Monday, November 10, 2008

Layers of the Onion

Markets are a passion of ours and this year Basil did a lovely job of arranging our tour to pass through several towns on market day. We always enjoy revisiting old flavours and discovering new ones and it never ceases to amaze us how something new always reveals itself to us that is absolutely everywhere, but that, somehow, we have never taken notice of. Our wise host Alfred, of Macan Che Bed and Breakfast in Izamal, once expressed this phenomenon as "peeling away of layers of the onion". The whole onion may be visible, but there are many very fine layers to savour. This is exactly what travelling or living in a foreign place can be. The beautiful thing is that, if you are open to it, it applies not just to browsing through markets, but to all aspects of the life that surrounds you when you are away from the confines of what is familiar to you. A person can only absorb so much new information at one time and new layers seem to reveal themselves only when you are ready for them and what an honoured treat it is to discover the layers of the onion that come together to make Mexico.

The markets of Michoacan are a wealth of flavours. Some of our favourites are in Paracho, Tarecuato, and Nahuatzen. All for very different reasons. Paracho is large and lively and we have come to look forward to their very popular atole de cajeta, prepared fresh fruit, and simple, but hearty coarsely ground blue corn cookies .

Tarecuato is small. Black and blue shawls abound and the variety of atoles (corn based warm beverages flavoured with an incredible combination of fruit, nuts, seeds, and other tasty flavourings) changes with every visit. I hope to one day find myself in the area for their Atole Fair that is held there every year on the Saturday before Palm Sunday.

Nahuatzen is another market favourite of ours. Part of it might be the rolling pastoral vistas that carry you to this peaceful little town, an part of it might be the gentle sweetness of the vendors, but mostly it is the sheer quality of excellent fruit and veg and other edible options. One of my favourite fruit choices this visit was mispero an exotic, small, round fruit that grows on trees and is known in asia as loquat or chinese plum. It is best when the thin skin is peeled off and the light orange grape-like fruit is sucked off the four smooth pits tucked away inside it.

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