Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores
I’ve never been to this market before.
When I was younger and staying with my grandmother in Povoação, on the opposite corner of Sao Miguel, I remember her giving me a few coins to take to the tiny shop across the square, where I would hold up a number of fingers and be given that amount of bracingly hot Portuguese rolls, one that would never make it the short walk home. I was never quite sure where she bought her sardines, or her cheese, or any fruit beyond the massive amounts of bananas we’d collect from her backyard or the oranges that hung from her trees heavily all summer, with limbs so strong I could hide in them with no fear of falling.
But this market, in the capital city of Ponta Delgada, is something on the island I’ve never seen before.
Amongst the familiar – strawberries, sweet bananas, herbs, onions – I discover new gems: a green fruit with leathery skin that tastes like a bright red Jolly Rancher candy inside; a cheese so strong and pungent that I can smell the earth the cow trod on when I chew it; whole fish my cousin Rita can’t quite figure out how to translate for me. I buy very little, some fruit and nuts and jams to bring home. The mid-morning hum is relaxed. Foot traffic is minimal, except for at a small counter where large portions of meat are being butchered and sausages hang like necklaces from every available hook, voices ringing to be heard.
I’ve been on Sao Miguel for a few days now, traversing the island with my American photographer in tow, trying to peg down what it is about this island that I find so special. The culture here is muted; this March day gray. Wet air hangs cold and damp on our clothes. Rita used to own several restaurants, and she says hello to some purveyors as I click away, exploring.
Of all the foods we eat in our ten days, and all the loving, proud discussions we have with those who share their food with us, it is these fruits, and nuts, and cheeses, and these quiet hours in the market I will remember most.