When traveling, one of our first excursions is to the local market. Shopping there is fun, and it gives us an opportunity to interact with the city residents. But there’s more to it than shopping and socializing. A trip to the market can provide insights into a country’s culture that we might otherwise miss. And we found this to be true in Morelia as well.
Unlike big box and high street stores, market vendors have to focus. They don’t have the luxury of stocking hundreds of items with hopes that someone might be interested. To stay in business, they have to stock what people need and are willing to buy. So a stroll around the market gives travelers a good opportunity to see what people need, want, and what’s important to them. All humans have the same basic needs, but how they fill those needs varies from culture to culture.
These heaping bins leave no doubt that corn is an important food in Mexico. There is maiz rojo (red), rosa and ancho (rose and ancho for pozole – a soup), and finally, a maiz specifically for tortillas. Almost all Mexican dishes include corn in one form or another, and its history goes back to prehistoric times. The corn plant was domesticated in Mesoamerica, and any corn you see growing on the planet has its roots here. It was not only food, but was sacred food; the Aztecs had a god of corn.
Chili peppers are another food which have a long history in Mexico. Archeologists have discovered evidence for the use of chili peppers in clay cooking vessels 2000 years old. The market stocked a dizzying variety, and there were bags of dried chili peppers as big as oil drums. And after a few delicious meals, my burning tongue tells me that most people here have built up a resistance to the heat. The hotness of everything that we’ve eaten here has been ratcheted up a few degrees from the dishes we find in the US. Personally, I think it’s a ploy to sell more beer – and it’s working.
Mole (pronounced mole-lay) sauce is another distinctive Mexican invention that’s sold all over the market. If you haven’t had it, you’ve missed a delicious treat. This tasty sauce is usually served on poultry, and frequently, on enchiladas. Even the simplest moles have 25 ingredients, and the number goes up from there. In addition to numerous types of chili peppers, the sauce can include nuts (off all kinds – our favorite is almonds), sesame seeds, cilantro, garlic, cinnamon, and chocolate. This is a simplified recipe, and before you decide to make it, a Google search will show how many ingredients you need to chase down. This booth had an excellent selection, and we tried the almendrado (almond). We slathered it on enchiladas, chicken, and in a cross-cultural experiment, veggie pasta. All were delectable.
But the mercado isn’t all about food. These cowboy boots caught my eye, and honestly, I’m not sure what cultural insight they provide. If there had been only one pair, I might have thought it was a joke. But five pairs with increasing toe length must say something about being macho. I’m biting my tongue to avoid saying the first thing that pops into my mind. I’m just sayin’.
James & Terri
P.S. And the cowboy boots were just next to the roosters. Hmmm …