A tianguis (I'm guessing at the spelling) is a kind of farmer's market. It's a local mercado held weekly in a given neighborhood, with a more or less fixed slate of vendors selling fresh produce, meat and fish, cooked food to order, clothing, household goods, and handicrafts.
In Volcanes, the neighborhood where I live, the tianguis happens on fridays. It's about six blocks from here, which would be a nice walk if it weren't a) up a super steep hill, and b) 95 degrees out. Luckily, colonia Volcanes has a fleet of mototaxis, which are basically motorized tricycles enclosed in canvass. For 5 pesos, they will take you anywhere within the bounds of the colonia. It is well worth 40 cents to get a ride six blocks up the hill in the noonday heat.
I adore the tianguis. While the prices are about the same as at the local grocery store, the quality is usually much higher. I never, for example, buy fish at the grocery store, because it invariably looks like something that I would throw away if I found it in my fridge. At the tianguis, however, the fish is brought fresh from the coast on ice, and it looks better than most of the fish at home in Seattle does. Today, for example, there were enormous Red Snappers, nearly two feet long, bright red and slippery, with shiny yellow eyes and bloody gills. I almost always buy the shrimp from Tehuantepec. These gorgeous shrimp have their heads on still, and are tightly curled and shiny pearly grey. Nearly as long as my hand, I'm guessing they are about 14 to the pound. A kilo goes for 140 pesos, which translates to just about $5.50 a pound. The only time I have EVER found comparable shrimp in the US was straight off the boat at the bellingham harbor, and they wanted $20 a pound. Or, for a kilo, about $44.
Food in general is much cheaper here. Not cheaper proportionate to the prevailing wage - it's much more expensive if you measure it that way - but cheaper in absolute terms. Today I took notes when I went to the tianguis, and this is what I got for 145 pesos, or just about $11.00:
- two pounds of tiny, tart delicious purple plums from the mountains.
-6 ears of fresh corn
-2 large bunches of mustard greens (about 1 pound)
-2 large bunches of swiss chard (ditto)
- 1 lb carrots
-1 lb green beans
- 1 kilo apples - nothing like the apples I could get at home right now (oh how I miss fresh apples) but small, hard striped apples from the mountains. They are okay for juice.
- 1 kilo sweet yellow mangoes
- 1/2 lb dried hibiscus flowers, for making iced tea
- a small bottle of artisanal mezcal.
Even if you discount the mezcal, the rest of that produce would run me easily three times that amount at home. Again, I realize that it is a privilege for me to even think this way - in terms of dollars, in terms of my American income.
Homero is paying the chalan who is helping him build the retaining wall at our property 200 pesos a day, or 1000 pesos a week. That's the prevailing wage for unskilled labor. He is a 20 year old single guy, and he can support himself on that money, barely. However, if I man were trying to support a family of five on $1000 a week, it would be flat out impossible.
Everything I bought at the tianguis today (with the exception of the mezcal) was fresh produce. Let's put the 25 pesos the mezcal cost towards more produce - say, a kilo of onions, a kilo of chiles, and a kilo of tomatoes. Now let's call that 145 pesos produce for the week. It's skimpy, but it could stretch, in the hand of a skilled housewife.
The staple of the Mexican diet, today as in times past, is the tortilla. Nobody makes their own tortillas anymore, it's simply not cost effective. Every morning, we send Hope up the street to buy tortillas from the neighbor lady at a peso apiece. A family of five could absolutely not live off less than 15 tortillas a day, so add 105 pesos to the weekly budget. More basic starches would include, at a minimum, 2 kilos of rice and two kilos of dried beans. That would add about 60 more pesos.
Protein foods - give every person in the family 2 eggs a week. a dozen eggs, 25 pesos. a single pound of cheese? 35 pesos. What are we up to? 365 pesos, with no meat and some seriously skimpy helpings.
That's already two full days work out of a five day week. If you'd like to give each person in the family a half-pound of meat a week, we'd be all the way up to 500 pesos, or half the week's income.
Coffee? Hot chocolate? A loaf of bread? Milk?
Rent? A new pair of shoes for the kids? Notebooks, pencils? Haircut? Trip to the doctor? Medicine?
Shit. Suddenly I feel bad about my weekly kilo of fresh shrimp.