Monday, January 30, 2006

Platform 9 ¾ for the Central Food Market of San Salvador

The other day we went for the morning to the central market of Salvador. The market is located at 6 Calle Oriente, between 23 and 27 Avenida Sur in the neighbourhood of La Mermeja. Another slightly more unfortunate (but relevant) landmark is that of the General Cemetary.

Little did I realise that I was in fact going to a place that doesn´t seem to exist. It´s the Hogwarts of food markets. The reason for this is that, outside of the market itself, it is extremely difficult to find information or reference to its existence. The web speaks very little of it and more surprisingly local blogs (admittedly these seem to be mostly written by North Americans) don´t mention this jewel of markets. Ever since going to the market, I have been part pleased and part distressed by the shock of locals when they are told. Two factors seem to cause this reaction and both reflect problems that lie at the heart of the drive to develop and open the market of El Salvador. .

Firstly, you can not mention El Salvador without referring to the gang problems that it is currently facing. La Prensa Grafica [i] recently reported on the murder rates in Latin America. El Salvador did not fair well. The murder rate in El Salvador is approximately 55 per 100,000. Comparison rates are Honduras 41, Guatemala 38, Colombia 34, Venezuela 23, Costa Rica 8. Yesterday a marero (gang member) was shot dead while eating shellfish in the market. Interestingly, the murder rate for Washington D.C. is 47, Spain and Ireland both sit at 2 murders per 100,000.

La Prensa Grafica
Secondly, the disparity amongst the populations of El Salvador also goes some way to explaining this lack of information. The poverty rate [ii] has fallen from 60% in 1991, but with a rate of 35% households in poverty, it is still a country of disparities. In the past years the development seems to have slowed, El Salvador ranked 103 in 2000 in the Index of Human Development, 5 years later it sat at 104. This is most simply illustrated in where some parts of the population shop and where others only dream of. Although the trip to the central market is only 15 minutes, it is a journey that is seldom, if ever, made by some locals.

The market that doesn´t exist is located in the center of San Salvador. The surrounding streets are a collection of free market stands, cd copies and parking lots. The market itself is arranged over the interior two floors. You enter at the bottom into what is the predominant food section of the market.

Here are some of the highlights of the market...

Corn being stripped and prepared in order to make tortillas
After they are boiled, ground and used to make pupusas.

Manzanillas. This is the Castillan for chamomile, but in El Salvador relates to a small apple fruit.

Granadilla. More familiarly known as a variety of the passion fruit. This exotic fruit´s seeds are eaten. El Salvador promotes the export of this fruit, particularly to the southern regions of Mexico.

Toilets. You can enter the toilets with paper or without. It costs 10 cents, and could be considered a wise investment.

Pacaya. This is the flower of the Palmácea; the palm tree. These are typically [iii] cooked, sliced down the center, stuffed with cheese and cream. We had them for lunch today, “unusual” was the general response.

Casco de Morro (on the left). The well-known horchata from Spain is made with chufas. That of El Salvador is made from the seed of morro, rice, sugar, pumpkin seeds, ground cocoa, cinnamon and sesame seeds. The empty morro shells can be used to make everything from candle holders to maracas... the latter are more tuneful. Here is a simple recipe for horchata:

Ingredients (for alot)
1 lb morro seeds
1 oz cinnamon
2 whole nutmeg
2 oz coriander
24 thick peppers
4 lb rice

Toast the rice slowly. Add the other ingredients and leave to golden. Grind all the ingredients. This may be stored in sealed bags for as long as you require. When you want to prepare the drink, use 2 dsp to one glass of liquid. For a litre use 3 cups of water, 1 of milk and 8 spoons of powder.

Casco de Armadillo (on the right in the above photo).
Crunchy on the outside; for the previous occupant, tragically empty on the inside.

The church of Calvario of San Salvador. This forms part of the view from the upper floor of the market... just behind the pupusa stands.

[i] Tim´s blog
[ii] ANEP Asociación Nacional de la Empresa Privada; ENADE 2005
[iii] Rellenos de Pacayas

Friday, January 20, 2006

Green Mango... the taste of the tropics

The minute we arrived in El Salvador Blancs started asking for Green Mango (mango verde). She called this "the taste of the tropics". Although the supermarket was sold out, we did manage to buy it from a street vendor when waiting for the traffic lights to change. It cost $1 for a bag of about 10... seemed like a bargin at the time*.

bag of mango verde
The preparation is very simple, peel and slice the mango. Season it with Limón. In a nice twist of confusion, it turns out that in Central America, limón means LIME, not lemon. It is only here that you will find the limes of sufficient acidity to make really good mango verde, ceviche etc.

Add a pinch of salt and alguashte. There is little information as to what alguashte really is. Opinion seems to fall between the seed of pepitoria and achiote. I managed to find a site that offers what is considered to be the true answer. The missionaries of El Salvador (you´ve got to trust them!) say that alguashte is slang (caliche) for ground pumpkin seeds.

* today in El Mercado Central of San Salvador we bought 5 manos (hands) of mango verde for $0.35. In 2001, El Salvador exported $0.3M (160,000kg) to the world... that´s a lot of hands.

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