Sunday, August 28, 2011

Surprises Beneath the Surface

Yes, Oaxaca continues to surprise me the longer I stay here, as I begin to understand the language and culture little by little. But it's the fruit and veggies I want to talk about today. This came up on my Facebook page recently, when a friend pointed out that I post rather frequently about a seemingly mundane topic--fruits and vegetables I buy.

To me, in Oaxaca, this is the least mundane of topics! Yeah, I'm vegetarian, sometimes vegan, even a certain percentage raw, but even if I was only getting my requisite 5-7 servings per day, my produce would be an object of scrutiny. Because Oaxaca has funky produce.

Take the humble ruby grapefruit, one of my daughter Geni's favorite breakfast options. Slicing it open releases lots of juice and pulp. The sections are of different widths, rather than equally divided. The taste may be intensely graprefruity or sour or watery, depending upon the season. None of this seems particularly stunning until I visit the United States in the summer and cut open a grapefruit. No mess. Little juice, little pulp. Every section equidistant. The flavor--less grapefruity, but terribly consistent. Consistent produce--unmessy, unvarying in appearance, nearly always the same flavor--does not happen in Oaxaca.

Bananas are a mystery here. Why do they turn brown so much more quickly? Why do seemingly unscathed bananas sometimes reveal themselves to be squishy with bruises once peeled? Why are bananas tiny and huge, starchy and juicy, stringy and stinky, sometimes varying within the same bunch?

You cannot eat a mango without juice spilling all over your face. It's nearly disgusting in its gorgeousness and sweetness. Green tuna fruit--how to munch through those giant seeds? Red tuna fruit staining everything. This fruit is just not practical!

There is some magic to knowing when jicama will burst in your mouth with watery sweetness as opposed to tasting like sawdust. But I do not possess that magic, not yet. My friends know which wild mushrooms make the best broth, and which others are primed for pasta sauce. I just eat and eat them, though they can be dense and kind of meaty and other times slimy and smelling like an underground tunnel where you might find Totoro.

The markets can be captivating or they can be an overpowering, overstimulating blur. Yes I want coconuts but do I have the cajones to machete them open once I get home? How to handle the free samples of lichee fruit, when the peel and the seeds just create something else for me to hold? It's all too decadent, too beautiful, too heartbreaking--how could fruit and vegetables be so different from their northern counterparts, what have these first world countries done to these treasures to homogenize them? But that's another blog post. Until then, slice it, juice it, toss it in Tajin.

1 comment:

Andärin said...


Just wanted to say thanks again for submitting to the BT Blog Carnival, and also congratulations! Your article has been hand-selected and was included in the 8th BT Blog Carnival which was published today.

If you could retweet, stumble, or like this edition of the blog carnival, I would really appreciate it. :)

Thanks again!