The first time I saw a street vendor selling fresh-cut fruit in Mexico I was wandering through a residential neighborhood in Cabo San Lucas, where a man wielded a small portable set-up, rolling it along the banquetas there, the sidewalks. His work area held whole fruit, cucumbers and pineapple prepped for making slices, his tools, his cutting board, his kitchen towel. It was framed of wood and bordered on three sides by glass. I watched from a small distance, fascinated, while people stopped to make their requests, listening to the rapid-fire Spanish, the different selections. In Ajijic we had a fruit stand every day at the edge of the plaza, and one just east of town on the carretera, the highway. Wednesdays another family always set up shop at the top end of the open-air market, the tianguis. You could find mango and melons, papaya and cucumbers and jicama, sometimes huge bosenberries or bright red strawberries or pineapple, fresh coconut. When there was time, they’d make up clear plastic cupfuls in advance, all cantaloupe or watermelon, or a mixture of berries, the bright colors and succulent fruit a still life on the street. Or you could ask for your own particular combination from the fruit on hand, and they’d prepare it for you. Some vendors use a dry blended chili powder; others offer a chili sauce. Always there is fresh lime and salt. The first time I tasted limon y sal y chile on fruit, it surprised me, all that hot, tangy, salty sweetness. But it grabbed me, too. I loved it. And when I was counting calories, I’d go for the cucumbers.
I remember stopping once at the fruit stand on the highway east of town. I was walking home from shopping at the Super Lake grocery store in San Antonio Tlayacapan. I sat on the curb near La Floresta with my large plastic cup of cucumber spears with lime and salt and chili sauce. I savored each long luscious slice, dipping again and again into the spicy red sauce pooling at the bottom of the clear plastic. And our first day on the mainland, the cats and Lolita Roja and I found fruit as if by magic en route to San Blas. The downhill road to the coastal town wound its way through the trees, and at one slow turn three women materialized in front of my car, apparitions with cups of cut fruit in their hands. I got flustered–by the unexpected suddenness, the blind curve, the rapid Spanish, my own ambivalence and groggy brain after a day of driving. I pulled over on the side of the road and chose one container of mixed melons and one of green mango. When I told them I wanted to save the fruit for later, they put the chili powder and the salt in little plastic bags for me, gave me whole limes. We stayed two nights in San Blas, time for the cats to recover from their ferry crossing nightmare. I made three meals of the fruit. It was the perfect thing. I would sit on the veranda outside our room in the warm April breeze eating green mango con limon y sal y chile. I watched the lighthouse revolve, watched our little patch of water move up the estuary, slow and quiet. I listened to the grackles calling from the trees, from the rooftops. I licked lime juice from my fingers and studied the houses down the street and wondered what it might be like to live there.
[The photo of the fruit is copyrighted by antefixus21 and can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21728045@N08/2328071644/.]