When you come to Mexico, you’re in for a treat, whether you find the varieties of familiar vegetables more sabroso (flavorful) than the ones in your local supermarket or try new fruits and vegetables you rarely see at home. Even if you only walk through the markets and stick to hamburgesas (hamburgers) and papas fritas (French fries) at mealtime, a sightseeing trip to a market is a must, almost as esssential as climbing to the top of a pyramid at Teotihuacan.
Let’s start with CHAYOTE: This sweet flavored squash may be a close relative of the variety domesticated thousands of years ago in the Valley of Mexico. At any rate, it’s in every little Mexican vegetable store I’ve entered. The green squash we call zucchini is known in Mexico too but is called calabacita.
GUANABANA: This fruit flavors one of my favorite ice creams. You can see the whole fruit in the markets. It looks like a light green hand grenade with black spots. When it’s cut open, you’ll see see large flat black seeds. As far as I know, it’s not eaten raw.
Little sweet bananas he size of a finger are known inMexico as PLATANOS DE DEDO, are for sale in bunches, and make a great snack..
Flores de calabaza or SQUASH BLOSSOMS: Everything is used except the bottom of the flower.They are sauteed for tacos or simmered gently in soup. These blossoms also appear in crepes at certain restaurants.
MEXICAN CORN (maiz,elote): Tougher than our varieties, Mexican corn is raised mainly for making tortillas. In its boiled form, corn is sold along the street as an evening snack. it comes slathered with mayonnaise, salt, chile powder and grated cheese. You can ask for fewer ingredients. Also available as an ice cream flavor.
AVOCADO (aguacate): You’ll see more varieties in Mexico than make it to your supermarket. Try the small dark ones with smooth skins for their superior flavor..
HUITLACOCHE: strictly speaking, a fungus, not a vegetable. If you like mushrooms, you’ll like huitlacoche, which is available during the rainy season. A popular filling for omelettes in Mexico. Black or grey on the cob.
HUAZONTLE: This vegetable looks something like celery lined with beads in clusters. The Taste is broccoli-like. Nowadays, huaontle is sometimes served in Mexico with pasta.
MAMEY: In Merida, Yucatan, mamey ice cream is considered a special treat eaten under the arches of an icecream store along the plaza. The flavor of this fruit is subtle so I couldn’t distinguish the taste. The mamey has a tan husk and looks like a a pointed football at one end.
NOPAL: You’ll see women and sometimes men sitting along the sidewalk taking the spines off these cactus leaves in most parts of Mexico. The nopales are then cut in thin strips and mixed with onions. You can sample nopales by buying a small bagful of this tasty, nutritious vegetable already prepared. Nopales are also made into jam.
VERDOLAGA: A vegetable known in Europe as purslane. The leaves and stems add flavor to salads or cooked vegetables like potatoes.
GUAVA (guayaba): Small yellow fruit that Mexicans eat along the street sprinkled with chile and salt. In restaurants, you’ll find them stewed with sugar and cinnamon stick..
OLD FRIENDS: Besides other expected tropical fruit like papayas and mangos, pineapples and large bananas and of course citrus, you’ll see a generous handful of fruits and vegetable you may not think of as Mexican: strawberries (fresas), figs (higos), scallions (rabos), watercress (berro), beets (betebel) and watermelon (sandia). .Artist Rudolfo Tamayo used the sandia over and over in his paintings. Then there are Mexican carrots, the variety here being almost as sweet as sugar candy. Most newcomers from North America comment on the difference right away. Beets appear in dishes from cream soup to “fruit” salads. You’ll see mostly Italian-sstyle tomatos, not our round ones.
Fruits and vegetables show up frequently in Mexican art. if you happen to go to the Museum of Modern Art in Chapultepec Park, Mexico City, you should be able to recognize most of the fruit in Olga Costa’s revered painting, The Fruitseller, immortalizing most of the fruits I’ve mentioned – and more.
FRUITS THAT CROSS THE BORDER: Washington State apples are common in in Mexico, although expensive, and many restaurants serve canned peaches for dessert almost as often as the popular rice pudding.
HEALTH CONSIDERATIONS: To be on the safe side, eat only raw fruit you peel yourself unless you are sure you are in a restaurant that disinfects fruits and vegetables. Stewed fruit and cooked vegetables shouldn’t pose any problems. In my experience, the delicious ice cream flavored with natural fruit pulp has never caused trouble.