I must confess, hearing an old Chinese woman quote prices in Spanish was a bit weird. Her accent might have even been worse than mine. But there she was, selling only a couple things, one of which was a Venezuelan Christmas specialty. She was the first of about 50 vendors I squeezed myself past this morning. The market is a 30-minute walk from where we live and we wanted to leave early because they often sell out of certain items. And so they had: all out of fried tofu by 7:30am. As it was, we were lucky to have gotten some long green beans. What these beans are called in Spanish (or Mandarin) I have not a clue, but in the Philippines they are known as seetow. It is possible to find many of the market offerings in the local grocery stores (and potentially cheaper, too) but they won’t be fresh from, as of yet, an unknown farm somewhere not too far from Caracas.
If you’ve ever been to a crowded market outside of the developed world, you have an idea of what we experienced today. As far as experiences go, it felt simply real. People were moving quickly, talking quickly, and buying quickly. Guys with hand-trucks loaded with crates of vegetables at once pushed past intense buyers and laid-back dudes leaning on pillars. Roasted birds hung on hooks next to basic dim sum dishes and men hacking through pork bones with cleavers. Bitter melon sat across the cramped isle from quail eggs and chicken feet. All sorts of leafy greens and raw fish and seafood and the insides of animals were out in the open ready to be examined. It didn’t feel dirty or gross; let’s just say, people were keeping it real.
One difference from markets I’ve seen in other parts of the world was that there wasn’t much haggling over prices; I’m finding it’s just not part of the Venezuelan culture. One experienced teacher says it’s because there is virtually no tourism industry — a decent hypothesis, sure, but it comes from an expat and could only be part of the answer. I’ll make it a goal to ask some Venezuelans about their thoughts on the matter and then report back — next Sunday perhaps, when the market opens again.