Monday, September 19, 2011

Tianguis (The Tuesday Market)

A tianguis is an open air market or bazaar that is traditionally held on certain market days in a town or city neighborhood in Mexico and Central America. This bazaar tradition has its roots well into the pre-Hispanic period and continues in many cases essentially unchanged into the present day. ...

Shortly after arriving in San Miguel de Allende, people started telling me about the “Tuesday Market.” They said things like, “Oh, you’ve gotta go.” and “You’ve never seen anything like it.”
Curiosity finally got the better of me last year and I made the short, 1 and ½ mile, trek to Tianguis. Nothing could have prepared me for what I would find there.
Tianguis is a sumptuous feast for all the senses. The colorful and unique sights, the tantalizing and occasionally off -putting aromas, and the unique and sometimes deafening sounds that come together in this place can almost be too much to bear for the first timer. It has taken me quite awhile to become accustomed to the sensory overload that one experiences. After two years, I feel as though I’m finally a veteran and now suitably prepared to share my knowledge with others.

There are hundreds of vendors, arranged in aisles under a hodgepodge of brilliantly colored tents and makeshift tarps as far as the eye can see. They sell an enormous selection of goods. If you can think of it, there’s a good chance you will find it at the market. On any given day, a shopper will find… fresh fruit and vegetables, chicken that some would say is the best in town, but I’m a little put off by the lack of refrigeration, huge slabs of beef, seafood (both fresh and fried), kitchen gadgets, pots and pans, cleaning supplies, ladies perfume, makeup and hair products, incense, plants for your garden, hand crafted jewelry, artwork, used clothing, new clothing from the United States, DVD’s with the latest movies (otherwise known as pirated knock-offs), CD’s (Banda, Ranchero, and Cumbia music [which originated in Columbia] can be heard around every corner at Tuesday Market), an assortment of livestock including bunny rabbits, chickens, pigeons, canaries, parrots, puppies, kittens, snakes, lizards, an occasional goat, and my all time favorite…. baby chicks that have been hand-dipped in Easter egg colors.

There are furniture makers, antiques dealers, car parts vendors, junk collectors, tool salesmen, and shoe and sneaker vendors. Any oddity that one can imagine can probably be found there.

I thought it might be fun to talk about my favorite things to do at Tianguis. My absolute obsession is having lunch (almuerzo) at the market.

Kirsten and I enjoying lunch

There are so many choices. It is really tough to make a decision. My favorite meal involves carnitas (Carnitas, literally "little meats", is a type of braised or roasted (often after first being simmered) pork in Mexican cuisine…Wikipedia.) The tiny jewel -like chunks of moist and crispy pork are carefully arranged in tiny hand-made corn tortillas that have been garnished with a dollop of a smoky and slightly hot but, not too hot, green salsa made from tomatillos.

I like to wash this down with a special, icy cold licuado (a licuado is a blended drink, originating in Mexico, made with fruit and milk). There are innumerable flavors to choose from such as mango, guava, melon, and strawberry/banana. Another one of my favorite beverages is called Horchata. Horchata or orxata is the name of several kinds of traditional beverages in Mexico, made of ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice, barley, or tiger nuts. I think that the drink I sampled was made with rice, almonds, and cinnamon.

beverage cart

For dessert, when I am feeling particularly svelte, I am drawn to another Mexican specialty, churros. I covet these moist and tasty goodies. It is all that I can do to pass this stand without stopping to breathe in their lovely fragrance. Churros are deep-fried Mexican doughnuts. The pastry is passed through an extruder and fried until golden and crispy on the outside and light and airy on the inside. While still warm, the churros are rolled in cinnamon and sugar and then placed in a paper wrapper. Life doesn’t get much better than this.

My other favorite activity at the market involves shopping for clothing. One of the biggest challenges, as a newly landed resident of San Miguel de Allende, is the complete absence of fashionable clothing that will accommodate the average North American woman’s body. The available garments in Mexico have been designed for a petite woman (both in width and height). The average dress size in the stores in downtown San Miguel, fits a size 0 and bears a striking resemblance to something Brittany Spears might favor ( in other words trashy)(Sorry Britt. It’s just how I feel). This apparent oversight on the part of the retailers never ceases to amaze me. Interestingly, while young Mexican women start out with a diminutive frame, somehow along the way things change rather dramatically. Women over forty can get quite large. This may be related to their fascination with day-glow orange corn puffs and Coca-colas, a story for another day. I have no idea where the more “mature” Mexican women do their clothes shopping. The only other location for traditional garment shopping is the mall at Lucianerga. For a woman like me, who refuses to pay inflated retail prices, this is not really a choice.

Tianguis can provide an alternative shopping experience; a savvy bargain hunter will find huge piles of clothing that have been brought to Mexico for resale. Most of the apparel has been sold to the Mexican vendors in bulk by retailers from the U.S. who are looking to unload last year’s styles (or possibly even the year before but, who’s counting?) Judging by the low prices, anywhere from $1.50 U.S. all the way up to $3.00, the vendors almost certainly pay by the pound. The clothing comes from retailers like T. J. Max and Marshalls as well as some high-end department stores, based on the original tags remaining on the garments.

I routinely see garments with designer labels including Ann Taylor, Dana Buchman, Ann Klein, Ralph Lauren, Banana Republic, Giorgio Armani, YSL, Betsey Johnson, Tommy Hilfiger, Eileen Fisher, Isaac Mizrahi, and Vera Wang. I have also seen some real dogs. Clothes that you wouldn’t gift to your worst enemy, fearing that someone might think that you had poor taste. Well, real fashion finds just get my juices flowing. I can stand in front of a pile of clothing, with hundreds of other style-starved ladies like myself, for hours, rooting through the heaps of clothing like a dog looking for his favorite bone. When a shipment of new clothing comes in and people realize that there are some real gems among the fashion don’ts, things can get quite heated. I have seen clothing actually flying in the air. Once, I got hit in the head by someone’s discarded blouse. I don’t think that it was intentional, just over- enthusiasm.
My all time favorite shopping experience happened a few weeks ago. I went to Tianguis with a couple of friends. My amiga, Sylvia, was on a mission to find unique costumes for a special event, namely Burning Man. She brought Kirsten and me along for the ride, acknowledging both our fashion expertise and unique abilities at finding unusual items at the market. I credit my mother for this skill. She was not ashamed to shop in some of the most unlikely places back home, if it meant that a bargain was to be had. Until I was able to buy my own shoes, I wore a lot of cast-offs from the bargain table at Sears. Trying them on was always a problem as they would wire the shoes together to prevent the pair from being separated. I would find myself, dragging one shoe behind me, when trying them on at the store.

But first, I should explain Burning Man. Burning Man is an annual art event and temporary community in the middle of the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, three hours and many miles from any humanity. The whole emphasis of this event is radical self expression and self-reliance. The self-reliance is referring to the fact that one has to brave the oppressive desert heat, the occasional dust storms that blow through, as well as the grueling experience of having to live in a dusty tent for a week.

Admirably, Sylvia was hell bent on expressing her zany side at this event, seeking madcap, sexy clothing in unique colors. We found some decidedly interesting get-ups that day, including dangling Katrina style earrings, wild and crazy hats, a hot pink tutu, skin tight glitter bedazzled jeans, and an ostrich feather boa. Needless to say, the local women who stood shoulder to shoulder with us at the table, while we sorted through the melee, seemed quite fascinated by our unique choices of clothing that day. You could see them giggling to themselves when they thought we weren’t looking. Sylvia finally explained to them that we were shopping for “crazy clothes” and they began to gleefully assist us in our quest. At the end of the day,I can say with some assurance that a fine time was had by all!

Sylvia in one of her glorious finds from Tuesday Market. You go girl!