“That’s a mangostino, there’s a lulo, have you tried maracuya? You’ll love it.”
My wife Alba knows that I have tried them all, all of these delightful exotic fruits on display here in Paloquemao, downtown Bogota’s big produce market.
“I want some uchuva; uchuva juice would go well with lunch. Look at those mangos!”
Her excitement is justified; there are mangos on display that are actually as large as my head. I look forward eagerly to our trips to Paloquemao as in a sort of personal quest I am looking for new and lesser known fruits.
We manage to visit Paloquemao about once every ten days to stock up fresh fruit and vegetables and on every occasion it is as if I am treated as the tourist here viewing the spectacle from the edge of the amphitheater. After all, this is Alba’s country, my adopted one, but, key to her identity are the fruits that made up her childhood in more tropical climes than that of Bogota. Alba dreams of fruit juices at lunchtime, smoothies at dinner, and now I too am on board. A convert.
Just look at all of these peculiar items on offer. And so affordable. Why shop anywhere else?
Paloquemao doesn’t resemble much from the outside, but within, its treasures are plainly obvious. For under $50 I can stock up on sacks of fruit and thus banish junk food snacking from my diet. It seems that I am not alone as Paloquemao is growing in popularity with foreign visitors to the Colombian capital and to expatriates looking to explore the culinary spectrum of Colombia.
And yet, every ten days we go through the same routine. I am the visitor, she the expert. And fulfilling my role as the onlooker, I try, perhaps with little success, to put English names to some of these fruits and vegetable.
Here are some attempted translations at some of the more exotic fruits found in Paloquemao
Maracuya – Passion Fruit
Mangostino – Mangosteen
Lulo – Naranjilla (who knew?!)
Feijoa – Pineapple Guava or Guavasteen
Curuba – Banana Passion Fruit
Patilla or Sandia – Watermelon
Gulupa – Passion fruit (but different to the aforementioned)
Pitaya – Dragon Fruit or Nanettikafruit
Yes, some of these terms are new to me, and are not ones that I’ll remember in a hurry! Alba laughs at my attempts in translation. It all feels better and sounds better in the original tongue, kind of like that poncho bought in the highlands to ward off the Andean chill which now occupies a large corner of your closet. You have to learn, style just as exotic words sometimes just don’t translate.
And wait, I’ve not mentioned the veggies! How many varieties of potatoes are on offer, a testament to the ingenuity of the Andean people and their ability to sow crops at this altitude and survive. And yet, there’s everything you’d expect from root vegetables to salad fodder and so on, but in the words of a friend visiting recently from Seattle:
“We have all this at home; just here it all seems so much bigger.”
Well worth the visit, if only to stock up or gaze at tropical cut flowers, there is an element of mysticism about Paloquemao. Its location is far from salubrious, quite literally across the wrong side of the tracks (the railway runs to one side), you’ll find beggars and vendors lining the streets. But, there’s a feel for the region, the lands about Bacata – Bogota in the indigenous tongue – the fertile plains that evoke a time from before the arrival of the Spanish. Don’t believe me? Just check out the stalls selling local remedies.