As Gumbo readers know by now, a lot of us who write these pieces are suckers for markets, large and small, wherever we go. If an army travels on its stomach, an army of bloggers stocks up at the public market.
So, on our recent trip to Puerto Rico , we checked out a few, as well as a huge SuperMax supermarket that's maybe bigger than my whole neighborhood in New York. But the two that stood out were both in San Juan. One is the traditional market of La Placita in Santurce, with its small booths and surrounding market-oriented stores, bars and restaurants.
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The other is a small organic foods market that has developed in the courtyard of a museum that occupies the building that used to be the central market of Old San Juan. More on that in a bit.
La Placita is not a huge market like some you've seen and read about here, but it's an important resource to its neighbors and to other nearby neighborhoods. And more than that, it's a pleasant spot in itself; after we shopped a bit, we enjoyed just sitting around and watching others while we waited for it to be time for lunch nearby.
"Lunch nearby" can be anything from a simple sandwich or fresh fruit from the market to small cafes and bars like some of those above, to well-respected chef-driven places that stock themselves from the market. Our lunch that day was a block away at Santaella; on another day we crossed the street from the market to eat at Jose Enrique, where we had the best carne guisada anywhere, and rice that was there for more reasons than just filling the bowl. But I digress...
The edible fruit is not the only kind at La Placita, and the decorative kind added to our pleasure while waiting, as we watched young and old alike stop, stare, and in some cases play with the bronze sidewalk fixtures.
There was even a word for the wise above one of the bars...it took my limited Spanish to realize it was a warning to me...no pina colada at lunch because it was my turn at the wheel...
A few days later, we went to the San Juan Museum of Art and History, which sadly no longer has a history section, and only limited art exhibits. We are still not clear where the history went—some said to the Museum of the Americas, some said to storage, some just shrugged. But there is a history there: for many years the building was the market. And recently, a market for organic food and for crafts has taken root there on the weekend.
After browsing the market for a while, we began inquiring for the entrance to the museum; we were referred to a young man sitting in the shade on the opposite side of the open courtyard; he was pleased to put down his book, and open the exhibit hall for us, and offered to answer questions. While we browsed he continued to read (we found that museums in Puerto Rico are well-staffed, and usually by people who appear to be possibly students and certainly avid readers. It felt nice.)
Turning a first corner in the exhibits, we found this painting by Jose Garcia Cordero—it made us feel almost as if we were back in the market!
And then, as we were leaving the building for our next stop, we noticed this papaya tree, planted so conveniently close to the market...although we don't know if it's harvested for sale.