I’ve recently acquired a favourite indulgence that might seem a little odd to some of you and others may question why I only discovered it a short time ago. Brightly coloured produce pilled high, bustling aisles packed with people searching for ingredients, rough voices bellowing the latest offers. What am I talking about? My local farmers’ market, of course.
Although technically not my local market – although can anywhere on the tiny island of Tenerife not be considered local for anyone who lives here? – my favourite one has to be the Mercado de Nuestra Señora de Africa in Santa Cruz. Here you’ll find not only a spectacular array of the finest fruit and vegetables, but also a great selection of fresh cuts of meat, a huge choice of home-made pastries and stalls offering locally-produced wine and honey.
I had not been to this farmers’ market in some years and I was surprised to see some almost prestigious-looking shops in the otherwise rough-around-the-edges market. The first one to catch my eye was a modern, yet quaint tea-room called Mi Rincon Favorito (My Favourite Corner). Unfortunately, different varieties of tea don’t usually get me excited but even I was stunned at the sheer amount of choice available here.
Not only was their selection of teas fantastic, but they also had every flavour – is this the correct way to describe it? – of incense imaginable, as well as loads of coloured and flavoured sugar crystals packaged in cute little bags with ribbons.
It’s typically Spanish and very old-fashioned – possibly even bordering on misogynistic – but every time I see this scene it always makes me smile. The women, most of them between 50 and 70, go off in large groups to gather what’s needed for the week’s food and gossip about last week’s events. Meanwhile, the men reside in large cafes in the centre of the market, happily putting down each others’ favourite football teams and drinking Tenerife’s favourite beer straight out the bottle – Dorada. This scene probably doesn’t sound that unusual – until I point out that it takes place at 9am. This will go on until well into the afternoon, until the women – laden with bags – have to prise their drunken husbands away and get them home. Ian and I opted for a coffee instead.
That’s one of the reasons I love farmers’ markets so much – they aren’t just places to buy the freshest and best-priced produce, but they are microcosms in their own right. They are places to meet new friends and keep in touch with old ones. They are places to get a hold of the best seasonal produce available whilst also supporting local farmers. Personally, I think of farmers’ markets as places to discover food the likes of which I have never seen before.
There is something incredibly exciting about coming across something bizarre-looking here. For me, it was the pink/purple broad-bean looking things on the right of the above image. Do I ask the person behind the stall what they are and how I should cook them? Or should I just scoop them up and experiment on my own? The second option sounded more fun – but I really should have asked for some advice! They didn’t turn out well at all.
But that’s all part of the fun of it! If you always stick with what you know, you’ll never discover anything new and where’s the excitement in that? but beware, if you’re like me, and are drawn by bright colours when food shopping, you’ll be trying to snap up almost everything you lay your eyes on.
So this weekend, don’t lie in bed until noon and grab yourself a bowl of cereal for lunch. Get up early and head down to your local farmers’ market and pick up a load of interesting ingredients to make a great dish. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.