I ended up only being able to go to two of the three designated markets yesterday, and only one is worth writing about. The Sultan's Market (aka. the Lebanese purveyor I mentioned yesterday) was a small shop with prepared foods and not much else, I thought I'd buy olive oil there but it was kept on the bottom shelf, with dusty warm bottles, next to the food station - NOT good. So, nay to that market. But the wonderful news is that Cermak Produce (aka. the Mexican market) on W. North Avenue in Chicago is glorious and resplendent.
I spent $54 and bought food for at least 5 days.
The market had beautiful cuts of meat, an amazing variety of vegetables and legumes, and there was an endless selection of chili's available - I bought two in dried form: chile morita (in Spanish it is spelled chile and I usually do so as well but have been experimenting with the English spelled chili), and chile guajillo. All in all I probably counted about 20 different varieities of chili's (fresh, dried, or powdered) and I was in heaven. I also found "alligators tail" (as they refer to it in Thailand), or better known as fresh Aloe vera - many of you have used it in products or know that it is rich in vitamin E, etc, but it's hard to find it in the US fresh in it's original plant form. This was an exciting find for me! You can use fresh Aloe vera by slicing off the thin skin and applying directly to a wound/scar/burn or you can also use it in food though it's not something super tasty (as far as I've learned how to cook it). I also found fresh nopales and there was a variety of other cacti that I'll return to explore later. There were a few herbs I couldn't identify which I'm going to research and experiment with as well. The limes were 10 for a dollar and were juicy and lovely - this was also thrilling (they're usually 2 for a $1 in the large chain groceries and they're rather dry in the cheap Chinese groceries). The butcher section was also incredible, every cut known to mankind in terms of pork - I got ribs and ground (boring), but I really want to go back and get some pigs feet and cow tongue in the near future when I have a good partner in crime to eat it with. Alas, the fish section wasn't all that, I much prefer the Chinese grocery for this as everything was frozen in the Mexican one. I bought fresh corn tortillas, queso blanco, red beets, plain yogurt (they had the Greek variety), cilantro, garlic, white onions, garbanzo beans in their leaf covering, tomatillos, Jamaica flowers (for this lovely sour tangy sweet juice that comes from boiling them), cheapola avocados (another bonus!), fresh oregano, lentils, black beans, osso bucco, tamarind juice, bananas, ginger, watermelon, onions, strawberries, nopales, chili's (two kinds), ground pork, ribs, and fresh baguettes. All of these things have their place in medicinal cooking of course, as all food has it's value in TCM and is used for what those values are. The only things in fact that would not be "medicinal" are processed foods. In any case, I will be writing about black beans, flor de Jamaica, and nopales this week as I make dishes with them. Below are the pictures from the market.
Mmm, dried hot chili's!
Interestingly, they put together little packages for a good price (instead of buying all the ingredients separatly in bulk), for soups/stews (pictured as sopas) - brilliant idea!
Tomatillos (little sour green tomatoes), they also were selling mini versions which I've never tried but will next time. I once made a pickle, peanut butter, tomatillo sushi roll (my friend Traci can attest to this). It was good. Truly.
Mexican chayote, a tropical trailing vine which produces fruits, which are treated more like vegetables than true fruits.
Close up of chayote, there is also a smooth version.
Aloe vera in the midst of all the plantains.
Scallions with bulbous bottoms.
A plant I have never used, it did not have a particularly strong scent (in fact, barely any at all) - it is an "Aztec plant with a flavor like broccoli, the tender tips are used for salads, cooked in butter with onion and garlic like spinach. Fine Mexico City restaurants use young tender seed heads dipped in batter and cooked. This was apparently an important crop for the Aztecs and the people who lived in Mexico before them. " (I got this excerpt from a plant purveyor but I will double check this info).
Pork, glorious pork!
Finally, just outside in the front of the market is a little stand with salsa music blasting, a grill for pork skewers, and soft luscious tacos.