Cherry Avenue Auction Swap Meet offers exotic foods
• The Cherry Avenue Auction Swap Meet has a produce market that sells exotic fruits, chile peppers and dried fish.
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• If you are craving some street food, the swap meet’s vendors sell everything from fresh fruit cups to Tostilocos.
• While many of the swap meets customers are Hispanic, vendors say the market attracts people from all walks of life as interest in new and different food grows.
As soon as you walk into the produce section of the Cherry Avenue Auction Swap Meet, you realize this is not your run-of-the-mill market. For starters, there are heaping piles of red chile pods, bags of dried shrimp and exotic fruits like guanabana.
Located on the northeast corner of American and Cherry avenues, the long-running swap meet has acres of open air shopping. Every Tuesday and Saturday starting at 6:30 a.m., the market opens to hundreds of shoppers looking for everything from bunnies to baby strollers.
But it’s on the north side of the property where one discovers foods not found in the grocery store or conventional farmers markets.
“When we say you will find a little bit of everything, we aren’t kidding,” says Neil Burson, co-owner of the Cherry Avenue Auction Swap Meet.
The market has about 10 to 12 vendors on Tuesday and several more on Saturday, its busiest day.
One of its more popular items are the dried and fresh hot peppers. Used in Mexican dishes to add heat, flavor and color, the dried pods are spread out on large tables for customers to choose from. The earthy aroma of the peppers is obvious in a walk by the vendor’s booths.
Among the fresh peppers available is the thick, dark-green poblano, a favorite for making chile rellenos. You will also find several varieties of dried chile’s, including the fiery chile de arbol, Thai, guajillo and puya. A few vendors also have chile negro, a dark-colored pod that is used in making mole, a thick and spicy sauce commonly used with chicken.
“If you are looking for a specific type of chile, chances are you will probably find it here,” says Daisy Espinoza, whose family has been selling at the market for nearly 20 years.
Her family sells a wide selection of products, including many popular snack foods. Sitting on a long table are plastic sacks stuffed with dried mangoes, pistachios dusted with chile, dried and salted peas and spicy chickpeas.
Espinoza said that while most of her customers are Hispanic, the market’s shoppers are becoming more diverse.
“We see all kinds of people, American, Mexican and Asian,” Espinoza says. “And they come because it’s an interesting place. Where else will you find stuff like this.”
Along with snack foods, also popular, especially during Lent, are the pungent-smelling dried seafood, including shrimp and catfish. Much like the snacks, the dried shrimp are stuffed in plastic bags while the catfish are stacked on the table.
Vendor Julia Andrade said the dried shrimp are eaten as is, or added to soups and stews for flavoring. Several shoppers said they soak the catfish in water and then fry it, or used as an ingredient in soup.
Cactus pads or paddles are available from several vendors. The light green pads are excellent in salads, salsas, or mixed with eggs. Vendors will usually shave the thorns from the pads for you.
Fruits at the market include mango, papayas, pineapples and Asian pears. One fruit likely not to be found in most grocery stores is guanabana, or soursop. The pear-shaped fruit is sought after because of its nutritional value. It’s high in Vitamin C, iron and Vitamin B-6. The fruit’s white pulp is used to make fruit nectar, juice drinks and smoothies.
Also available is jicama, a crisp, white-fleshed tuberous root that is often added to salads and fruits for a flavorful crunch. There are also jumbo-sized Zutano avocados, coconuts, and a prickly skinned but mild-tasting squash called chayote.
Shopper Maggie Olivares loves coming to the market. She admits to liking the snack food as much as anything else. Recently she was enjoying a cup of fresh tropical fruit drenched in salty, sweet and spicy chamoy sauce. She also likes the street food concoction known as Tostilocos, that combines tortilla chips, jicama, cucumbers, pickled pork rinds, hot sauce, lime juice and Japanese peanuts, nuts with a crunchy coating and a slight hint of soy sauce.
“It may look a little strange, but it is good,” Olivares says.