Walking through markets and perusing street-side stands, yellow fruits and vegetables catch my eye with their cheerful, sunny glow.
It’s Springtime in Oaxaca City.
Chayote blanco, Chayotito (cha-yo-TEE-toh) / White CHayote
Little pale yellow chayotitos (also called Chayote Amarillo or Chayote Blanco), are nestled here amidst a variety of greens common to the Milpa, like verdolaga (purslane) to the far left and quintoniles (aka: quelites), which are the greens of any of a number of types of amaranth plants. Chayotito has a mild, sweet flavor with a tough, leathery skin – they need to be boiled whole, and then they can be peeled. Cubed or mashed with butter or olive oil and some salt they are a delicious substitute for boiled potatoes. And, like other chayote, you can eat the soft, flat, almond-shaped seed in the centre.
Where: fringes of markets, laid out on cloth on the floor.
Nanches / Nances (NAN-shez)
These little yellow “berries” are nances or nanches– an odd little fruit with a funky slightly tart, cheesy taste and dry, somewhat cottony texture, Definitely an acquired taste, which I have yet to acquire. I was told these were brought in from Puebla, a few hours north, as they are not in season in Oaxaca, but there is a demand for them, apparently. For the most part, they are preserved: in liquor (mezcal), in syrup (en almíbar), in ice cream (nieves) but here they are snack-ready– “enchilada” – with a hearty dousing of chile, lime and salt, because when in doubt…
Where: streetside, often from wheelbarrow/ cart
Mango en vinagre/Green Mango in Vinegar
When mango are abundant, and in season, at some point you have to accept that it’s not going to be possible to eat them all when ripe. In Oaxaca, the green fruits are peeled, halved and pitted and immersed in a fruit vinegar, usually made primarily of pineapple peelings. Chile spices things up and these are eaten as a snack. I can think of many ways to use these as a pickle/ chutney as you would see in Indian food, but I haven’t run across them used as a condiment here.
The same green mangos are also simply sliced up and served “enchilada” from bags – again as a refreshing, tartsnack.
Where: streetside carts, or in residential doorways or small shops along with numerous other preserved fruits and vegetables either pickled or in syrup
Flor de Chícharo (florr deh CHEE-chuh-roh) – Pea flower
I was so struck by these pretty bowls of edible flowers, which I found first in the corridor of Mercado Sanchez Pascuas, that I didn’t pay good enough attention to the type of pea that the vendor next to this was shucking. I had at least noticed that they looked starchy and weren’t the bright green of a fresh sweet Spring pea.
Now, I have gone on to find out that these are the the flowers of the pigeon pea, which originated in India and came to Mexico via African and the Caribbean. This would have been in the early days of the slave trade and by now, they are naturalized and are sometimes planted where the soil is poor. The pea itself, even when cooked, contains indigestible sugars, so it’s going to cause you some bloating unless sprouted… but the flower can be used as a green vegetable – blanched quickly and then sauteed with onions and garlic, or added to vegetable dishes, rice or egg dishes and so on.
Where: Look for these sold by vendors who come in from the villages — they set up on blankets or makeshift tables at weekly Tiánguis and some may have a little spot in/outside mercados.
Yuca (YOO-kuh) – Cassava Root or Yuca
Oftentimes you’ll see that savvy vendors, for the sake of economy, have taken care of some of the labor that can get in the way of preparing certain foods. Yuca is one of many tubers best boiled whole because they are troublesome to peel and they do take some time to cook. So first they are cut into 6in lengths, then into one big pot they go. Cooked, they are easy to peel. Some are cut into sticks and a blob of sweet syrup (‘miel’ can mean corn syrup as well as honey or a combination of the two) is added to give market shoppers a carb-fuelled burst of energy. I took a few whole cooked tubers home and mashed them with salt, pepper and olive oil for a healthier dose of this complex, fibre-rich carb!
Where: At weekly tiánguis, markets and streetside.
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