As the Holiday season gets into high gear, I’ve heard some concern about the difficulty of finding the “things I’m used to at Christmas time.” I thought you might enjoy reading an excerpt from the first part of “Magic Made in Mexico.” When you’ve finished, you’ll realize that shopping in Merida has come a long way!
In the 1970s, what an adventure shopping was! My mother-in-law, Doña Bertha and I would head off four blocks up the street, each carrying two empty sabucanes – Maya for shopping bags. In Yucatán, Mayan words and expressions are used in everyday speech; just as Náhuatl ones pepper the central and northern Mexican lexicon. We’d always be greeted upon our arrival by a young boy, Manuelito, whose broad smile showed his excitement at seeing Doña Bertha. Out of the depths of her purse, she’d pull out a huge napkin-wrapped meat sandwich or some other food item. The poor boy would devour whatever she gave him. She’d smile and tell him to look for us again in an hour or so.
This is something my mother-in-law has successfully taught me—the importance of kindness and charity. Doña Bertha could not tolerate seeing anyone in need. Her kitchen table often had hungry strangers sitting around it and she unfailingly made them feel like welcome guests.
The market excursion always began with her errands. Often she needed to pick up something from the shoemaker, the merchant who repaired metal pots, the lady who sold natural beeswax candles or the flower sellers. In the produce section, we bought onions, chilies, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, other vegetables and luscious fruits such as pineapple, papaya, marañon – cashew fruit (we make juice out of the fleshy fruit to which the nut is attached. The nut itself is encased in a thick skin and is poisonous until roasted) – and zapote – sapodilla, a native Yucatán fruit now grown world-wide in the tropics. Then we’d move on to the spices & herbs: achiote – annato – cilantro – fresh coriander leaves – yerbabuena – fresh mint, etc. She liked to purchase other ingredients like smoked ham, spicy sausage and beans or grains from a special marchante – a vendor in the market. Our last stop (my least-favorite) was to the meat, fish and fowl.
There, on display, lay whole fish with bulging eyes and red- red gills. A few stalls over were chickens hanging from poles with their heads still attached and entrails oozing out. Still further along slabs of pork, beef, and organ meats were laid on open counters and sometimes there would be venison or other game. The flies swarmed all over the place and the smell…¡Díos mío! Doña Bertha didn’t seem to take any notice of the blood and entrails, and I tried to be equally stalwart. However, it was extremely trying for me because I could see no evidence of refrigeration, or standards of cleanliness and food sanitation in the meat displays of the market. Doña Bertha claimed that as long as we bought early enough in the day, all would be well. She knew I wasn’t convinced that she was right but I had to admit no one ever got sick from any kind of food poisoning in her house.
Nonetheless, I seriously considered becoming a vegetarian and I certainly wasn’t going to buy any meat to take to my house. I would continue to patronize the butcher in the town’s one and only sizable supermarket. Fortunately, food handling has improved greatly since my early days in México. If I choose, I can now buy FDA approved cuts of meat at our nearby Costco! Eventually the meat ordeal would end, and at this point, our bags groaning, Manuelito would miraculously reappear. Doña Bertha would give him a few centavos and he would heft the bags in his two spindly arms and carry them to a waiting calesa. We’d get up into the horse- drawn taxi and clip-clop back to the house.
Do you want to read more? Under the header, you’ll find information about where you can purchase the book.