Markets

Category: Markets

Flor de Maguey – the Bud of Mezcal.

the maguey flower is not typical fare in the market stalls
the maguey flower is not typical fare in the market stalls

florr day muh-GAY.

I was recently in DF (Distrito Federale) on a search and discover mission to see what seasonal goodness I might find in the markets. I had some idea of what was in season, but was ready to be surprised. I’d read about the Sullivan Tianguis (this is a Nahuatl word, used to refer to a weekly traveling market) on Culinary Backstreets,  and not only was it was a quick bus ride away from my AirBnB room, it promised not to be a huge rambling affair, which on that particular day I was not in the mood for.

It’s easy to be distracted and pulled in by any of the vendors plying you with tastes of the fresh pick of the day. I did take a few handouts of mamey… more on that in another post– let’s just say for now, I was converted! But already familiar with mamey, I was here to find something new.

Then, a lovely pile of maguey flowers  stopped me dead in my tracks. I knew  these were edible, but had expected that if I wanted to get my hands on any, I’d likely have to get someone to harvest some for me. The vendor pointed to the long stamens sticking out of some of the buds and explained in Spanish that I should remove these. I bought a few bunches and wrapped them carefully for the long journey  home. They are in no way fragile like flor de calabaza (squash blossoms)and, in fact, are more like daylily buds – firm and slightly rubbery.

Maguey flowers are definitely special because this plant–a cousin to Agave tequilana from which tequila is made– blooms only once in its 30+ year lifespan. As it reaches the end of its life, it sends up a single central stalk, rapidly shooting up a foot or more a day to a height of up to 40ft. If that stalk is cut before the flowers bloom (the stage these buds were at),  a sweet liquid sap called aguamiel collects in the central core of the plant. It is from this aguamiel that mezcal is made.

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I had an idea to pickle them in escabeche – treating them kind of like okra. I made a simple spiced vinegar solution with onion, garlic chiles and oregano, then blanched some of the buds whole before letting them do their thing in the pickling brine. Later, I viewed a few YouTube links describing traditional preparation and learned that not only were you supposed to remove the stamens, the stem also was to be discarded, leaving only the petals. So much waste! While there was a slight bitterness from the stem and stamen(?) I didn’t find it at all unpleasant and thought the bright yellow whole buds were lovely, intact.

Supposing that I should follow a recipe for a change, I invited my friend Pueblito over to prepare the remaining buds as described in several similar recipes I’d seen. This is a pre-Columbian food and not in the culinary lexicon of the average Mexican householder, so she was delighted to have the opportunity to cook and eat this plant. Basically, after tearing the petals off, they were to be cooked with the usual suspects: onion, garlic, oregano, tomato and chiles. According to a few of the videos they had a “sabor como pollo”. Tastes like chicken? We’ll see…

We proceeded to take apart the blossoms…

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And we were not left with much…

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 I followed the recipe: onion, garlic, chiles, tomato and oregano, and added a sprig of epazote…

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Of course we served them in tortillas with a crumble of queso fresco.


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In the end, I guess what they mean when they say it tastes like chicken is that the petals have a mild flavor… and it’s the seasonings that make the dish. The pickled buds were more tasty,  Pueblito and her husband Antonio agreed, with a little crunch and squeak. Next time, I’ll see if I can remove just the stamen keeping the bud as whole as possible and definitely keeping the stem… unless I find evidence that these are toxic ( I monitored my gastrointestinal response after eating several whole pickled buds and felt perfectly fine). But if anyone knows, I’d be eager to hear about it.

 

 

RESOURCES:

Sullivan Tianguis: in Mexico City every Saturday and Sunday. Location is convenient to la Alameda, Museo del Chopo and lots of other points of interest. At Reforma Metrobus stop– it runs alongside James Sullivan Park just off Insurgentes.

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Sabes qué es? …Edible leaf found in Oaxaca

I assume it’s edible, anyway– I came across it at the Tianguis Orgánico in Huatulco, Mexico. Not a very large leaf- perhaps 3.5in across its max width and 4in from base to tip. edible leaf

Do you recognize this leaf, and know anything about its uses, either culinary or medicinal?  I hope you’ll share your info in the comments! Gracias!

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El Tianguis- the traveling market

Tianguis : TYAHN-gees

While most larger Mexican towns will have at least one centralized market (mercado) where locals shop for their fresh foods, many towns also host a weekly traveling market, held usually near the edge of town where there’s plenty of space. 

Once, sometimes twice, a  week, vendors  from near and far arrive with their goods  and set up a rambling network of stalls festooned with colorful tarps for shade from the elements.  Here in San Miguel de Allende, the tianguis takes place every Tuesday on the edge of town. Gringos refer to it as “The Tuesday Market”.

This is the place to go to experience free enterprise in action. Poultry, alive, or freshly plucked… next to this, a rainbow array of bras…next to those, mountains of  slightly dated designer clothing…then there are blender jars, tools of all descriptions and bootleg videos..  the list is endless, the scene a controlled chaos. For the foreign visitor, it can be dizzying.

Outside Oaxaca City you'll find el Tianguis in Tlacolula–  one of the country's most vibrant traveling markets.
Outside Oaxaca City you’ll find el Tianguis in Tlacolula– one of the country’s most vibrant traveling markets.

Indigenous and Local Produce.

If you are interested in seeking out the indigenous and non-commercial fruits and vegetables, here you’ll find vendors who bring you the best of the region, and those nearby. One vendor may have a complete array from white onions to eggplants (which are farmed here for export and not part of the local diet), but right next to that stall, you may find a wizened old woman from the campo (countryside) offering only  her recent harvest of cleaned nopal paddles or bundles of té de limón (lemongrass, used in Mexico to make tea, but you can use in Asian cooking!) and a few other herbs.

The Wisdom of the Viejitos

Viejito(a)/Viejo(a)– VYAY-ho: Old person

It’s these hardworking folks you want to look for– they offer the wisdom of generations past and are well aware of the health benefits of the foods they are selling. Although wizened and bent, their health issues are less likely the result of poor nutrition, than due to a lifetime of hard work and simply, old age. They’re indeed the backbone of this country. If you show  interest, and attempt to phrase any questions you have in even clumsy Spanish, you will  find them pleased to share their knowledge with you.

When you arrive in a new town, ask about the weekly Tianguis– and immerse yourself in the authenticity of this cultural experience.

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