Avila had more to sell. Just to the side of his two generous stacks of cecina were two long dowels. One was threaded with longaniza pork sausage, spicy with chilies, another staple of the local diet. As Avila stacked the cecina on the scale, lifting each piece and trimming away fatty edges, he draped the trimmed pieces over another dowel. These long, thin pieces dry for days, developing a funky flavor. I purchased some of the most aged pieces hanging from that dowel, and some of the fresh cecina to take back to Janet’s kitchen. It wouldn’t last long. We planned to saute some of the meat for dinner, along with rice and Oaxacan green mole.
Talking to Avila about all the ways to enjoy cecina made me ravenous. I strolled around the perimeter of the market, beneath the shade of multicolored tarps. Guyaba, a sweet, guava-like fruit, was everywhere. Local wild blackberries nestled next to tiny ruby plums. Golf ball-size mangos were piled high, a harbinger of mango season, just a couple of weeks away. Bowls of chapulines, or grasshoppers, fried crisp and tossed with salt and chilies, were addictive. Potato chips with legs.
Wandering along the perimeter of the market, I was mesmerized by the sight of women forming and cooking tortillas. There’s a glorious rhythm to the act. Maize becomes masa, corn flour for the ever-present tamales and tortillas. Then the women knead, roll, press and gently, artfully unfurl the tortillas onto the hot metal griddle. They know precisely when to turn the tortillas, plucking at the edges and flipping the hot disks with their bare hands when they’re perfectly dimpled and blistered. When the second side begins to steam, the tortilla puffs up like a balloon, deflating once it’s removed from the heat.
Everywhere I looked were ingredients to fill those tortillas, so I thrilled at the sight of a breakfast “bar.” All the market ingredients were lined up, ready for quesadillas or sopes: cecina, longaniza, nopales (prickly pear cactus pads), chapulines, frijoles and three varieties of cheese — queso fresco, anejo or Oaxacan. My exceptional breakfast — hot, fresh, made while I watched — was served with three salsas — red, green and incendiary — and was like the entire market on my plate. Freshly squeezed orange juice was the perfect accompaniment.
For less than $5, I was filled to the brim, my mouth stinging happily from the salsas. I wandered to the far edge of the market to look at the famous seed arch. And then, remarkably, I found my appetite once more as I stepped inside the brightly colored Tepoznieves shop for refreshing ice cream incorporating all the flavors of Tepoztlan.
Barrow is a Washington-based food writer.