Fresh from Mexico's fields, these gorgeous pimientos morrón rojo y amarillo (red and yellow sweet peppers) sell for about 40 pesos the kilo ($2.50 USD the pound) at the tianguis where Mexico Cooks! shops.
Nearly eight years ago, in August 2007, Mexico Cooks! featured every sort of produce, dairy product, and meat sold at a local tianguis (street market) near Guadalajara, Jalisco. For the entire month of August 2008, you read about seasonal availability of fruits and vegetables at the dozens of regularly scheduled tianguis (it's the same word in singular and plural) in Morelia, Michoacán. Mexico Cooks! would rather shop at a hot, crowded, and sometimes smelly tianguis than at an air conditioned supermarket, rather shop for supremely fresh foods at a tianguis than give a second glance to anything frozen, boxed, or canned that's offered for sale elsewhere.
The tianguis, wherever in Mexico it's held, is a basic part of the culture of modern Mexico. Its name comes from the Náuhatl word tianquiztli, market. Although Nahuatl markets are centuries old, the present-day form of the tianguis is fairly recent, originating during the 1970-76 Mexican presidency of Luis Echeverría Alvarez. The author of the tianguis project in Mexico was José Iturriaga, Echeverría's former finance minister.
Cooked in a sweet syrup, whole calabaza de castilla (squash, left), camote (sweet potato, right), and higos (figs, rear) are available at the tianguis by the kilo or portion of a kilo. They're to be eaten for breakfast or supper.
Although Iturriaga was himself a wealthy, educated, and cultured man, he worried about the ability of Mexico's poor to feed their families. He was especially concerned about the availability of nutritious fresh foods sold at reasonable prices. The tianguis, otherwise known as a mercado sobre ruedas (market on wheels), was his idea. The government took charge of giving Mexico's working-class housewives and other food shoppers stupendous quality at the lowest possible prices.
Still operated by local government, today's tianguis only sometimes reach Iturriaga's ideal. Often the produce can be second-rate, the meats and seafood far less than fresh, and the market's hygiene questionable--while prices are often as high or higher than the días de plaza (sale days) in upscale supermarkets.
Higos--figs, at the peak of maturity and ripeness--enjoy a relatively long season here in Mexico. We recently paid 100 pesos for two kilos of beautifully ripe figs and prepared half a dozen jars of you-don't-want-to-know-how-good fig conserve. Later this winter, spread on a toasted and buttered bolillo (small loaf of fresh-baked bread) from our tianguis, served over ice cream, or simply licked off the finger, the conserve will be an intense memory of summer.
Mexico Cooks! is a regular customer at one of the better tianguis in Mexico City. Our tianguis, set up early Wednesday mornings, is quite near our house. Our normal purchases include tortillas, bread, seafood, excellent pork ranging from maciza (fresh pork leg) to tocino (bacon), marvelously fresh chicken (whole or whichever part you want), all of our fruits and vegetables, cheeses and cream, grains, and flowers for the house. We don't eat much beef, but if we did, we'd buy it at the tianguis.
Prices at the Wednesday tianguis in our neighborhood, while not substantially lower than those at the supermarket, are still not higher than we care to pay. We usually budget about 700 pesos (about $50 USD) to buy what we need at the tianguis for a week's meals, including pork and sometimes shrimp. We budget another 400 pesos for purchases at the supermarket.
Mangos stacked high at a tianguis. This large variety is known as either Paraíso or Petacón.
On a recent Wednesday--when the refrigerator was bare of produce, as we had been out of the country for more than a week--these were our purchases:
6 large fresh white onions
1 huge cantaloupe
4 Petacón mangos
6 red-ripe Roma tomatoes
1/2 lb mushrooms
1/2 large white cabbage
8 Red Delicious apples
1 large avocado
2 large bananas
1 large papaya
1 lb fresh green beans
1 large head of broccoli
8 ounces crema de mesa (table cream, similar to crême fraiche)
1 kilo freshly ground-to-order beef
Total cost: 350 pesos--the equivalent of about $23.00 USD.
Stands offering prepared foods are always popular at any tianguis. This woman at the Tianguis del Sol in Guadalajara is preparing hand made huaraches (a long, thick oval of corn masa (dough), similar to a tortilla, served with various toppings).
Times and needs change. Urban Mexico views the tianguis as both a terrible bother (who would want one on their street, with its attendant noise and mess) and a joy (but where else can we get produce this fresh!). Mexico Cooks! knows people who will not shop at a tianguis, and we know people who will not shop anywhere else. Come with us some week and see what you think.
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