Friday, January 11, 2008

Culinary Adventures in the Inside Passage...

...of Pátzcuaro's mercado

In an effort to revitalize my sense of culinary derring do, seasoned with a dash of risk, we once again went forth where no guidebook dares venture. Today we walked along one of the inside passages of Pátzcuaro's
mercado. Our regular mercado path usually finds us in the bright sunshine of the market street where the fruits and vegetables are sold, as well as the odd pig's head and assorted viscerae.

We have made occasional exploratory forays into the cavernous gloom under the shed roofs.

There are discoveries to be made. This is not your Soriana, Wal-Mart or Comercial Mexicana.

The general layout of products and services places the fruits and vegetables outside along the street, the carnicerías and pollerías more or less together inside; a rather unattractive hall of fondas, and a small, fresh and dried fish section. Follow your nose.

The south side is dedicated to Sanitarios Públicos, peluquerías and natural herbal medicine tiendas. There is clothing and plastic wares near the clothing. You can pick up some Santa Muerte paraphernalia and 5 pairs of cheap socks, if you know where to look.

(HINT: they are in the passageway behind the attractive, ringletted señorita selling pepinos y jícamas, across from the outdoor vitrina de la víscera. Innards.)

There's the lower-end fruits and vegetables corridor inside, flanking the main outside pasillo. Our belief is that there are bargains there.

Yesterday morning we were returning to buy bananas from a particular inside vendor. My wife claims his bananas last longer. (Maybe I should be worried.)

The following review should not be misconstrued. This is not about a world class eating experience, deserving four stars in guidebooks and worth a special journey. It's about a tasty, cheap snack.

On our way in we pased at least 3 quesadilla stalls, as well as a couple of cocinas económicas; of the latter, at least one specializing in fish head soup.

One quesadilla stall which shone forth out of las sombras. It's called "Quesadillas Monse". My appetite quickened at the sight of crisping quesadillas being flipped in hot lard.

After a tortured deliberation as to whether to eat fish head soup or quesadillas, we turned to the latter. Monse's was very popular, and it was filled with happy munchers, while neighboring quesadillas stalls languished for clients. (At least, at that hour.)

Monse's even built a mini-comedor, or, call it a dinette, across the passageway from the hot fat frying. Or, you can sit right up against the fry station, and hope that the quesadilla cocinera es diestra and doesn't splash sizzling lard on your ascot. The tables of this cheerful nook held brimming bowls of salsa roja, salsa verde, shredded lettuce and crema.

CREMA? Who puts crema on fried food? Well, nearly everyone who was eating there. Yes, even on quesadillas de salchicha y queso (hot dogs and Oaxaca cheese.)

The selection of filings is limited, and that's probably good, because it tends to make freshness a likelihood. There's pollo con papas, rajas con carne de res deshebrada, tinga, queso Oaxaca, y salchichas. Weiners.

It's fun to watch the all-woman team in action. There's Monse, pulling queso into shreds, taking orders and alternately collecting payment*; there's the masa squasher pressing out the elongated ovals on the tortilla prensa; there's the quesadilla cocinera, wielding two spatulas, frying the elongated envelopes of masa y harina to crisp delicacies in manteca pura de cerdo.

Yes. The non-PC, non vegetarian, all natural, no trans fats, grasa verdadera. Pig fat. Real Mexican food.

There's even impromptu "found" entertainment. We were seated at a small table in the passageway, to which a man came to collect a costal of lettuce trimmings and outer leaves. It was stashed under our table, and Monse had to drag out a bigger sack of lettuce heads to retrieve it.

I was tempted to have another quesadilla, but it might have taken 5 minutes to make, and I was foolishly thinking of trying some menudo (Yes!) at the Plaza San Francisco. (I didn't. Probably a prudent choice.)

*No te preocupes. Even though the alternating money and food handling violates one of my Rules of Street and Market Food Hygiene, I choose to believe that the sizzling lard kills off any bugs. No stomachs were harmed in the making of this blog post.

The graphic image at the top, which bears only a passing resemblance to the quesadillas Monse's, was borrowed from stock image site.


Tracy Novinger said...

The menudo at Plaza San Francisco is tasty and we did not regret eating it. A tip: If you ask for it in a styrofoam dish "to go" you won't eat it out of the bowls rinsed in dirty water.

Don Cuevas said...

I've been aware or the bowl and spoon washing techniques at food stands, but I don't worry much about it if:
•the food is served very hot,
•the stand is popular, and thronged with customers.
To fully experience Mexican street cuisine, it's best to eat it on site. Take away is ok, but there's more color and people at the stand. :-)

As to menudo, see my earlier blog post, "Confronting Menudo"