Today, September 25th, marks the start of my THIRD YEAR in Bolivia! Anniversaries are a big deal here; most every institution celebrates the date of its official creation. Last Sunday, I preached in a church for the very first time, in honor of the anniversary of their Young Adults’ group.
In these two years I have learned more, done more, and grown more than I ever imagined when first heading down to manage water projects for “at least a year”. Now, I’ll be here at least until sometime next year. What that means, God knows. Good thing he does, because I trust him.
Speaking of trust and fruit (wait what?), over the last few months I’ve taken pictures of some funky fruits that cycle through the local markets. Though I conveniently live across the street from a supermarket, I still try to get as much as possible from the regular markets (Bolivian regular market ≅ U.S. farmer’s market). There’s a small one I pass daily, walking to and from the office. Some days they even bring fresh trout caught that morning at Lake Titicaca. Then there’s mercado rodriquez, a huge open air market where I bought most of the fruit shown below. That’s where I find the lowest prices in La Paz, e.g. all these strawberries for $1.75 (shown on a big dinner plate).
Now for more fun fruits:
Guayaba! or Guava in English. It’s used in ice cream and other desserts but I like to scoop it out with a little spoon and eat it straight- it’s gently sweet and naturally has the texture of sorbet.
Of these related fruits native only to South America, you eat or use just the seeds and flesh inside. The upper left is granadilla (granadia). It has a pleasantly sweet taste. The upper right is maracuya (passion fruit), which is very sour. I don’t like to eat it alone; I put it on top of oatmeal or cereal- that is, when I’ve been lucky enough to find coconut milk. Or, I have maracuya juice which is mixed with sugar (speaking of the sweet tooth mentioned in Wait, Dont Help). The fruit in the front middle is tumbo (Wikipedia tells me we would say “banana passionfruit” in English). Tumbo has a flavor somewhat between granadilla and maracuya- sweet but tangy.
Kinotos (kumquat) are like tiny little oranges. To be honest, I only bought these out of curiosity. Not a bad flavor, but not worth squeezing out each inch-long fruit. Supposedly you can blend and use them for baking, but since my blender has been broken I ended up throwing them out. This reminded me of a “Food Systems Sustainability” course I took, in which I learned that 1/3 of food is that is produced doesn’t end up in a human stomach. Whoops. I am the problem.
This little fruit I had no problem eating quickly. They have a natural little covering, so after a quick rinse or maybe not I would pop ’em like candy or put them on salads. They are like tiny sweet tomatoes with a subtle but pleasant taste, and make a great marmalade. I’ve heard them called aguaymantos (which means “water and cape”) and uchuva, but apparently they have innumerable names like Incan/Aztec berry, Peruvian groundcherry, and my favorite “love in a cage” translated from French.
Carambola or starfruit. Used in fruit salads, juices, and jams. Usually muy rico (very delicious) but this specific batch was not; buying from the market is variable, with most things fresh and delicious but the occasional food rotten or worm-infested.
Pacay. Oh, Pacay. My mouth is watering as I write this. The journey to get to the fruit only makes it more special. You break off one end, then peel down one side of the tough green covering, like peeling a banana. Then open it up hot-dog style, and white fluffy cubes are lined up like peas in a pod. Each one is as soft as a baby’s blanket, and in the mouth it melts just like cotton candy. You spit out the seed in order to make room for the next light-as-a-cloud but juicy treat. No wonder it’s also called the “ice-cream bean”.
Yet still, the best has been saved for last. Meet Chirimoya. It’s grown around 2000 m (6-7,000 ft) of elevation (we call those the “low” areas or valleys), and is the most expensive fruit at $1 or $2 when they’re in season. I cut it in slices, poke out the seeds, and eat it raw. Blended with water, it tastes like a milkshake. But don’t take my word for it: in 1866 the travelling Mark Twain reported back to U.S. readers that Chirimoya was the “most delicious fruit known to men”.
And there are many more fruits, like red bananas, achachairú from Santa Cruz, purple-red tomatoes that taste like orange/tomato/pear/tart/sweet/foot depending on who you ask, and tuna: a cactus fruit that has tiny spikes. I once picked a tuna fruit off the ground in a community, which provided onlookers with great entertainment and me with hours of finding invisible thorns in my palm.
Fresh fruit juice is prepared on-the-spot at restaurants, corner stands, and rolling mobile carts.
My Bolivian coworker didn’t understand why there wasn’t fresh fruit juice widely available in the U.S. when we traveled to a conference last year. She took a sip of her “orange juice” and spit it out and told me it must be rotten (it was normal Capri Sun). Dissapointed, she said “there’s fruit at the appetizer bar, why can’t they just blend it up?” She has a point. I love being able to get a mandarin-carrot-celery-apple juice, or any mix I ask for, for $1 or less at my local market. Or make juices myself again, once I find a new pitcher for my blender. That will require a trek up to the household electronics market, where goods from small stores overflow onto the street.
May the adventures continue as I turn the corner of another “anniversary”!