Photo Tour: Market Day

Every Thursday and Sunday morning, Panajachel’s market turns into the town hot spot: There are mango- and papaya-pushing senoras, butchers selling chorizo and chicken, and hawkers of countless niche items from energy-efficient light bulbs and dried cork husks to machetes and nail polish.

It’s like Target or Walmart, but better: Not only can you can find anything you need, but you can also negotiate prices, chat with colorfully clad senoras, and catch snippets of conversations in Kaqchikel, the language of the local Mayan people.

On Sundays, Shon and I arrive early to beat the heat and the masses. We make impromptu decisions about our meals for the week: That pile of bright red tomatoes will be a slow-cooked spaghetti sauce. That bulbous head of cauliflower? Tempura. The lychee we’ll eat right here. My favorite purchases change with the seasons. Just a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t think of leaving without a watermelon that sounded taut and hollow like a drum when thumped. Now, I look for sweet-scented mangoes, melons, and pineapples for fruit salad.

The market’s signature scent comes from a cacophony of smells: raw, unrefrigerated meat from the carnicerias (butcher shops), fried chicken from street stands, leafy greens, ripe and rotting fruit, sweat, and exhaust fumes from cars and buses.

Among other things, dried corn husks are used to make chuchitos, the Guatemalan take on a tamale and a delicious breakfast staple.

Light bulbs: a constant source of contention. Shon wants to save the world one energy-efficient bulb at a time. And I would, too, if their sterile light didn’t make me feel like a lab rat waiting for it all to end. The hunt for happy, energy-efficient lighting continues.

A machete: purchased by Shon for “hacking shit,” i.e. weeding.

Nail polish: purchased by me because “seriously, why have I not found a nail place, yet?”

Part of the market is indoors, situated under the high, tin roof of a semi-open-air warehouse. In the center of the building is a maze of wooden stands filled to brimming with piles of jeans, Elmo tee-shirts, and frilly bras. There are pirated copies of movies that are still in U.S. theatres; candles, firecrackers, and fireworks; woven baskets; barrels full of spices, beans, and nuts; bags of pasta, rice, and sugar; shampoo and soap; and so much more.

You can find flax seeds, pepitas, sesame seeds, lentils, dried hibiscus flowers for tea..the list goes on and on.

Forget Netflix–unless you need assurance that your movies will work. These cost just one dollar each but come with no guarantee.

The basket stand is one of my favorites.

Tamarind is a sweet-sour fruit that’s used to make juice. The pulp is combined with boiling water and sugar, and then strained, chilled, and served. It’s delicious.

Entire stands and shops are dedicated to candles, incense, and other items used during Mayan and other religious ceremonies.

Dried fish.

Not dried fish. (Fish in the market comes from both the lake and the Pacific.)

The powder up top is made from ground annatto seeds and is used to add color and peppery flavor to foods, like beans. Beneath that is barbacoa, a mix of spices I’ve yet to try.

The periphery of the warehouse is lined with comedores, tiny kitchens that are manned by senoras who offer four or five different lunch options each day. Order fried chicken, and it will come with a pile of rice, a lettuce and cucumber salad, a dollop of refried beans, and a basket of steaming-hot tortillas fresh from the stove of the tortilla makers just a few feet away.

Lunch + a televised soccer game at a comedor.

You can watch your tortillas being made from where you sit.

Pollo con crema (creamy chicken) with rice, salad, tortillas, and a starchy, sweet rice beverage (sadly, the latter makes me gag).

A comedor kitchen.

There are fruit and vegetable vendors indoors, but the liveliest bunch of produce peddlers reside out under the sun. Beneath blue, green, and red tarps and wide, colorful umbrellas, senoras nestle into their piles of peppers, cilantro, cucumbers, cabbage, and bananas. From their cozy seated sanctuaries, they weigh fruits and vegetables with hand-held scales, break bills with change that they keep tucked into the waistbands of their thick, woven skirts, and eat mid-morning snacks over their laps. Their calls of “Senora, que busca? Que quieres? Bananos, repollo, lechuga?” (“What are you looking for? What do you want? Bananas, cabbage, lettuce?”) are non-stop. At first it always feels rude not to address each woman with a polite “No, gracias,” but after time, their incessant calls become part of the market soundtrack, background music that I eventually stop noticing at all.

In addition to the colorful medley of senoras outside, there are other people pitching products, as well: Some dedicate themselves to aluminum pots and pans, others to new and used shoes or toiletries. There are men who sell edible items out of trucks and wheelbarrows, as well as shops that throw their doors open and let their merchandise–from plastic storage containers to puppies–spill out onto the street.

Points for presentation.

The blue pots on the corner are my favorite; they double as mixing bowls.

This is the corn that’s used to make masa (dough) for tortillas.

Peanuts and macadamia nuts.

The best deals on mangoes, pineapples, and oranges often come from the back of a truck.

Plastic, plastic, and more plastic: It ain’t pretty, but it’s functional.

Chaddy’s got competition!

In summary, market days are pretty awesome. Just remember to bring a very big bag. ; )

2 thoughts on “Photo Tour: Market Day

  1. Wow, so colorful and the fruits and vegetables look delicious! And I’m sure that you make some amazing meals from all the produce. We have a market in Altea every Tuesday but it is not nearly so big and bustling. Love the photos!

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