abound here in the San Francisco Bay Area, shopping doesn’t hold a candle to experiencing the Sunday market in Tlacolula de Matamoros.

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Sidewalk murals greet shoppers on their way to the mercado.

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Wearing traditional skirts, blouses, rebozos, and aprons, vendors compete for customers.

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Stopping inside the mercado for barbacoa de chivo is a delicious way to take a break.

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The apron selection, like everything else, is mind boggling!

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Lastly, another sidewalk mural to send shoppers on their way home.

There is nothing like the life and color of shopping in Oaxaca.  ¡Hasta pronto!

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Sunday was the last day of B’s Week in Oaxaca and he had some last-minute shopping to do.  Family back home had requested a stack of tlayudas (also spelled, clayudas), the 12″ diameter handmade and dried tortillas, and quesillo, Oaxacan string cheese.  The closest mercado to B’s hotel was Mercado de la Merced.  It’s one of the best in Oaxaca city — selling fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and dried chiles, healing herbs and incense, meats and poultry, breads and cheeses, baskets and oil cloth, housing juice bars and small restaurants (like the well-known Fonda Florecita), and more — almost everything one could ever need.  These mercados make shopping social and fun — way more enjoyable than impersonal supermarkets and shopping malls.

After purchasing the requested items and wandering up and down the maze of aisles, we returned to B’s hotel to off-load the cheese (hotel’s refrigerator) and tlayudas (spread out on the bed to dry).  Our appetites having been stimulated, we walked across the city to the off-the-beaten-path location of Criollo, the year-old creation of Chef Enrique Olvera (Pujol in Mexico City, Cosme in New York), Chef Luis Arellano (originally from the Cañana region of Oaxaca), and architect Javier Sánchez.

It was a good thing we were famished, as the 7-course tasting menu was more than enough.  However, each plate brought such deliciousness, we happily continued on.  And, the setting?  While on an extremely busy street, once one steps inside this modern take on the traditional colonial courtyard, a sense of peace takes over.  Sated, we wandered to their orchard at the back of the restaurant, where we were warmly greeted and offered a cup of poleo tea brewed in the outdoor kitchen set in the orchard.  Our hostess explained this kitchen allows for the traditional preparation of some of the menu items.  In addition, she pointed to another building that she explained was going to be a culinary bed and breakfast.

By the time we left Criollo, it was late afternoon.  Before B returned to his hotel and I to my apartment, we marveled at what a full, delicious, and delightful six days it had been.

Just a note:  A week isn’t nearly enough time to experience all that Oaxaca city and surrounding villages have to offer.  We never made it to the Sunday market in Tlacolula de Matamoros, Hierve el Agua, Centro de las Artes de San Agustín (CASA), the alebrije pueblos of San Martín Tilcajete and San Antonio Arrazola, San Bartolo Coyotepec for their black pottery and Museo Estatal de Arte Popular de Oaxaca (State Museum of Folk Art (MEAPO), Santa María Atzompa for green pottery and the archaeological site, the Pueblos Mancomunados of the Sierra Norte, and then there are the mezcal palenques in the valley of Oaxaca.  I guess B will just have to come back!

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Nothing like stopping in Mercado Benito Juárez at Casilda Aguas Regionales midway through a morning filled with errands.  The posted list of fruit drinks is mind boggling:  Horchata, horchata con tuna, guanabana, melón, limón, sandía, jamaica, limón on chía, tamarindo, piña guayaba, kiwi, coco, crema de coco, durazno, ciruela, lichie, mandarina, mango, and maracuya.P1260091

Translated:  Rice-based drink, rice-based drink with prickly pear cactus fruit, soursop, cantaloupe, lime, watermelon, hibiscus, lime with chia, tamarind, pineapple, guava, kiwi, coconut, coconut cream, peach, plum, lychee, mandarin orange, mango, and passion fruit.

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What to choose?  While I love horchata con tuna, I chose the unlisted limón con hoja santa (2nd from left in top photo) reeled off by the waitress.  It was a lime with “sacred leaf” kind of day.  Ahhh… the pause that refreshes!

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To continue the grocery shopping theme…

Why is it that of the almost 1000 varieties of bananas grown in the world, grocery stores here in el norte mostly only sell the Cavendish?  Sheesh, even the smallest mercados in Oaxaca often have at least four varieties and sometimes more (depending on the season).  After all, there are eight types of bananas cultivated in Mexico.  The states of Chiapas (35%), Tabasco (25%), and Veracruz (13%), are the major producers, followed by Michoacán (6.5%) and Jalisco (4.5%), with Guerrero (3%) and Oaxaca (3%) bringing up the rear.

A variety of bananas at a market

Bananas outside of the mercado in San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca – November 2016

Did you know that banana plants are not trees?  They are an herb and their “trunks” are made of overlapping leaves.  As for the origin of the word “banana,” it comes from the Arabic, banan, which means finger.  Thus, it makes perfect sense that the cluster of bananas growing on “tree” is called a hand.  (For more banana facts, check out All about bananas.)

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Banana “tree” outside Las Huamuches restaurant — between Santo Tomás Jalieza & San Martín Tilcajete, Oaxaca – February 2017

Now we come to the “heart” of the matter — the astonishing flower of the banana.  Given its resemblance in color and shape, it’s also known as a heart and is a show-stopper for anyone who has never before seen one.  It is often used in South Asian and Southeast Asian cooking, especially in curries, and a friend from El Salvador told me in his home country, the flowers are baked in the oven and eaten.  Apparently, according to this website, banana hearts are good for most everything that ails you.  Alas, while Mexico exports la flor de plátano, Moisés Molina, representative of Mexico’s Regional Association of Independent Producers and Banana Traders, lamented in 2000 that it was a pity they were consumed in China but not Mexico.

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Banana flower in San Andrés Huayapam, Oaxaca – December 2016

For those in the USA, enjoy your bananas while you can — according to Geo-Mexico, “The USA is the world’s largest importer of bananas and Mexico’s main foreign market, receiving 80% of all exports of Mexican bananas.”  Hmmm…  I wonder how long before the toxic, twittering human smokestack of polluted right-wing demagoguery wreaks havoc on that?

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Currently, View from Casita Colibrí is being brought to you from el norte.  Alas, tax season has come around again and mine need to be prepared.  Then there is never-ending house maintenance and repair.  I admit, it’s not all work and no play; being here means I get to spend time with family and friends, eat sushi, and give my regards to the Pacific Ocean. 

However, despite the ease of grocery shopping when one has use of a car, pricey supermarket herbs packaged in puny plastic boxes don’t feed my soul and delight my senses the way the stalls overflowing with fresh and dried herbs at Mercado Benito Juárez in Oaxaca do.

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Speaking of  the former governor of Oaxaca, Mexico’s much beloved five-term and only indigenous (Zapotec) president, Benito Juárez, his birthday is coming up on March 21.  He is the only individual in Mexico to have his birthday designated as a national holiday (celebrated this year on Monday, March 20). 

We would all do well to remember AND practice his famous words:  Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.  (Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.)

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I returned to Oaxaca late Sunday night, a little dazed and confused.  Of course, getting the dreaded “red light” at customs didn’t help.  All was fine, though the word “bagels” didn’t register until someone behind me offered the word “pan” (bread), I nodded my assent, and the customs officer smiled and nodded hers.  Whew!

First on Monday morning’s “to do” list was a trip to my local market, Mercado Sánchez Pascuas.  It felt SO good to be walking again, even up hill!  Reaching my destination, completely unbidden, an “expletive deleted” popped out.  How could I have forgotten?  The mercado was in the midst of a month and a half renovation!

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This is a three million peso project that includes replacement of the roof, waterproofing of the slab area, and structural maintenance.  Most of the approximately 100 stalls have been relocated to the patio in front of the Tinoco y Palacios entrance and the parking lot at the Porfirio Díaz entrance.  The latter, I was pleased to see, found room for the annual display of poinsettia.  I will return!

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But first and foremost, food!  I found (or they found me) my favorite vendors.  They may not know my name, but they recognized and called to their gringa customer, who they haven’t seen for almost a month.  Quesillo (Oaxaca string cheese), verduras (vegetables), fruta (fruit), tamales (mole, verde, amarillo, and rajas), and salsas (green and chipotle) were purchased.

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My two shopping bags filled, I headed back down the hill to home, sweet, Oaxaca home.  It’s great to be back!  The icing on the cake, especially coming on top of the sticker shock of el norte, was the above, plus 8 bottles of beer, came to a grand total of 335 pesos — that’s $16.42 (US dollars), at today’s exchange rate.

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Sunday is market day in Tlacolula de Matamoros and I was so ready to escape the city.  No bloqueos blocked our way and Sunday traffic was even lighter than usual, thus the drive was uneventful.  In addition, though rumors of gasoline shortages have been rampant, we had no trouble filling up at one of the numerous Pemex stations along our eastbound route.  Once we arrived, we found the market was a beehive of activity, aisles had us crowded shoulder to shoulder with shoppers from Tlacolula and the surrounding villages.

The color… the energy… the bounty… the people… the smells… the street food…the life.  It was all just what the doctor ordered!  And, when I got home and turned on my computer, a documentary on market day in Tlacolula popped up on my Facebook news feed.  (h/t Zeferino Mendoza)

It may be from 2012, but not much has changed.  This Sunday open air market (tianguis) is one of the oldest continuously operating in Mesoamerica.

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Monday, I returned to Oaxaca following a mini-vacation to the state of Jalisco to visit mi amiga J in Ajijic and to attend the annual Feria Maestros del Arte in Chapala.  It’s a nice place to visit, but I must admit, its appeal escapes me.  I guess I’m spoiled by Oaxaca’s countless charms, like today’s “music to shop by” at Mercado Sánchez Pascuas.

Muzak, it most definitely is not!

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If it’s Sunday, it must be market day in Tlacolula de Matamoros.

Women doing their marketing.

Women doing their marketing, and the men who follow.

Carne for the carnivores

Carne, right off the hoof, for the carnivores.

Delicious dining for the rest of us!

And, delicious dining for all!

Another delightful domingo in Oaxaca.

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Braving 90+º F temperatures this afternoon, I headed down to the, you-can-buy-anything-you-want, Mercado Benito Juárez.  This is my “go to” market for nueces (pecans), arándanos (dried cranberries), coffee beans, chapulines (grasshoppers), fruits, and vegetables.  There is also mole, meats, fish, textiles, flowers, souvenirs, piñatas, costumes, lucha libre masks, baskets, leather goods, hats, hair-care products, jewelry, and much more — the original “mall.”

Today, all I needed was my favorite tiny Dominico bananas and a couple of avocados.  However, suspicion set in when I noticed NO double-parked vehicles or even much traffic on Las Casas.  A bloqueo (blockade)?  No.  Muy extraño (very strange).  I crossed the street and walked down to my regular entrance into the market and noticed the corrugated metal doors of the vendor stalls along the street were tightly shut and then saw a sign at the gate to the market that read…

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Closed for maintenance work!!!  No reason why, no re-opening date, and no relocation site for the vendors was given.  I flashed on visions of the six-month renovation of my neighborhood, Mercado IV Centenario.  Hmmm… does it have something to do with the aguas negras (sewage), due to a short-circuit underground that was reported last week?  I’m guessing, yes.  According to today’s report in NSS Oaxaca, there is dredging going on (Oaxaca’s version of Roto Rooter?), vendors will then clean up (disinfect?) their stalls, and the mercado will reopen tomorrow.  Por favor, keep your fingers crossed.

Update:  Mercado Benito Juárez re-opened yesterday, as promised.  According to my favorite fruit and vegetable vendor, it was closed on Wednesday due to the aguas negras problem.

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