El Mayoreo

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The Mayoreo is the largest farmer’s market in Alajuela and my weekly or bimonthly visits have become one of my favorite routine outings. I can’t claim that it has been so since the beginning, but I have progressively deciphered the persuasive “charm” of the sellers and come to appreciate the fidelity of buyer-seller kinships.

My first visit to the Mayoreo was overwhelming. There are rows upon rows of vibrantly colored produce and fruit, people swaying with the rhythm of the crowds, and farmers howling prices in the noisy air. I felt lost. I had no idea where to start, so I committed to the first row I came upon and looked for the items that were written on my grocery list. My tactic consisted of timidly shuffling towards a stand until the vendor took notice of the potential “business” opportunity and in a boisterous yet coaxing manner lured me closer to his stand. I tried my hardest to blend in with the crowd and give the impression of being an experienced buyer, but the buyer/seller dynamic was a whole different dimension that I would not be able to comprehend and employ until several more visits.

As a woman, a common and illustrious form of address that one hears throughout the market is mi reina, or “my queen.” I am not fond of the term, but just a casual glimpse towards someone’s food stand will provoke the call. The seller then proceeds to share the price of his produce and sweet-talk about giving his reina a special deal because he is fortunate that the reinita (a diminutive for saying cute queen) decided to grace him with her presence. As you might expect, the word becomes aggravating and at times, the person saying it as well (when the tone has a haughty snip to it).

 

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I tend to go to the Mayoreo on an empty stomach to work up an appetite and savor the plentitude of free samples that are given out at the market. One can calm and satisfy the most aggressive growls of a hungry stomach with the amount of mango cubes, cheese triangles and watermelon slices, among other tasty goods, that are given out. Vendors extend their hand with an opened fruit and cut off a slice when you advance near enough. I don’t approach too closely unless I intend to buy the produce because it feels like a personal affront if I don’t buy from the vendor that I just sampled from. However, in the instances where a seller has samples out and is busy with other buyers, I don’t think twice about grabbing a sample.

There is a permanent stand at the Mayoreo that sells a Costa Rican classic called chorreadas. It consists of a corn tortilla with natilla on top, a type of liquid sour cream, and is garnished with a pinch of salt or sugar. There was an older gentlemen sitting on a stool by the countertop that was completely engrossed in his chorreada, finger-licking and everything. My curiosity led me to ask him what he was eating. I felt embarrassed revealing my ignorance of the dish but once the savory taste invaded my taste buds I forgot my mortification.

From when I started going to the Mayoreo, I have since established my go-to vendors for certain produce. I might not have the status of Mayoreo native yet, but I do have my fair share of loyal suppliers such as the avocado man, the eggplant dude, the tamales granny, and the kale boy. The amount of food that I carry back home with me becomes greater with each excursion and not because I purchase more food, but for the reason that with each return visit to a vendor the more inclined they are to giving me an extra granadilla or avocado for my loyalty. In feeling the weight of my backpack and bags get heavier, I begin to wonder if I should start rotating my visits to certain suppliers.

 

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