by David Cecelski
When my daughter and I visited Durham’s Green Flea Market for the first time today, we were reminded of the lively, colorful, and exciting neighborhood mercados that you find in Mexico or El Salvador. More than a hundred mostly Latin American vendors were selling everything from CDs to baptismal gowns there. What enthralled us most, though, were the cafés, lunch stands, and street food hawkers.
Outside the old tobacco factory warehouse, a Mr. González and his son were frying churros rellenos, a donut-like pastry filled with cream cheese or strawberry jam. A nice couple from Pueblawas blending fruit and vegetable juices for aguas frescas. Nearby, another family was selling raspas, the Mexican shaved ice treats. Maybe a half-dozen other Mexican and Central American vendors were making tacos, carnitas, gorditas, and tamales.
Five or six produce stands sold plantains, prickly pear cactus, and other fruits and vegetables used in Latin American cookery. Several other little shops sold slices of fresh mango, watermelon, and pineapple.
Inside, we discovered more taquerías and a shop serving Mexican ice cream (helados) and fruit ices (paletas). In the back of the market, a Puerto Rican family was selling plates of mofongo, a very traditional dish on that Caribbean island. It’s made with mashed fried green plantains mixed with broth, garlic, olive oil, and pork cracklings, and stuffed with chicken or another meat.
By the back door, I ran into the rugged, weather-beaten bicyclist who steers “La Princesa,” a paleta cart. I see him peddling across the city in the mid-day heat on the hottest summer days. He was hawking paletas at the flea market, but when I saw him he was taking a break and enjoying a good-looking cup of shrimp ceviche.
I asked him where he got the ceviche and he steered me to a fishmonger nearby. The fishmonger had a little cooler of the citrus-marinated shrimp in between coolers of raw shrimp and fish. It was delicious, too. He had soaked the shrimp in lime juice, salt, onion, cilantro, chile, and avocado, and he served it, as is customary inMexico and parts of Central America, with tostadas.
Not all the market’s food vendors were Latin American immigrants. By the building’s front door, a group of African American guys was selling peanuts. “Roasted at the Green!” they barked. Inside, several ladies wearing traditional Muslim hijabs were selling bean pies, while a few stalls down the “Cake Lady” had sweet potato pies, red velvet cakes, and other Southern-style desserts.
The highlight of our visit to the Green Flea Market was the Salvadoran pupusa shops called pupuserías. Three of them were on the open-air row of vendors closest to the road. Pupusas are thick, handmade corn tortillas that are El Salvador’s quintessential street food. Originally created by the Pipiles Indians at least a thousand years before Columbus, they’re usually filled with cheese, meat, refried beans, squash, or lorusa, a flower bud from a vine common in Central America.
My daughter and I chose a pupusería crowded with Salvadoran families. It had long tables under a tent and big pitchers of the condiments traditionally eaten with pupusas: salsa roja, marinated raw onions, and a lightly fermented cabbage salad calledcurtido.
We found seats in the shade and ordered cheese and flower blossom pupusas. While we waited for our food, we watched the ladies as they rolled corn dough into little balls, mixed them with fillings, flattened them in the palm of their hands, and put them on the griddle.
It was 94 degrees in the shade and humid as a steam bath, but I couldn’t have been happier. A group of charming Salvadoran ladies talked with my daughter, and a handful of guys crowded around a TV set pulled out a chair for me so that I could get a closer look at the World Cup match between the US and Ghana. We drank cold pineapple juice and ate the very good pupusas, while we all cheered for los Estados Unidos.
The Green Flea Market is located at 1600 East Pettigrew Street, Durham, and is open weekends from 7 AM to 4 PM.