I ask our guest house owner if she would take me to the nearby market to experience something new and truly local. Outdoor markets are scattered throughout the city. This one is open daily.
I’d like to stop and take pictures and ask our friend to identify some of the unfamiliar items for me, but there is no stopping or lingering for that purpose. We simply get pushed along with the flow of the foot traffic; everyone here seems to know his or her destination and favorite vendors.
Not knowing the security issues, I have a small camera tucked into my pants pocket out of view. I ask my friend about taking photos, and she tells me to take them only in the locations where she will be purchasing items. I am not sure why but respect her answer. When we got to the seafood stalls, I asked her to request the smiling vendor if I could take his picture with his goods, and he agreed.
We walk through the myriad intersecting aisles of every kind of fresh foods one can imagine. Although I recognize many of the fresh tropical fruits and vegetables, there are far more I do not recognize. One of the items my friend purchases is a plastic bag containing some red “raspberry” like berries which I discover are called mora berries. For lunch that day we drink a delicious beverage made from blending the pulp of those berries mixed with water and sugar.
Beyond the fruits, vegetables, and fish, the market offers eggs, cheeses, fresh meats and poultry, bins of spices, and a food court to sit and eat a freshly-prepared meal.
Another large area of the market is set aside for clothing and shoes, infants’ needs, housewares, lawn furniture, etc. You could furnish your house, choose your wardrobe, and feed your family all from within the stalls of this market.
My friend took me as a special favor today. Normally she prefers purchasing her fresh foods from the food trucks that sell all the same items right on the streets in her neighborhood. She tells me at market she buys four carrots for $1 whereas the street vendors will deliver to her door and charge her $1 for eight carrots. In addition to the cheaper price, it is more convenient to simply walk out the door and make the purchase rather than get in the car, pay for the gas and parking fee, and fight the traffic at the market. The last time our friend went to market, she parked along the street and received a $60 fine plus a ticket with her car license/registration number removed disallowing her driving privileges for three days. (She forgot some days you are permitted street parking and others days you are not permitted to park here.) Also, it is simply safer to walk from your gated home, hand over the money to the vendor, and quickly return inside your gated home again.
Still unconvinced that shopping at the market would not provide some benefit, I asked, “But the street vendors sell only fruits and vegetables, right?” My friend replies, “No, on Saturdays the trucks sell everything, including chickens and fish. I can even buy lobsters at my door if I want, and I need to buy food only once a week.” “But how do you know when they are coming?” I ask. “They tend to arrive about the same times very reliably.” Okay, NOW I’m convinced.
Still, I did enjoy mingling with the people and seeing all the colorful sights at the market today. It was something new to experience in downtown El Salvador.