Inside Madeo’s mini-market, the place in Aranjuez where I buy dahi, a tray with eight grapefruit-sized breadfruit sat on the counter. I had never seen such small beings offered for sale, but since Madeo was always eager to market unusual dishes, I was intrigued.
They had a yellowish tinge that suggested a degree of maturity, but his assistant could give no information about their pedigree. I chose the firmest because an idea had just popped into my willful head.
For a long time, I’ve wanted to roast breadfruit over an open fire. I had thought about removing the charcoal pot which I haven’t used in years but never bothered. Still, this little upstart seemed like the perfect candidate for a stovetop test.
I handed over the ten dollars and considered it a consolation for not having a dahi.
Went by the stand just outside Food Basket on the eastern main road in Mt Hope. I got used to being patronizing there because in the beginning every time I walked past the sliced pumpkins were there like inviting bows of Golden Ray margarine (which I never use), promising all kinds of dazzling sumptuousness.
The first time I bought a much bigger piece than I should have, then spent the afternoon cooking about four different pumpkin dishes which then went into the freezer.
I had found the young man’s inventory generally appealing, and while the space was small, he had enough range to suit my tastes. His courteous and assiduous manner conquered me.
He seemed to be constantly sorting, weighing, cleaning, unpacking and arranging the goods he was obviously selecting carefully. I love chatting with him, watching how he interacts with customers – he doesn’t push anyone around, he’s not in your face, just attentive.
Although he looks so young, he brings that old-time neighborly feeling to his profession.
When I arrived at the stall, which has since acquired a roof, it was moving a bit stiffly gathering my selections. I also noticed that the products did not have the filling appearance that I expected.
That same lean, slightly middle-aged look had darkened Madeo’s air-conditioned mini-market on my past visits. It was alarming.
Noticing my own stiffness, he helped me put my bag in the car, explaining that he was in pain because two nights before he had fought with someone who broke into the cabin. Since he had the roof up, he left everything inside and slept there to protect his property.
He looked frustrated – he had worked so hard to earn an income.
Every time I went there, I told him I admired his spirit and encouraged people to support him because he was a young man who had made a choice and was working hard to support himself.
Just a month ago, another man – this one in his 40s, who never seems to get any respite – told me that the mini market he had built himself, brick by brick, during months, had been broken into and the new cooler stolen. He had just started storing what little space he had and was so proud of what he had done.
This theft, this casual demolition of his dream bricks left him livid. He swore he would take revenge on the culprit, whom he thought he knew.
It’s hard not to be furious at these injustices. Small entrepreneurs are going through a tough time. They can hardly carry more stock. Perishable foods have a very limited shelf life. Stalls without refrigeration depend on quick turnover.
They must compete with the convenience of supermarkets and their wide range of local and imported products. Buyers tend to opt for perfect vegetables and fruits. You can’t blame them.
There was a small slice of watermelon wrapped in plastic inside the stall. I asked for it. He didn’t want to sell it to me because it had been cut the day before. But after I did some shopping, he handed me a sapodilla as I was leaving. It was four exquisitely sweet quarts, so rich, I had to eat each one at a separate time.
The following Sunday morning, with the rain falling and the kitchen looking dark and quiet, I roasted breadfruit while frying pastries. My daughter was coming for breakfast and I knew the breadfruit tree wouldn’t call her.
The day before, I had taken smoked herring cooked with tomatoes out of the freezer. It was my first time trying to cook it and I was pleasantly surprised with the result.
I had bought a zaboca which became perfectly ripe when I sliced it.
I too was frying plantains, and listening to the sounds of the kitchen and inhaling the smells that floated here and there, I suddenly thought of Gabriel García Márquez.
It seems to me that in every one of his books, someone is frying plantains. It made me smile.
Well, if I can’t write like Gabo, maybe the next best thing is to be one of his characters, a Pilar maybe: roast breadfruit, sizzle smoked herring , fry cakes and juicy plantains, and slice a buttery zaboca to serve it all with gratitude for the simple things.