”Try the watermelon, sir! Fresh and juicy! Come on! Try one, try one!!”
As soon as I step foot inside the Market, I’m pestered by every seller in sight. Watermelons, pineapples, mangoes, enticing peaches,perfumed guava,tiny, sweet fingerling bananas; every seller urges you to buy their produce,which is far fresher and cheaper than the guy next door…
My weekly visits to the market have now become a highlight of my activities. I love browsing through the stalls, seeking out new and exciting flavours, unusual fruit and vegetables.
Like any regular activity, one easily falls into a routine. My first stop is always Dona Francia, who sells onions, several types of garlic and at least 5 different hot peppers. She always asks after my business, since she has been selling me her excellent produce ever since I began. We both get enthusiastic when a new hot pepper appears on the market, or a variation on the local garlic. This week there was a very tasty purple Peruvian type. Easy to peel, rich in flavour…
Next stop is Jose. A huge jolly fellow with a thick moustache, he always sees me coming .
” Professor!! Got some beautiful asparagus today! And Belgian endive – just look at this; quality, my friend. Baby eggplants over there – seedless, sweet – oh – and zucchini flowers! Got some just for you, prof!!”
His daughter rushes forward to fuss over me – she always helps me pick out the freshest, juiciest items on the stands. Jose seems to have unlimited resources when it comes to locating an unusual item. Ask him on Thursday if he’s got any cardoons, or snake squash, or baby artichokes, and Saturday morning they’ll all be there,beckoning to you from the baskets, just begging to be bought!
From here I stroll on to Dona Maria and Popeye, a Portuguese farming family who provide the very freshest greens from their own farm. I’ve never tasted arugula (rocket) like theirs. Crisp, peppery, dark green,just slightly sweet, just slightly bitter around the edges. I pick it straight off the stall and chew on it. If there’s any fresh green radicchio, thata goes into the basket as well. Tiny, pale green leaves which only need a little olive oil and some red wine vinegar to send you to heaven. I also buy fresh herbs; mint, cilantro, parsley, oregano, dill, thyme, rosemary. Once in a while, they have borage, or chives, or purslane. I’m a sucker for those things; I always buy them in the faint hope that I’ll think of something interesting to do with them during the weekend…
My last stop is the Egg Girls. The sisters stuck up the end of the market next to the poultry and fish. They always greet me with their Mona Lisa smiles, and a formal “How are you today, sir?”. I think their chickens are living next to a body builders; every week the eggs seem to get bigger and bigger. 30 eggs cost Bs.7,500 (Bs=bolavares) which is a little more than $3. 10 cents an egg – not bad.
As I drive back home, the smell of all those fresh veg spreads through the car, tantalising my tastebuds. Can’t wait to get into the kitchen to invent something!!