Priscilla White, our Registrar, shares her memories of morning coffee in a busy market in Brazil

Last year, not long after our 2013 Symposium, I headed to the southern Brazilian city of Porto Allegre to watch my son Edward, compete in the World Masters Athletics Championships.

Covered Market Porto Alegre October 2013

sacks of coffee in the market

First thing in the morning every day, I headed downtown to take my morning coffee in the market. Housed an old colonial building in the old part of the town and open every day except Sunday, the irresistible scent of freshly roasted coffee percolates throughout the alleyways and billows out into the street, drawing in visitors like me as well as the serious shoppers.

Lacking a kitchen, all I could buy was fruit for the hotel room, and biscuits to dip in my coffee, but it was worth the walk from the hotel not just for the best cuppa in town, but for a chance to observe the huge bustle of people who shop here daily. The market, it seemed, was as much about the inhabitants’ social life – a chance to meet and exchange news – as it was in the fulfilment of its primary function, the provision of fresh food brought in daily from the countryside or caught in the tropical waters of the bay.

First into the building in the morning are the market gardeners, arriving early in their rickety carts and vans filled to overflowing with fruit, vegetables, salad-leaves, roots, tubers and palm-hearts. However, by the time the produce arrives on the stalls, most has been packaged in plastic. By 10 o’clock the crowded stalls are selling everything from meat – mostly pork and all manner of pig-bits including ears, tails, trotters and innards – but also beef, this being cattle-country, side by side with the gaucho stalls selling all things cowboy – stetsons, saddles, boots, shirts.

There’s fish, of course – mostly prawns, lobster, shellfish – but also great piles of the salt-crusted bacalhau which fuelled Portugal’s sailors on the long transatlantic voyages. Jostling for space with the food-stalls are religious outlets selling wax Madonnas and other holy artefacts, all cheek by jowl with baskets of herbs, spices, beans and all manner of grains and pulses. In fact, anything you can think of is on sale, from antiques to clothes to kitchen equipment, pots, pans, ice cream – and, naturally, coffee by the sackful.

As lunchtime approaches, business picks up at the stalls selling ready-cooked feijoada and other traditional dishes to be taken home and re-heated for the midday meal. As the shoppers leave, all – myself included – are obliged to run the gamut of the beggars waiting at the entrance for a hand-out. They are very persuasive and few escape untaxed – certainly not me. And yes indeed, just in case you’re wondering, son Edward scooped two golds and a bronze.

My Preferred Market, says Trustee and Performance Artist Alicia Rios, is Madrid’s Mercado de Maravillas:

Of all the lively and wonderful markets existing in Spain, I prefer the nearest to home, the Mercado de Maravillas in the Barrio de Tetuan in Madrid. You’ll find it in Bravo Murillo Street close to the Alvarado metro station. 144803_-_outside_market

The façade is a post-deco rationalist building of modest architectural interest whose physical dynamics work to perfection. I like this market because it is a survivor, resistant to current tendencies to modernize municipal markets and convert them into capitalist commercial areas devoted to social rather practical purpose. In Madrid, very old and classic municipal markets such as the Mercado de San Miguel and Mercado de San Anton have now metamorphosed into boutique markets invaded by over-designed boutiques catering to the demands of international foodies.   As an ad-hoc market, Mercado de Maravillas offers pure seasonality and is remarkably flexible in its ability to adapt to the economic ups-and-downs of its loyal customers.

What I value most, however, is the way that the origin of the products is specified and highlighted. Spain being an agrarian country, local food-identities remain of great importance and are expressed in methods of cooking and eating both at home and at all levels of public eating. Municipal marketplaces such as the Mercado de las Maravillas bring idiosyncratic foodstuffs to the city from remote hamlets and villages, satisfying nostalgia and guaranteeing authenticity. The result is that the interior of the market looks like a 3D detailed gastronomic map of Spain.132414_view_fish

Infectious enthusiasm is what you will find in the Mercado de las Maravillas. Staff, vendors and clients interact with happiness andaffection.  Whether the enterprise is great or small, treatment of the customer is personalized. Vendors get to know their customers individual or family gastronomic profile so that, at first sight, the vendors know the circumstance of your child being ill, will remember this and say ‘I have a sliver of breast of barnyard chicken for your little Eduardo, which will make him feel much better.’ And then again, a similar suggestion would be made for the old folk in the family.142401_-_innards_`(`Yes)

 The Mercado also offers a complete service to satisfy customers’ household needs. Apart from food outlets, there are shoe shops, workware shops, fashion outlets and accessory stalls, some for children and some for adults.  Household stalls offer cleaning products, ironmongery, electrical goods and technological devices. The market’s authorities also organise festivities and other activities for the benefit of clients throughout the year, providing security and cleaning services as well as wheelchair access and provision for the disabled.

It is evident from observation that the customer-base is aging, that there are people there who perhaps have never been to a 131112_-_mkt_gen_viewsupermarket.  However, the economic crisis has returned to favour the casquerías, offal shops,  where you can buy every conceivable organ of every animal at ridiculously low prices. This bounty has led to a revival of many of Spain’s traditional dishes in the process of extinction. At the same time it’s possible to marvel at the 130537_baconexquisite freshness and variety of the products basic to the Spanish diet such as  vegetables and legumes, fish and seafood, poultry, meats, fruits, dairy-products and grain-foods. Unfortunately for a cereal-growing region, the only basic food-product of really dubious quality available in Spain today, in markets and everywhere else, is the bread!”

Alicia Ríos

Consultora Gastronómica
Av. General Perón, 19. 8º C
28020 Madrid. España
Tel. +34 91 555 56 38

Ali&Cia Food Artists

Av. General Perón, 17. 5º C
28020 Madrid. España
Tel. +34 91 417 54 48