Do you ever think about where you’re going to buy your next bag of tomatoes, or deodorant, or frozen pizza? Probably not. You just hop in your car and head to the nearest big chain grocery store. There tends to be some semblance of sense at the big stores. All the produce together, then perhaps an aisle of toiletries, then the dairy products, and what a variety! That store may be part of a strip mall where there are a few other stores where you can find everything you’d need for the week without leaving the parking lot. Well, let me tell you a little about shopping in Guatemala…
First thing first, yes, there are large, international chain stores here like Walmart. A number of grocery chains can be found throughout the country, there are huge, modern shopping malls, and pharmacies on every corner. If you want it, you can likely find it somewhere. But we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to talk about the market.
The market. This is not your typical grocery store. In fact, its not a store at all. It is huge, overwhelming, confusing, colorful, crowded and full of new smells and sights and sounds. It is a labyrinth of stalls and vendors and products that almost seems impossible to find your way out of. In some towns it may be held once or twice a week, in others, its a permanent fixture. But one thing is certain: you can’t visit Guatemala and skip a trip to the market!
Do you need some avocados? The market has them.
How about dog food? Yep, you can find it at the market.
A bouquet of beautiful fresh flowers (for less than one dollar)? Pots and pans of all shapes and sizes? Shampoo? Candles? Used clothing? New clothing? Masks for Carnival? An item from the hardware store? A pound of flax seeds? A woven basket? New earrings? A large plastic storage bin? Some chickens? A snack? Makeup? A calf’s liver? Blankets, a pillow, a bolt of really hideous fabric? Come to the market!
Do you get my drift yet? The markets of Guatemala are something to be seen. The first time I shopped at the market, I was in a trance, but also super-aware of everything going on around me. Now, its become a weekly excursion where I shop for all of my produce at my favorite vendors’ stalls. I’ll ask how to cook that interesting green vegetable I’ve never seen before. I’ll buy a small bunch of a new herb to try in a sauce I’m making. I still run through the smelly butcher section and buy my meat frozen from the regular grocery store though (still a bit wary of the health and food hygiene differences). I notice something new every time, and manage to almost get lost each visit, even after a few months! Although the local chain grocery store is easier to pick through, its not as cheap, fun or authentic as the market, and that’s why I chose to live in this beautiful country. Every day is as much of an adventure as you want to make of it.