One of the things I like in Mexico – and other countries we have visited in the past – is buying fruits and vegetables from a stand, run by a family. I love wandering through the market, looking at all the unfamiliar things and asking questions.
“Is this for today or for tomorrow?” I ask in Spanish, wondering if it is ripe enough to eat immediately. The fruit vendors know when something is ripe. I load up my bags with papaya and little sweet bananas and pineapple and broccoli and cauliflower and carrots and potatoes and avocados and onions and tomatoes. And then I realize my bags are much too full and I have to stop buying things right now.
Then the fruit lady gives me a present.
I don’t ask for a present. But after everything is loaded into my bags and I look like a burro headed home, she finds one perfectly ripe tangerine or apple and pops it into my bag.
“A gift,” she says. I don’t remember this ever happening in a grocery store.
And so, of course, even though there are dozens of fruit stands, I come back to her. She is always happy to see me. And every day, I tell her, “I want another papaya – sweet and ugly!”
She laughs because this is a running joke of ours. No matter what else I buy, I always buy a papaya, and the best papayas are a little disreputable looking. They are dimpled and bumpy and have splotches here and there.
“Is this spoiled?” I wonder. No. It is perfect. I cut it in half and sometimes it is filled with seeds and sometimes there are no seeds. It seems to me there must be a logical explanation for this. But then sometimes there are only a couple of seeds, and this makes no sense at all.
However many seeds there are, I scoop them out before skinning it and chopping it up and putting it in the fridge. I have no idea if this is how experienced papaya eaters do it. Probably, an experienced papaya eater would say, “What the heck are you doing? That’s not how it’s done!”
But I know nothing about papayas. I don’t remember ever eating a papaya before I was 40. On the rare occasion that I did, the papaya was in some sort of fruit salad. I remember it as being pale orange and rather bland. It was the part of the fruit salad that I ate first to get it over with. I had obviously never had a good papaya. Now that I have, I feel as if I have made this amazing discovery.
“Have you tried the papaya?” I say to unsuspecting gringos in the market. “It’s amazing!”
Most of them have had papaya and I’m sure they think I’m a little ridiculous, a freelance papaya booster, roaming the market. But I don’t care. I would feel terrible if anyone didn’t know how wonderful they were. Someone recently told me they were good for me. I really don’t know. They seem as if they must be. They are so deep orange and sweet.
It’s a wonderful surprise to learn that I was all wrong about papayas and, of course, it makes me wonder what else I’ve still got all wrong. It’s wonderful to find out how much I like this sweet and ugly fruit.
Now that I know, I am eating all the papayas I want. I am eating papayas every day – to make up for lost time.
Till next time,