Tuesday, February 28, 2012

to market, to market, jiggity jig

 i love vegetables. i love fruit.
i don't, however, love their prices in the supermarkets.
i know, i know, i shouldn't complain - that avocado that i only paid a dollar for yesterday costs four in philadelphia. and in season, i can get 5 for a dollar. amazing.
but, like in most places, supermarkets are often overpriced - customers pay for cleanliness and convenience and variety. every wednesday, i can go pick out the left-over vegetables for 35% off - wilted and sad after a week of sitting in the bin. i can go back on thursday and get my meat for a discount, too.
but in the end, that's just not convenient and it's not as fresh as heading outdoors to the local market, and definitely not as fun. 
i go to el mercado at least once a week, but i usually go alone. this weekend, we weren't buying meat from the butcher and didn't have so much to carry, so we dressed the kids and took them along.
 we don't shield the kids from things like the butcher - it's hard to here, with dead goats and pigs hanging from their haunches on the side of the road at regular intervals. the kids stood and watched these chickens for a good while. samil even spotted an egg between the legs of a protective mama hen.
the butcher saw them looking and caught on to what they were looking at - he came over, opened the cage, took the egg out and gave it to samil. he looks upset and freaked out in this picture - but he carried that thing for the rest of the day and showed it to all of the merchants and told them how he "found" the chicken's egg. 
we can get most vegetables here - the cauliflower is pretty sketchy most of the time and it's hard to wash that and brocolli. but i make it work. green beans are also kind of wimpy and almost always wilted.

 a staple of the dominican dinner is root vegetables and green bananas. yucca is popular (and my favorite), potatoes are not. plantains are boiled and mashed into a dish called mangu, or fried into tostones. yum.
you can see the giant squash in the picture above - squash isn't eaten as a "dish" that often, but is a main ingredient in many soups and in beans.
 the market is an indoor/outdoor setup - inside there are more interesting things - like the witchcraft shops and household supplies like mortar and pestles the size of a girl's tea cup to the size of a toilet.
you'll also find brooms made from trees branches, home-made bunson burners and cleaning supplies.

and no good market would be complete without dry mamajuana - the "natural viagra". it's a mix of different woods and cinnamon and who knows what else. you buy the bottle, fill it with rum (brugal of course) and sometimes honey. the drink is delicious and supposedly an aphrodisiac - but, dominicans will claim that anything is an aphrodisiac.

 oranges are not always orange. buying them is the hardest thing for me because i never know which is which. there are "sweet lemons," sour oranges, oranges for juice and oranges for eating. limes and called lemons and mandarins (the only one i can spot!). i feel like an idiot when i have to ask because i never know if i'm going to get ripped off.
we bought 12 juice oranges for a dollar and amalio called it highway robbery (i know, i know).
the sour/bitter oranges are good for cleaning meat and for use in the place of vinegar - if you don't want to squeeze all of that juice yourself, you can buy a bottle of agrio, pre-squeezed sour juice.

the market is an experience. in santiago, both outdoor places are cleaner now that the local government stepped in and cleaned up a bit. but the produce is fresh - brought in daily from the campos and the price is right. plus, it's one of those things that when i picture other people living in caribbean countries, i picture them shopping out doors.

the kids love it. when mangoes are in season, they scam at least one out of the ladies i usually buy from. samil was looking for the "cherry guy" this visit, but he wasn't around. he likes to try and see if they're sour or not. amely usually ends up with some flowers before the day is over, too. 

next time, i'll take pictures of the butchers and maybe you all can help me decipher which meat cut is which!

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