Productos de la Feria de los Agricultores – Chapter Two: Starchy Root Vegetables and some juicy fruits

Another fun visit to the feria in Alajuela yielded several pictures of exotic tubers and some delicious fruit. I always ask the vendors for permission before I take a picture of their commodities on display. So far everyone has granted their leave, either with the shrug of a shoulder or the flick of a wrist, but mostly with a gracious nod or even a smile of pleasure. Some guys – never the women – like to model for my pictures, presenting their produce to their best advantage, as this cute papaya vendor demonstrates. He positioned himself just so, to show off his fruit to it’s best advantage. This is serious business, you know. Papaya, also known as pawpaw, are used in cooking, either ripe or still green and are popular in Costa Rica in fresh fruit smoothies. Papaya have many comercial uses, among them as meat tenderizer. Also, their high pectin content works great to make jellies. The edible seeds have a peppery flavor (and may induce vomiting, to which my brother can attest, who was papaya-pranked in Equador more than once). Some people find the smell of ripe papaya off-putting, it’s not everyone’s favorite fruit.
Carica papaya, Caricaceae – Papaya
Papaya also have medicinal uses, both as traditional herbal remedies among indigenous peoples, as well as in modern medicine. It was and maybe still is used as an herbal contraceptive and is believed to have abortifacient capabilities.

Mora, our sweet blackberries, are an unequivocally delicious fruit. They look and taste just like, well, blackberries. They’re tremendously popular in Costa Rica. Mora juice or concentrate is incorporated in many desserts, yoghurts, puddings, smoothies, candies and jams – you name it, it comes in mora flavor!

Rubus fruticosus, Rosaceae – Mora

As one walks through the aisles of the feria, it becomes apparent that certain foods are dietary staples in Central America. Namely starchy root vegetables, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and taro. Especially taro is a very confusing veggie for the uninitiated. First of all, taro root has any number of regional names, which are associated with the three  most common varieties of the … Elephant Ear plant. Yes, many Gringos grow taro as an ornamental plant in their gardens, showing off the huge leaves. Secondly, just look at these hairy beasts! How does one turn this into food?

Xanthosoma sagittifolium, Araceae – Ñampi or …
… Tiquisque, go figure!


Taro, dasheen and cocoyam are all names for Colocasia esculenta sp., which is the elephant ear species used all over Asia and Africa, but also, maybe, Trinidad. Whereas eddoe refers to a Colocasia esculenta variety specific to Japan. However malanga, chamol, yautía, bore, ñampi or tiquisque, as it is called in (finally) Costa Rica, is not a Colocasia, but a Xanthosoma elephant ear. Let’s settle on ñampi and tiquisque, shall we? I’ve neither prepared nor tasted these critters so far, but after reading so much about it, I’ll have to give it a try soon.

One has to be careful handling raw tiquisque or ñampi, though. They contain calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause skin irritations. The farmer called the hairier, older (?) roots ñampi and the fresher looking, less hairy specimen tiquisque, at least, I think he did. It’s a challenge for a poor-to-non Spanish speaker to conduct such a botanical discurse. I need to find an English speaking farmer to explain the finer details of tiquisque, which, technically, aren’t roots, but corms. A corm is an underground portion of the stem. Plants store extra energy there, that’s why they make such rich foods.

Camote, sweet potato, is another staple here abouts. The pink skinned camotes grown in Costa Rica aren’t immediately recognizable, but their flavor is much the same. The Maya loved sweet potatoes, as did, presumably, all other Meso-American peoples. One favorite CR recipe combines mashed camote with copious amounts of butter, powdered milk, sugar and grated cheese. Oh, the calories!!

Manihot esculenta, Euphorbiaceae – Cassavas or Manioc or Yuca or Mogo [top]          Ipomoea batatas, Convolvulaceae – Camote [bottom]
Our last root vegetable, the cassava, is another stranger, if only to me. I learned on Wiki that the manioc tuber was most likely first domesticated in Brazil, possibly as much as 10 000 years ago. The Moche civilization in Peru considered the yuca important enough to depict it in their amazing ceramic art. Tapioca is the name for the dried and pearlized manioc, many will know as pudding or baby food. And speaking of manioc as a major dietary source of carbs, it’s important to be aware that it also contains quite a bit of cyanide. Remember ricin? That deadly poison also derives from an Euphorbiaceae plant. These guys can be extremely dangerous!  One has to peel, core and boil manioc carefully, to avoid problems. Manioc is very drought tolerant, which has made it a major food source in the poorest of regions, especially in Africa, but it contains very low levels of protein. That presents the risk of malnutrition in apparently well fed people.

Cultivar Musa x Paradisiaca, Los plátanos – Plantains
To conclude our starchy selection of market produce, we can’t forget my beloved plantains. They are a close relative of the better known, sweet dessert banana. Plátanos, a steril cultivation triple hybrid of the genus Musa, must be cooked to become edible. I let them ripen to a nice shade of black, before peeling and sectioning the fruit into inch-wide chunks, which I pan-fry slowly and carefully with a little coriander powder and a pinch of salt. When they’re nicely golden and soft, I add a dusting of powdered ginger and caramelize the bunch with honey. Speaking of ginger, that’s available at the market, too. Did you know that , according to Wiki, the word ‘ginger’ is derived from the Tamil term “inji ver”?
Zingiber officinale, Zingiberaceae – Raíz de Jengibre, ginger root

One thought on “Productos de la Feria de los Agricultores – Chapter Two: Starchy Root Vegetables and some juicy fruits

  1. Ihr lebt dort viel zuuuu gesund!! mann, diese auswahl.
    Xanthosoma Sagittifolium – “allroundpflanze”. hast du sie schon mal als fried croquettes probiert? bestimmt lecker.


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