Sunday, March 23, 2008

Mazatlan, Pt.2: El Mercado Central

Farmers' markets are a passion of mine. I can't get enough of the fresh-from-the-farm produce and meats, the bustle, the noise, the laughter. It's the idea of eating local, yes, but also having a relationship with the person who produces the food that you eat. A chef I interviewed once described the intimacy of making food for people, that the food he prepared would become part of them on both a physical and spiritual level. And many farmers I've talked to feel the same way about the food they grow.

So one of my very favorite things to do when I travel is to go to the local market and Mazatlan's, while it's not one of the largest markets, has that same feeling of the place where the locals go to buy the food that will feed their families. They know their vendors like family, they've watched them grow up, get married, have families, grow old. They haggle like siblings over the price of this or the freshness of that. And they laugh and tease and roll their eyes at each other's jokes.

This market takes up an entire city block in the middle of the Centro, or historic district in the center of the city. It's a covered, colonnaded structure from the turn of the century built in an Art Nouveau style that is known for its selection of meats, produce and dried goods. There are even little grocery stores scattered around inside it that sell everything else, from canned tuna to toilet paper.

The meat market occupies one corner and you can find everything from beef to pork and chicken to fish, all fresh and many cut to order. When we were there the vendors were just putting out the day's offerings and there was much whacking apart of large hunks of meat and bantering with early customers. One butcher playfully poked his very long, sharp knife at a colleague from a nearby stand who was giving him a hard time, at least that's what it looked like from the way they were laughing with each other.

And there was no squeamishness in evidence over the nasty bits that Americans consider not fit to eat, much less proudly display front and center in the meat case. Innards, feet, fat and tongue were displayed right along with the prime cuts of loin, steak and breast, because they know what we've forgotten, and that is that some of these "other" parts have some of the best flavor in the animal.

Whether marinated, braised or slow-smoked, you can get ten times the flavor from these cuts. Combine them with beans and vegetables and you've got stomach-filling and soul-satisfying meals for a crowd. Don't these piggies look happy?

Read the other posts about my trip to Mazatlan: The Historic Scene, The Fungus Among Us, Evening on the Plazuela Machado, Groovy Graffiti, Bewitching Breakfast and Adios.

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