Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Public markets and cat calls

Last month, we packed up and moved from Panama to Brazil. During our last weeks in Panama, we celebrated with friends, said our goodbyes to the high rise that I had a tumultuous relationship with for two years, and visited the public market. I've always said public markets are the essence of a city, which is why I chose this place to say my goodbyes to Panama. 

Watermelon vendors, Panama 2014
Markets are where you buy delicious food, and also receive cat-calls that either make you or break you. Being a tough cookie, I generally respond well to cat-calls because I find them anthropologically fascinating. They transcend racial and class lines, and, if they are harmless, PG-rated, and fall along the lines of "you look as delicious as these watermelons", I find them endearing.

A week after visiting Panama's mercado de abastos, which literally translates to provisions market, I went to visit my sister in New York City. The public market scene in NYC is different than that in Panama because markets in NYC are usually cleaner and more expensive. I've also never received cat-calls in NYC farmer's markets. Actually, I receive significantly less cat calls in the US than in Latin America, or other countries.Despite these differences, markets do have some things in common. You have to talk to someone to buy your food.

There's something valuable and appealing about speaking to another person to ask for the items you want to buy, having to communicate with someone instead of simply grabbing a pear at the grocery store produce section and rushing, anonymously, to the check-out counter. I love that a conversation with a fruit vendor about seasonal cherries very often becomes a conversation about something else completely unrelated to a cherry.

It's hip to buy locally-grown stuff at a farmer's market. I think the popularity of farmer's markets is due to the element of human interaction and not just about the quality of the produce. Despite our addiction to anti-social smart phones and our need-to-grab-our-food-and-go culture, I believe we like the idea of stepping outdoors and talking to a vendor about their watermelons…even if they begin the conversation by telling you that you look as tasty as their bounty. Or perhaps you're lured to their stall because that's how they started the conversation in the first place.

This marks my last entry about my life and culinary pursuits in Panama. Watch for entries about my new adventures living in Brazil... and whether or not I'll get cat-calls at Brazilian markets.

A palenquera fruit vendor holding my son. Cartagena, Colombia, 2009

I mean, how could you NOT buy couscous and lamb from this guy? Marrakech, Morocco, 2011
Here are some photos of some lovely public market vendors I've come across in my travels.

Feeling warm in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, 2009
Coconut vendor by the Savanah, Port of Spain. When I shared this photo on a blog post, my friend's mom recognized this vendor. She was raised in Trinidad and left more than 40 years ago. He's still selling coconuts.
Beautiful boy, beautiful pomeracs, Port of Spain, 2010
My shark vendor in Port of Spain. She had bright red hair and always a smile on her face. Trinidad and Tobago, 2010
Moroccan mint tea server in Marrakech, Morocco, 2011
Fried red snapper, Embera Drua indian community, Panama, 2012
Mr. Best fish curry in the world, New Delhi, India, 2013