At the Merca Santo Domingo

As a mother I’m all about routine but as an individual, I’ll be the first to admit that after a while, the same thing gets tired and boring. If you ate peanut butter and jelly every day, you’d get tired of it, right? If you drank wine every day – whoops – no, not that one – that one doesn’t work there. Change is the seasoning of life; it shakes up the norm and stirs the pot and – even in the smallest ways – is a big part of the adventure and wonder of it all.

I remember the first few times we went food shopping here. I felt so out of place. It wasn’t like it was a supermarket unlike the ones I had at home but I was navigating it in a different language and looking for albahaca instead of basil or perejil instead of parsley. I had to smell the leafy bushes to make sure I was, in fact, buying cilantro. I just felt totally lost and I felt like everyone in the store knew it. Every trip took double the amount of time it would have taken me at my local A&P Superstore and being that I was pregnant I left the store with a pound of ham and two aching feet vowing I’d never go back on Discount Day (I still haven’t). I’d call my mom a few times throughout shopping trips to ask her what the name of something was or if she had ever heard of auyama. In

those first couple of trips to the supermarket there was always an adventure component. Coming down the escalator to the parking lot, one day, I wondered how long it would take before I felt normal shopping at the supermarket.

Skip ahead to now and you’d see a totally different person perusing the aisles. I’ve got the supermarket down. Armed with a weekly menu, shopping list, and Dominican pesos, I can get in and out of the store in an hour – sometimes less. It is no longer an adventure. Did life abroad just become routine? In some ways, yes. Yes it did.

But what would life abroad (or life for that matter) be if you didn’t inject a little adventure into the mundane?

My friend, Mariela, who is off on maternity leave, whatsapped me last week to see if I’d like to join her on a trip to the new mercado – market – she’s been going to. “It’s kinda far,” she joked, “but it’s so cheap.” She sounded very excited about it and while I could have come up with a million reasons not to go (since sometimes I do that with things not on the “regular” programming) I didn’t. I was feeling adventurous. So, I said yes.

It took us about 30 minutes to get to MercaSantoDomingo (15 minutes were due to traffic) and when I Merca Santo Domingoarrived I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I saw was a cross between a warehouse and an open air marketplace. It was hot… because it’s Santo Domingo, but the breeze made it bearable. Enjoyable, really. I realized the roofs here have a double job: avoiding rain… and sun. Vendors stood shoulder to shoulder selling fresh produce, some of the prettiest I’ve seen since I landed on this soil 3 years ago. People negotiated. I stood on the concrete floor of this man-made building with the massive mountain range in the background. I took it in. Where am I? Surely, not at Supermercado Bravo.

Mariela who seemed to already be an expert – asking one vendor how much his zucchinis were and then walking to another vendor to find out if his zucchinis were cheaper – was in her glory. The difference between 10 pesos/pound and 15 pesos/pound is small, about 10 cents, but she was after the bargain, the negotiating. She enjoyed trying to find where to get the best deals and from who. She was brilliant and I enjoyed reaping the benefits of her negotiations. I stayed close.

I am a fluent Spanish speaker but this wasn’t like going to the grocery store and silently hunting out the things I need in my own personal bubble, head down in my list. I needed to communicate for everything. I started out slowly as Fresh Market ProduceI wasn’t planning to buy that much. How much for the eggplant? Ok. Give me 4. The vendor picked out 4 large eggplants, bagged them and weighed them. 35 pesos ($0.81). I leaned my ear into her and asked her to repeat how much because, surely, four eggplants had to be more than one U.S. dollar but she repeated it: 35 pesos. I opened my coin purse and paid her hurriedly, scared she would realize that I was a total amateur and decide to charge me more. I moved on. With each vendor, I grew more confident.

Give me two avocados and a head of broccoli. Oh. and one cauliflower too. I wasn’t negotiating – I’ve never been good at that – but I was on my own roll. This was way more exciting than supermarket shopping, not to mention much cheaper. I looked at my cart that was growing full of fresh produce and grew a bit concerned that I was buying too much. I had only intended to buy a few things and here I was with 36 eggs, 4 eggplants, 2 zucchini, 2 avocados, a head of broccoli, a head of cauliflower, potatoes, and auyama (which, by the way, is the Dominican version of pumpkin). Maybe I should slow d… oooh, look at those peppers!

While I tend to talk on the more exaggerated side of the track, believe me when I tell you, that these were the most beautiful peppers I have ever seen. They lured me in like an enchanted siren. Look at me. I’m delicious. Stuff me. Roast me. Grill me. Red. Green. Yellow. I couldn’t decide. So I didn’t. Give me three red, three green, and three yellow. At 20 pesos/pound (or 50 cents U.S.), I’d deal with the financial fallout after. Turns out the financial fall out was 90 pesos ($2.07). Let me repeat and explain that: nine peppers, 4.5 pounds, $2.07. Unheard of where I’m from where I would have paid $2.00/pound bringing my pepper total to almost $9.00.

By the end of our shopping adventure, I counted my leftover money to estimate my food damage. More than a weeks worth of fresh vegetables, a pound of ham, a pound of ground meat (for stuffing those peppers) and a few household supplies later and I had only spent $25. What the what?! It was the perfect shopping adventure. I got to shop with a friend and spend all the money I wanted on healthy things for my family that left me with zero shopping guilt. And I got to shake things up a bit and season life with something out of the norm.

What more could I ask for?
… Oh yeah… a hanging salami please.

Photo Credits:
All photos property of Drinking the Whole Bottle through way of Expat Village.