A feast for the eyes. Abundance. Vivid colour. It makes the mouth water and the stomach rumble. The amazing Mercado Central screams life and sustenance.
Fruit and vegetables piled high and displayed like works of art. Huge pumpkins hacked into halves and quarters to reveal soft orange flesh. An old woman laboriously shelling fresh peas into a bowl nestled between her legs. Mini-mountains of mauve-skinned avocados. One stall selling only papaya – it looks ripe and ready to go. My mind conjures up milkshakes and fresh juices. Sliced pineapples drowning in syrup and gathering flies. My stomach recoils. Pomegranates split open, ruby-red insides reminding me strangely of lips. Grapes and tumbo, chirimoya and mango. On and on it goes. Bananas are a world apart. A special department. Bunches and bunches of yellow, green and black fingers trailing over white-tiled counters. Women try to tempt with samples, call out and point. How do they ever sell all this? Quantities are biblical.
The coloured world of fruit and vegetables, muted by sunlight shining through plastic awnings, gives way to a starker reality at the meat counters. The world boils down to red and white. Blood-splattered white tiles. White rubbery tripe. Whole chickens. Steel trays full of chicken feet. A man slashing at huge chunks of cow with a saw. Hearts hanging on hooks. Ox snouts grimacing in weird half-smiles. Piles of tails. Dogs waiting hopefully for scraps to fall. It’s a waking nightmare.
Phew! Out into the courtyard, and to the fruit-shake ladies and some light relief. They sell not only shakes and juices but what must be the world’s biggest fruit salad. The sort of dish that looks like it hasn’t been started, when you’ve been eating for half an hour. The fruit-juice vendors share the courtyard with the potato sellers. Women propped amongst sacks of spuds, talking on mobiles, knitting, and cuddling children.
After milkshakes we wander back inside, marvelling at goats cheeses arranged on beds of straw, pyramids of jello, buckets and bowls of salsas and rows of gaudy iced cakes. Corn cobs laid out on the floor, women selling bunches of chamomile, quail’s eggs peeping out from the more common brown variety, and freshly ground herbs and spices.
Beats the supermarket any day.