Fruit or vegetable – A visit to the verdulería

Carambola, pejibaye, cas, camote, ayote, guanabana.  Help!  When I first moved to Costa Rica, I relied heavily on the advice of Carlos, the dueño (owner) of the verdulería (fresh produce stand) up the street.  I would pick something up and ask him in halting Spanish if the object I was holding was fruit or vegetable.  Depending on his answer, I would ask if it needed to be cooked or if it could be eaten raw.  If it needed to be cooked, I’d ask how, how long, with what, etc.  I also had to know if the strange item needed to be peeled before eating.  (Only recently, I found out you can eat the peel on mangos.)  When I received my cédula (the all-important residency card that took 17 months of anxious waiting to receive), I had a little celebration and invited friends – most of them ticos.  I didn’t realize I’d broken a “food rule” until one of them commented on the chayote “sticks” I served along with other raw vegetables and a dip.  He said, “Hmm, I’ve never eaten this raw before.”  Very diplomatic.  (Chayote is a pear shaped vegetable with a large soft seed in the middle – still don’t know if that’s edible.)  Upon reflection, I realized I’d never been served raw vegetables – carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, etc. – by a tico. The food disappeared so my guests were either being polite or enjoying what was being offered to them.  Most tico gatherings I’ve attended have included a continuous stream of bocas (appetizers) – served as they became ready.  A typical boca is grilled beef or grilled salchichón (large sausage – more the size of bratwürst) served on flimsy tortillas (very thin tortillas are used here) accompanied by a relish made of tomato/cilantro/onion/lemon (pico de gallo).  Delicious.

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