This past May, Mexico Cooks! traveled to Paris--yes, that Paris--with a specific mission: to compare markets in the French capital with markets in Mexico City, Mexico's capital. As for the photo above, well...you know what that is!
Prior to traveling to Paris, Mexico Cooks! had arranged a Parisian meeting over dinner (mais oui, what else!) with California foodie expat Randy Díaz. Randy invited several of his friends to join us and we had a marvelous evening at Le Casse Noix.
The lovely and tremendously knowledgeable French Market Maven (Marie Z Johnston) at the incomparable Graineterie du Marché, a small shop on the square occupied by the Marché d'Aligre, Paris. Loui Franke and the peripatetic Mr. Pidds, whose attention was grabbed by an operatic canary, were along as well.
One of Randy's friends at our dinner was the delightful Marie Z Johnston. She very generously offered to take me shopping at her favorite Paris market. Oh joy! My first thoughts were, what will I see that compares with the tianguis (Mexican street market) where I shop every week? And what will I see that I've never seen in Mexico?
The Mexican tianguis is simply a moveable market. In my Mexico City neighborhood, three separate tianguis occur every week. In Paris, we visited the Marché d'Aligre, which sets up in the same square six days a week and also has a brick-and-mortar building alongside the square. Many fruits and vegetables are the same in both Paris and Mexico City, but for the rest--vive la difference!
In Mexico, we are limited to one or at most two varieties of tomatoes. But there is really NO limit to the kinds of chiles we can buy! The plum tomatoes in the photo above are accompanied by (from the photo's far left, top shelf) tiny orange chile habanero, long thin green chile de árbol, fatter chile jalapeño, smaller and spicier chile serrano, and (at top right) yellow-orange chile manzano. The chile manzano, just a bit bigger than a golf ball, is nearly as hot as the habañero, considered by many to be the world's hottest chile. It is the only chile in the world with black seeds.
At my tianguis: to the left, standard round Mexican rabanitos (radishes), which in Mexico are eaten out of hand or are thinly sliced and sprinkled as a condiment in certain kinds of hot soup. To the right, a bunch of huauzontle, a New World vegetable that looks just a little like broccoli. It's completely unknown in France and the rest of Europe.
Flor de calabaza (squash blossoms) are sold by the large bunch in Mexico. They can be cut up in soups, stuffed and fried, or used in several other ways. Trivia tidbit: only the male blossoms are cut and sold, the female blossoms are allowed to develop into a zucchini-like squash.
At the Marché d'Aligre, I had to ask what this was. Even after reading the sign, I was puzzled. It's wild asparagus! And behind the wild version, the ubiquitous thick, white French asparagus. 'Twas the season, and asparagus was everywhere. We only occasionally see fresh asparagus in Mexico, and when it is available it costs el ojo de la cara (the eye out of your face)-the Mexican version of "an arm and a leg".
Fruits in Mexico can be completely different from fruits in Paris. For example, on the top shelf of my neighborhood tianguis fruit stand are small cups of granada (pomegranate) seeds, already removed from the fruit and ready to eat with one of those little pink spoons. On the bottom row are large cups of cut up sandía (watermelon), fresh, sweet, already-peeled tunas (cactus fruit), and a mixed cup of mango, melón (cantaloupe), papaya, and fresas (strawberries).
In Paris, a number of Marché d'Aligre vendors offered Cavaillon melon, similar to cantaloupe but with a definite panache and a fame of its own. The green-striped melons look so beautiful in their bright-red tissue paper.
It was cherry season in France--look at these beauties! We sometimes see the black cherries in Mexico, but the yellow and red cherries on the right in the photo are unheard of here. In France, I bought a kilo of the addictive black cherries for 5€ (about $6.00USD). In Mexico, I recently saw them offered for 20 pesos (about $1.50USD) for a tiny bagful. But as I said: addictive. I had to buy some.
Isn't the diversity of our world wonderful? As I said before, vive la difference! Viva la diferencia! Long live our differences!
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