abastos-yacaFriday, March 13, 2009 — ACA is an organic farm and information center which does a lot of community outreach to both Mexicans and foreigners. Wednesday we took part in one of their bus trips to the huge wholesale food market in the heart of Guadalajara. The Mercado de Abastos stretches for many, many blocks. You could get lost and wander forever in the onion section alone! (Kelly and I almost did.)

Some forty of us took the tour, guided by Wendee Hill of ACA, who has lived near Lake Chapala for many years and knows the market well. She took us around to a variety of places over several blocks, then turned us all loose to eat and shop for a few hours. Above is one of the fruits she pointed out; the sign says "My name is yaca. I have 7 flavors."

Virtually all the produce that we buy at our local street market here in San Juan Cosala comes from the Mercado de Abastos. Carlos goes in to the big city long before dawn, loads up his truck, and stops by his home in Chapala to pick up his wife Blanca if she hasn’t gone in with him.They sell till mid-afternoon every Tuesday here and every Wednesday in Ajijic. Countless other vendors do the same thing all over Jalisco.

After the tour, Kelly and I headed down to the area that was mainly wholesale. That’s where we wandered among onions. While I waited for Kelly to come out of a men’s room, I chatted with a gray-haired Mexican woman who seemed to be a store owner. After we exchanged pleasantries, I asked her if the market was at all affected by the economic problems in the US. She rattled off a couple of sentences I couldn’t follow and then added that before there would have been ever more activity. Things have slowed down some. Still, everyone has to eat.

This stall is typical of many:

abastos-stall

Hot peppers up close:

abastos-hotpeppers

Just outside that stall, a man was playing his sax for coins:

abastos-sax

On his left, a couple of guys were sitting on the end of a cabbage truck. Kelly got several lovely photos of cabbages but here is one from my favorite of the wholesale areas, the fruit part. Mangos:

abastos-mangos

Wendee had told us that Mexicans like their mangos less ripe than we foreigners like them.

Okay, the truck trailers aren’t as pretty as the mangos, but they are an essential part of the scene. We really got the feeling of the Mercado de Abastos as being the heartbeat of the food of the region. In from all over, out to all over the city and the outlying communities for a good long ways.

abastos-trucktrailers

I also enjoyed the characteristic Mexican jolliness of the workers. Some were working hard, carrying heavy things or navigating their hand trucks deftly past us and around obstacles. Others were lounging for the moment. As ever in Mexico, it was all done with a good humor that I don’t see nearly as much north of the border.

Eventually we wandered back to the restaurant area. A Mexican friend had recommended two places: either a particular menuderia (place to eat tripe)  for its large quesadillas, or a Korean place.

Tripe? Well, one of our favorite television programs features chef Anthony Bourdain eating all kinds of things in restaurants and street markets all over the world. There was no doubt in our minds what Anthony would do with that choice. But us? We went Korean and it was delicious, plenty of stir-fried veggies with meat and rice. We chatted a little with the Korean woman – she’s been here 20 years, and came with her husband and a number of his relatives. I asked if she ever gets back to Korea. Very little, she said. It’s hard to leave the stall.. Her Korean accent in Spanish was less than my American one.

abastos-korean

Now it was time to do some serious shopping. We actually didn’t buy any produce, as we had our eyes on some grains and other odds and ends in stores and mercado stalls Wendee had shown us.

I asked Kelly to take a photo of this fruit – didn’t catch its name but think it’s from a cactus – which Wendee had said is good for diabetes.

abastos-fruit

We crossed the street from the Mercado and shopped in several stores. La Gallina Feliz and Mama Coneja were my favorites. I was in health-food-store heaven, with all sorts of herbs, spices, grains, beans, and other things in bins. Unlike the US, I had no idea what might be organically grown and what not. Both stores were on Avenida del Mercado, not far from each other.

When we got home, we took this picture of the results of our shopping:

abastos-ourstuff

The two hammocks were from a street vender, and were 350 pesos for both. I asked where the hammocks were made, and he said Acapulco. I asked if he was from there and he said yes. "Still dangerous?" I asked in Spanish, and referred to a grisly event that had happened there a couple of years ago. "No, no," he insisted with a smile.

The brown stuff in the large bag on the upper right is 5 kilos of wheat. Kelly grinds it into flour in the VitaMix blender we brought down with us from the US, to make our bread. That 5 kilos cost a total of 25 pesos, The peso is now at about 15 to the dollar, which means our cost of living is a just over 2/3 of what it was about half a year ago. We certainly notice this! So all that wheat cost us about $1.65 US and will be the main ingredient in something like 15 loaves of bread. (A kilo is 2.2 pounds.)

Next to it is 2 kilos of brown rice, which also totaled 25 pesos. Other items in the picture are two round sweetened nut-and-seed cakes, oatmeal, granola, lentils, 2 kinds of chia seeds, raw cashews (a rare find here), other seeds, citric acid, red jamaica  to make a health-enhancing herbal tea (it’s the red in Red Zinger), and two big chunks of cheese from a place Wendee had recommended. One is a sharp Cheddar and the other is a mild one. After tasting samples, we got half a kilo of each for a total of 90 pesos or 6 bucks. Our total grocery bill for all this came to about $30 US, and over a third of that cost was the cashews. We were well loaded up on the way back to the bus.

To find out more about ACA, see their website. There is a "contact us" page you can use if you want to find out about future events and tours—they do a regular email newsletter. This same tour will take place again in mid-April, and more times after that. It was way more fun than just heading in on our own would have been, though now that we know our way around, we could go bac on our own. But actually I do like riding buses into Guadalajara – I find it quite a relaxing way to go. So wait long enough and maybe we’ll meet on another Abastos tour!

A reader emailed me that the so-called raw cashews you get in health food stores in the US are actually processed. After reading his comments and the article he referred me to, I think mine were too. He says, "cashew shells contain a similar poison to that of the poison ivy/poison oak family of plants. That is why in the U.S., you almost never find cashews that aren’t de-shelled and toasted. Take care in eating them!

Here is a link describing the cashew and its poison: http://www.wisegeek.com/are-raw-cashews-really-poisonous.htm