Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Market Scares

My first visit to an outdoor Brazilian produce market (feira) was fine until something caught my eye at the fruit stall and my gait hesitated. I was immediately jumped on by store owners shouting, gesticulating and shoving tropical fruit into my mouth. A dozen of everything I didn't want, need or recognize was bagged-up and hooked over my wrists before I could protest. I paid a mint and staggered away feeling very foolish.

That was four years ago, but I'm still intimidated by the feira. On Tuesday mornings I go to the one off rua do Catete to buy fish from the stall at the very edge of the market, so I can avoid the rest of it. When I do brave it, I walk briskly, without eye contact. I don't accept samples. I gesture and point, in the hope that I'll be taken for a Brazilian mute rather than a gringa to be ripped off. Even still, when confronted by a stall with 8 different choices of banana, I usually end up retreating to the safer, simpler, pricier supermarket.

This has got to stop.

The other thing that I can't sustain for the rest of my life here is an exclusively European diet. I import Earl Grey teabags, Marmite, Shreddies, pine nuts, french chocolate, dried cranberries and a million other things. I insist on making roasts even though it's infernally hot. I complain that Brazilian ovens can't make a decent Yorkshire pudding and that the grill is incapable of browning anything, not least a shepherds pie. In five years, I have barely tried anything indigenous to Brazil, with the exception of the traditional arroz feijao (rice and black beans), which only made a recent appearance in our household thanks to our maid, and would now be eaten by my one year old for breakfast (if it weren't for the Shreddies).

Yesterday, in the interests of getting over my feira angst, getting better acquainted with Brazilian ingredients and giving me something to write about, I vowed to go every Tuesday, intentionally purchase something alien, photograph it, prepare it, pop it in my mouth and write about it.

With that promise to my one blog follower in mind, I went to the feira with an open heart. And guess what? I was not assaulted or conned by anyone. The stall owners couldn't have been more helpful (and amused) in response to my questions of "is that a fruit or a vegetable?", as I pointed to bizarre plant growths, and asked them how to prepare them. When I took out my camera an outcry ensued, as each out-hollered the next, wanting me to shoot their stall.

Upshot was, I walked away with an expertly selected caqui given to me as a gift, along with a handful of maxixi. "What are they?", you wonder. Well, I bet you can't wait until the next installment...

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