Local Honduran produce markets are usually open on Friday and Saturday. In the hours before opening, farm products are brought by every means imaginable. Pickup trucks come laden to overflowing with whatever is in season, be it melons, corn, mangoes, or huge bags of red beans. Women arrive on foot with baskets on their heads filled with chiles, bananas or avocados. Even creaky ox carts ply the rural roads brimming with carrots, cabbages and cheeses. The cries of the vendors hawking their wares combined with the raucous crowds are exhilarating, and the constant swirl of color would honor any artist’s palette.
Most fruits and vegetables familiar from home are here, though some perhaps in slightly different form. Carrots, huge and up to two or three inches in diameter, cabbages as large as bowling balls, grapes of several varieties, as well as red and yellow onions. There is, however, a glaring lack of lettuce.
Many of the items familiar to Americans appear the same, but closer examination usually reveals subtle differences. Many are just never seen by American consumers. Examples:
POTATOES: Honduran potatoes are not the Idaho variety common in the US. The skin is very thin and fragile, and can be removed merely with a vegetable brush. The flesh is not snowy white, but a pale yellow and not as firm as the Idaho. The flavor is more intense than the bland starchy Idaho, with a slight buttery taste. When parboiled, sliced, and deep fried, these make the finest “home fries” imaginable!
BANANAS: Central America has many varieties of bananas ranging from tiny finger-sized to huge coarse black mottled plantains only eaten after cooking. Other large yellow plantains can be eaten fresh, but the flavor is inferior to the regular yellow banana. Red Carib bananas are very flavorful, but with a rather different taste. The familiar yellow bananas can be purchased in the markets singly, by the bunch, or green on a whole stalk containing fifty or sixty pounds of bananas, to be hung with a strong cord and cut off as they ripen.
BEANS: The local markets are filled with literally tons of small Honduran red beans. Though not as tasty to most American palates as the familiar pinto, they’re the legume of choice throughout Central America, and are prepared in all the same ways. Along with corn tortillas and rice, these are one of the main staples of the rural Honduran diet.
MANGOES: Though ripe mangoes are available in US markets, the small green ones are sold here and used to make a most delicious jam very reminiscent of homemade apple pie.
MARAÑONES: These are the “apples” of the cashew tree. One fruit equals one cashew. They are sold fresh in the markets, and can be eaten raw or made into jam or jelly. They must be prepared properly because they exude a very caustic juice that is dangerous to the eyes and skin.
AYOTES: Small green squashes, prepared and eaten like other squashes, but in a Lilliputian manner.
JOCOTES: Green plum-like fruits usually stewed in syrup.
BANGANAS: Long green squashes of Asian origin, popular in Central America.
MORAS: Moras are a type of blackberry native to the region. Similar to the Loganberry in the US, they are usually considered superior in flavor. They grow wild all over Central America, and many attempts have been made to grow them commercially in North America. So far, all attempts to relocate the species have been unsuccessful.
MAZIPAN: Fruit of the breadfruit tree. Introduced into the region during colonial times as cheap food for slaves, it’s still quite popular among the locals. It can be prepared in a huge variety of ways.
MORROS: Little heart-shaped seeds of a species of calabash tree. The seeds are ground and used as a spice in the Honduran version of horchata, adding a flavor somewhat reminiscent of nutmeg.
A Central American market is primary source of inexpensive food and social intercourse among the locals, as well as an exotic and colorful playground for the curious. There are many items available only within the region, and any foreign visitor wishing to experience the local culture would do well to wander around a few markets, ask questions, and see local life, literally, from the ground floor.
Lew Marcrum is a photographer and writer located in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Primary genres include stock and travel concentrating on Latino and Central American culture, scenery, food and little-known potential tourist destinations.
- Date January 1, 2014
- Tags Farmers Market