Thursday, May 15, 2008

Summer 2007 Car Trip - 10

Next up on the day's activities was lunch. But not just anywhere. L announced that he was taking us to the market and we would eat there. I saw this parked outside and almost lost my appetite. It's a familiar site to me now around Mexico, but it was a bit shocking when I first saw it.

Oaxaca was the first place I ever saw women carrying loads on their heads. Amazing sense of balance.

On our way to the market we stopped in several chocolate shops. They are everywhere around the market. L had told me we would be visiting chocolate stores in Oaxaca and I was really looking forward to that! Oaxaca is famous for its' chocolate, but, as I was to discover, not the kind I was thinking of! I was expecting store upon store selling the most delicious array of chocolate candies one can imagine. Wrong! What they sell is powdered chocolate for hot chocolate and chocolate pastes for making mole sauces. What a disappointment. Needless to say, I let L know my opinion of his having led me on. I was met with one of those "Who? Me?" type stares. I bought nothing.

I have been in Merida's downtown market many times, but it is nothing compared to the one in Oaxaca. I truly wish that I lived someplace that had a market like this. It was basically two huge rooms; one with food items and the second with stuff. Like shoes, trinkets, blankets, you name it. It was for sale there.

L led us around to one of the side entrances and we were immediately in some kind of long, narrow food court. One side was lined with eating stalls. Bare boards with benches pulled up to them. The other side was lined with open fire pits, covered with grills. The grills were sizzling with cooking meat and roasting spring onions and an assortment of chiles. The smell was overwhelming delicious.

Once seated, a waiter brings around a basket of assorted spring onions and chiles for you to choose from. There was only one kind of meat, arrachera, and you ordered that by weight. As in, I'll have a kilo please. Once we had put together how much of whatever we wanted, the basket of goodies was whisked away to be cooked for us. Actually charred to blackness is a better way of saying it. This was all then returned to us on a huge, round basket, covered with butcher paper. By the time it was delivered, the paper was already soaked with grease. There was a basket of huge tortillas and an assortment of other goodies: pico de gallo, radishes, guacamole and jalapeno peppers.

One literally tore apart the meat with your hands, loaded it onto a tortilla with an extra that you wanted and gobbled it down. The chile we ordered came back to us charred, spicy and delicious. It was a unique, fun and educational experience. Afterwards L told us that he was hesitant to take us there. Whenever he had taken his tour groups there, they refused to even consider eating there and usually ran from the building, thoughts of salmonella and botulism racing through their brains! I have been appalled by many things about Mexican cuisine but have learned to not judge a book by its' cover. I will try most anything once. I do, however, draw the line at eating anything to do with the head of an animal or any internal organs, like stomach lining. (although I have tried some of the things and found them not to my liking. Thus I know enough to give them a miss!)

Lunch over we took a short tour of the market. I am never too pleased to pass through the butcher sections of these places. I don't especially care for row upon row of hanging carcasses in various degrees of slaughter, piles of pig heads, racks of unknown body parts and stacks of chicken feet. I really despise the seafood section also. Fish just plain stink when layed out in rows in a hot room.

Thankfully, we passed from this area very quickly and entered the market proper. There were baskets of every chile pepper grown in Mexico, piled high and every degree from fresh to dried. Flowers, flowers, fresh flowers everywhere. Beautiful, aromatic and cheap! I would have tons of flowers in my home everyday if I had access to such a place. More women's clothing on display than 100 women could wear in a year. Shoes piled and displayed everywhere. The famous black pottery of Oaxaca, too many places to choose from. The thin, hammered aluminum art pieces were everywhere and depicted everything you can imagine.

The last thing we passed was the grasshoppers. Great baskets of dried grasshoppers, sorted by size. It is said that if you eat a dried Oaxacan grasshopper, you are assured to return to Oaxaca one day. Guess I'm never going back. I had good intentions, but upon seeing them, I just couldn't bring myself to try one. Just a bunch of dried, dead grasshoppers. Not all that appealing.

Lunch and market tour completed, it was back to the hotel for a much needed siesta. Later on in the evening saw us going out for dinner and wandering around. We stopped at a vendor booth and I had two helpings of the best homemade potato chips I have ever had. (I raced back to get another order after finishing the first one!)

Off to bed early. Tomorrow was going to be a full day with even more tours. Including the one that B and I were most anticipating....the rug factories!

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