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Yucatán’s fruit basket: A cook’s tour

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Yucatán’s fruit basket: A cook’s tour
A friendly fruit and veggie vendor in Itzimná, Mérida. Photo: Maggie Cale

The markets in Mérida are plentiful and fun, so I explored a few of them and found some local fruits to bring home. Then I tried out some recipes. 

I started the day at the city’s biggest markets. I entered Lucas de Galvez at the corners of 42 and 65 in the Centro. Parking is difficult so I left the car at home, taking an Uber instead. 

This market is old and it’s huge — it is easy to get lost, so pay attention and maybe bring a compass. The vendors selling fruits and vegetables number in the hundreds.  

I started my selections with simple items and worked my way up to unique and exotic fruits that were new to me. My first purchases were local papaya and a mango.

Photo: Maggie Cale

Mangos are a thick-skinned but sweet-pitted, and very juicy fruit. If you have never tried them, do yourself a favor and try a mango because they are delicious and loaded with vitamins. 

Papayas are an orangey, red color inside and have a sweet fleshy fruit. The woman I bought them from said, “They are my best sellers right now. My family eats them daily.”

My second stop was the adjacent Mercado San Benito on 54 at 69. I found mamey, a fruit with a brown rough-looking suede sort of skin. Inside is a deep rich brownish-orange flesh, almost like pudding. It tastes like a blend of apricot and sweet potato and is rich in nutrients. It is good as a thickener in milkshakes or cut up in a salad. 

Photo: Maggie Cale

I also picked up some small guavas, a sweet fruit with an amazing scent. The vendor explained how she uses guava: “We use them in jam or marmalade.”

And my last purchase at San Benito was a bag of guaya (also called huaya) fruit, which is a bit tart but easily peeled and popped in your mouth, pit and all, and sucked on for the juice. Just do not swallow the pit. The vendor, José, gave me a demonstration and had me try it. 

“When it is hot it is very refreshing,” he told me. “Sometimes I sell the whole bag out of the skins so it’s ready and easy to eat.”

Photo: Maggie Cale

My next stop was Mercado Chen Bech on Calle 57 at Calle 42, still in the Centro. This market is small but fun. The flower display always draws my eye and entices me, and the prices are great. If at this point you need a snack, the stand at the front on Calle 57 has fresh panuchos.

A gentleman at Chen Bech — very friendly but he wouldn’t give his name — showed me every type of fruit they had and said that the vendors are willing to cut things in half for shoppers who only want portions of some fruits. Instead, I ended up buying several tomatoes since they looked so good. The market was filled with the citrus scent of sour oranges as they were being freshly juiced.

Photo: Maggie Cale

My final stop was my local market in Col. Itzimná. The staff is friendly at Fruteria Itzimná and Miguel was happy to show me a local fruit called anona. It is a bumpy-looking, thick-skinned fruit that can be eaten alone, made into ice cream or even used as icing on a cake. Miguel cut the anona open and to my surprise, I saw a white fleshy thick pulp inside. It is pretty on the inside but you wouldn’t suspect that from the peel.


A friendly fruit and veggie vendor in Itzimná, Mérida. Photo: Maggie Cale

 “It is very sweet but if you peel and mash it, add cream or yogurt (removing seeds is optional) stir and freeze it,” he said, “you will have a great ice cream.”

I went home and made ice cream and it was easy to do. I had also picked up a sour orange — which has a lumpy, bumpy peel — but its juice is great for guacamole, replacing the usual lime. Sour orange is also good in smoothies.

So, with my seasonal and locally sourced fruits, I made the two recipes below, which are not only simple and quick but delicious.

Anona Ice Cream

Ugly on the outside, creamy on the inside, anona is great for making ice cream. Photo: Maggie Cale

Makes 2 generous servings 

  • 3 anona 
  • 1 cup crema or yogurt

Cut open and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Remove the seeds.

Mix pulp and cream/yogurt well and freeze.

The second recipe is also simple but so tasty. Of course, it is not a local dish, but a good way to use mangos. 

Thai Mango Sticky Rice

Pretty much all you need for a complete meal of mango sticky rice. Photo: Maggie Cale

Makes 2 servings

  • 3/4 cup of sticky rice, or any rice on hand, steamed
  • 1/2 can coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 mango

Steam the rice and allow it to cool. While rice is cooling, add other ingredients to a saucepan and heat and stir until all ingredients are mixed well. Turn off the heat. 

Spoon in rice and stir until coated with sauce. Then place a lid on the pot and allow it to sit for about 1-2 hours. It will absorb the liquids.

Mango and sticky rice go together after a trip to Mérida’s mercados. Photo: Maggie Cale

Scoop rice onto a plate and cut up the mango to top it. Sprinkle with cinnamon or coconut flakes.

In Yucatán Magazine: Market Archives