latin american food

Why Farmers Fairs Are The Heart of Latin American Food

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For all those people who work from Monday to Friday, weekends are the highlight of the week. There's nothing better than waking up late, spending a couple more minutes in bed. But in many places around Latin America, there are plenty of reasons to wake up early on a Saturday morning.

Most of those reasons revolve around the existence of farmers’ fairs or “ferias del agricultor”. These are similar to any farmers’ market, with the only exception that they’re open solely on weekends, usually on designated spots. To many producers, these fairs are a golden opportunity to sell their products directly to the consumer.

Once people get into the habit of waking up early on a Saturday, going out to buy vegetables in a supermarket is going to become a less attractive experience. Nothing looks as good, or tastes as good, as what you buy at the fair. As Bibelot’s owner, Gabriela Nowalsky, indicated in a previous interview: “There’s nothing like it.

Why does she say this?

latin american food

Gabriela visits one of the producers that supplies the fresh produce for Bibelot.

Fresh Produce for Latin American Food

If there is one word that can be associated with the farmer's fair, it is freshness. And this is good, not only because the fresh product tastes better, but also because it contains more nutrients. Products that have been refrigerated or frozen for a long time lose a lot of vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to the body. The fresher we buy, the better for us.

On the other hand, Latin American food has always thrived on fresh ingredients. Take Costa Rican food as an example: it might not be as spicy as Mexican cuisine or as colorful as a Peruvian dish, but most dishes include a fair share of fresh vegetables and fruits. Salads, stews and picadillos - they all taste better if only the freshest products are used.

A Feast to the Senses

The farmer’s fair is, first of all, a feast to the senses

The minute you walk into the farmer's market, you hear a swarm of voices coming from all sides. Sometimes, you can hear a cumbia bass trying to liven up the morning. No matter what the weather is like, you’ll see the stalls filled with all sorts of wonderful colors: from deep violets and intense reds to enthusiastic greens.

latin american food

Uchuvas or gooseberries grow well in the mountains of Costa Rica. They are naturally tart and work very well as a marmalade

In the food stalls you can find traditional cuisine, such as gallo pinto and cheese tortillas. This combines, almost instantly, with the smell of fresh coriander and other herbs. Most people like to visit the fair early in the morning, not only because that’s the moment when you can find the best ingredients, but also because you’re able to grab a quick bite for breakfast. 

This Costs What?

Unlike the vegetables we buy at the supermarket, the product we buy at the fair eliminates the costs of intermediaries and other factors that affect the final price of any product. You are buying directly from the person who produces and it is that person who is the main beneficiary.

Now, the people who sell their products define their prices based on the list that the National Production Council (CNP) updates week by week. Still, the prices are incredibly affordable and much more comfortable for all consumers. In a single visit to the fair we can buy a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, a couple of pots for the house and still have enough money for breakfast.

Meet the Makers of Your Artisan Food

The lady who sells the eggs at the Feria de Guadalupe, has four daughters, one of whom is pregnant with her first grandchild. Because of this, she started making tortillas and selling them as a way of making a little extra money before the child is born. She also remembers what every customer prefers, and saves the best eggs for her most loyal clientele.

latin american food

Pineapple is one of the most popular tropical fruits.

Seidy gets up at 2:00 am on Saturdays at his home in Tierra Blanca de Cartago to finish packing the strawberries and uchuvas that she is going to sell that day. She’s extremely charismatic, and candidly talks to everyone who’s willing to listen.  Next to her, you’ll find Don Nicolas, who is 72 years old and has been growing mangoes in his native Orotina for more than half his life. 

When what we buy has a face and a story, we begin to consume with much more awareness. Also, knowing where our food comes from and what the process is for getting it into our hands helps us have better control over what we eat. Our lunches become healthier, richer, more humane.

Many People Benefit

According to data from the National Production Council (CNP), the fairs benefit more than 12 thousand families directly. More than one million people walk through the stalls every week. And when we talk about a million people, let's not just think about heads of household and mothers. One million people include young people who have their first apartment and children accompanied by their relatives. One million includes all kinds of people.

You would be surprised how many familiar faces you’ll meet at a farmer's fair. From the head of human resources, a group of friends who are returning from a crazy night out and need a hearty breakfast or a chef who is looking for fresh produce for his business. Everyone goes to the fair. And everyone benefits.

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