We feel like real Hondurans, we’ve made our first plato tipico from scratch.
It began with the purchase of dried beans at the market for L 9 a pound, about 50 cents. This pound will probably last us at least 4 meals, they expand to triple their size when soaked and cooked. Then we went through the painstaking task of picking through the beans to remove and rocks, bug or bad beans. Sounds simple enough but a pound of beans is a lot and you have to look at every one. Imagine people doing with this will 10 pounds of beans or more. You then have to soak the beans, at least 24 hours, then rinse and boil with water for a few hours. I think beans soften faster here for some reason. They only took about 2 hours, whereas in the U.S., I feel like I’ve boiled beans for 4 hours and still they were hard. You can eat the beans directly after they are boiled, which people often do, or you can freir them. We blended up the beans with a little liquid in our licuadora (aka blender). A little oil, garlic and onion in a pan with the beans and you fry ‘em up, three times. We heard the trick was to fry the beans, then let them sit for a day, then fry them again, three times. Remarkably it does seem to improve them. The first round we made baleadas, which we’ve mentioned before, an unassuming but delicious mixture of refried beans, scrambled eggs and mantequilla in a flour tortilla, often including avocado, quesillo, queso seco or chorizo. We can’t say they were the best baleadas we’ve had here; it was only our first try. The beans were good, but they weren’t baleada beans. So we cooked them again the following day and they were better. We served them the second time with scrambled eggs, avocado, fried platanos and corn tortillas (L0.50 each), basically like baleadas but separated out, plus the platanos with creamy mantequilla. That’s your plato tipico for you.
Beans are obviously cheap and plentiful here, making them a staple of the Honduran diet. In La Esperanza, the potato is also a major dietary pillar. The potatoes here seem to be akin to a Yukon Gold. They are not a baking potato with a rough, thick skin. They are medium to very small with a thin, transparent, yellowish skin. You’d be surprised at their actual appearance if you just saw them at the market, caked in ¼ inch of mud and piled high in big sacks. They don’t bake well at all we’ve found. They are commonly pan fried whole (the little ones anyway). They make excellent mashed potatoes, hashbrowns and French fries. Other traditional crops like yucca, sweet potatoes and pataste (a vine vegetable with a pear-like shape and texture, but more akin to a potato in soups) are common.
So…now more about the market La Esperanza is famous for. You can get all the normal stuff here, carrots, celery, onions, cauliflower, grapes, beets, green peppers and avocadoes (which are still expensive here). You might be surprised to know that broccoli is very common here, at least in La Esperanza. It’s well suited to the climate and quite delicious at about L 5 a head. Limes are very common also, but people refer to them as lemons. Three to five limones for 1 lemp. We get roma tomatoes, although the price has doubled in the past few weeks from 10 to 20 lemps a pound which probably is signaling that the season is just about over as it gets into the colder, rainier months. There are some fabulous apples here. You can get the US varieties to be sure, imported and waxed and perfect looking. But we prefer to buy the Honduran variety, something like your standard McIntosh. We are hoping to try to make apple cider and hard cider once we have the tools. Apples are L 20 for a bag of about 8 small ones. We’ve also started buying oranges to make fresh squeezed juice. The oranges here are not orange at all really, more of a yellow-green with a thinner, smoother peel. They go for L10 for a bag of 10-15. We have strawberries too and blackberries which are incredibly sour. Cilantro is by far the most common herb and it comes in two varieties; the kind you find in the U.S. and another kind that just looks like dandelion leaves, which we’ve yet to try. Oh yes, and the mangoes which are piled high in the beds of trucks and parked along the road, “Lleva mangoes, lleva mangoes” the hombres shout. “Veinte por bolsa.” Similar beds of trucks are full of bananos (not bananas), minimos, and platanos.
You can of course get fresh made things, like tortillas, made from dried corn (white or yellow) or fresh corn (they taste like eating corn on the cob but in bread form), cuajada (a fresh milk cheese sort of like mozzarella but less formed and saltier), tamales, tacos, and charramuscas (fruit juice popsicles that are frozen in plastic bags).
The ‘market’ runs every day here, but the weekends are when it’s really bustling. There are at least three streets that are permanently set up with wooden stalls shaded by tarps as well as two interior buildings that sell more dried goods. On busy days all the spaces and streets between the permanent stalls are lined with lencan women and other vendors, their goods spread out on tarps, in baskets, in wheelbarrows, in big plastic sacks, shaded by beach umbrellas, next to the guys shouting “Cargadoras, cargadoras,” selling cell phone chargers. Each stand has a hanging scale they simply hold up to use, most everything is sold by the pound. We like buying from the men and women on the street, they usually have the fresher products that they have just picked and brought in from the campo that day. They are out there early, 5 or 6 am, staking out their spot – people seem to keep their same spots like some unwritten rule governs their placement. We’re starting to know the people we regularly buy from. It reminds us of our days in Baltimore at the farmer’s market.
It truly is a great food environment for us. We can just stop at the market on the way home from work and pick up just about any fresh produce we need for that night’s dinner, which is useful when you’re fridge is still in another house and you don’t want to go there that often.