consumingcostarica

Cooking and eating through a new culture

Mercado Central

Wait…lemme get my game show voice on:

“Costa Rica’s Central Market is a well-known place, where many tourists experience the real daily Costa Rican life.”

Shit, I’ve only been here a few weeks and even I know that’s bull. It still took me that long to get down there though. Yesterday, Rafa brought some things from his parent’s house for the cabinas we are setting up in Cahuita. Let’s do a little dialog for a moment:

Me: Cool. Where did your mom get this?

Rafa: The Central Market.

Me: Huh…Why don’t you drop me off there tomorrow and I will check it out?

Rafa: No.

I must admit, I was a tad shocked. Did I not prove my chops already? I have been hoofing it all over the city without any trouble. Okay…the language is still an issue but for the most part, it has been cool. Yeah, I am a gringa but I certainly don’t stick out as most of them do in their brand new Keens and boonie hats, so to get a flat-out “No” was a little disconcerting. Rafa did soft pedal it a bit. He said it was shit hole in comparison to other markets, both here and abroad, and that every stereotypical third world country issue manifests there; prostitutes, pick pockets, drugs, lost children, you name it. This is the “real daily life of Costa Ricans”? Sounds like the bars I use to hang out in. Let’s go!

The Central Market is located downtown. For the most part, San Jose is not a pretty city. There are a handful of beautiful buildings but it’s like the 70’s vomited up bad architecture. Rafa ranted about the Central Market saying it should be leveled and rebuilt. For a place that is so heavily touted in all the travel brochures as the place to see, it was rough.  Stepping into the Central Market immediately made me think it was a cross between the Star Wars bar scene and a brighter version of the city in Blade Runner. It’s this enormous, block sized building that houses everything imaginable. The narrow aisles zig zag in a labyrinth of shabby tiny kiosks and food vendors. Animals scurry around or cry from cages. The smell of meat and fish nearly knock you over. It’s like Seattle’s Pike Place market on LSD. It’s awesome.

I hold onto Rafa’s hand as he navigates me through the maze of craziness. This was an exploratory mission for us and for the first time, I am slack-jawed at the swirl of activity (just put a boonie hat on me). There are souvenir shops and a local artisans to cater to the tourists but the few foreigners I did see are just as shell-shocked as me. I settle into the buzz, even enough to cut a bit out on my own, while Rafa  haggles prices. Produce is slightly more expensive than our local market but there is a ton more meat and fish sellers. Bags of opened spices and dried herbs line a traditional apothecary. Rafa begins to circle around the sodas ( aka cafes). I know he’s hungry and we squeeze into a narrow counter. Eating out at a soda is like just getting a huge plate of starch; yucca, rice, tortilla, plantains…with a little meat in a sauce. I am the daring one. I go for ceviche. Ceviche, for the uninitiated, is seafood “cooked” in citric acid like lemon, orange etc. It originates from Peru but is found all over Central America. It’s a small step up from sushi. On Facebook, I read that a friend of mine felt bad for taking an out-of-town buddy to the “best” sushi place only to have him hurl for the rest of night. My first thought was “Duh. You live in OKLAHOMA.” Who would eat sushi there? Yet, here I was feeling I was doing the same thing.

Nummers!

It was good. And it was ALOT. Usually, ceviche is a small side dish but this was a bowl. After plowing through his plate of starch and chewy meat, Rafa finished mine too. And I am happy to say, we were no worse for wear.

We never did buy anything for the cabinas but there was much we missed. Driving home we checked off the things we saw and what was cheap to buy. I had a decent handle on the layout of the place and felt confident about navigating it solo. So I asked Rafa to drop me off during the week to check it out again.

Rafa: No.

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