I Say Zapatos, You Say Zapotes

045-3So it happens that I have come to find a certain fondness for one particular fruit stand over the rest. It certainly isn’t one anyone else would notice. Especially not in this region of Ecuador; where every imaginable dusty street corner is home to one. And then some.  Fruit is everywhere here and I am in heaven. Bruising in a basket in any tienda window, carefully displayed beneath palapa stands on the highway, dangling from beneath umbrellas attached to bicycle carts, even bobbing to and fro in the back of makeshift pickup trucks. Fruit is life here. It is the essence on the wind, swirled up into the salty air, in a combination of nature’s most intoxicating perfume.

 I have tried so many unimaginable fruits here, from furry to slimy, tiny to oversized, sour to sweet to bitter…and sometimes flavors and textures indescribable.  Learning the crazy names of these edibles, is like trying to the learn riddles from Eve’s own book of garden debauchery. But, I try in my earnest, to impress the fruit keepers with my knowledge and love of all things grown around our home.

These guardians of the fruit, they have been the first set of ears, the first set of smiles, the first unwilling victims at my feeble attempts to speak Spanish. And so it goes, that they often tease me and taunt me and applaud me for my miserable sabotage. But, as my confidence grows, I dare to step out a bit further, guessing rather than asking, when I see a new one that I vaguely recognize.

This is where I get into trouble, as I am not the type that wears confidence well. I’m more like the monkey that hides behind a tree, hoping no one will notice me there. And when I’m caught eye to eye with the vendors, my cheeks swell up and turn pink. Yes, I am 33, and I still embarrass hopelessly easily.

But, this particular fruit stand is a quite a bit out of our way, considering we bypass at least a half a dozen others in pursuit of this one particular hut. A couple of girls run the place, and occasionally a young man is around too, I presume either a husband or brother. And if we stay around long enough, little toes poke out from the creaky bamboo door, followed by sparkling black eyes that peer up at me with curiousity. These people are so humble and so intoxicatingly happy. And it’s just this simple: they sell the best fruit in town.

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Bananas, Avocados, Mangoes

These ladies wield a machete like something I could only imagine in a movie, tossing aside pieces of coconut and dropping in a straw, in one smooth sweep, as if nothing more significant that tucking their hair behind their ear. They stand on their tippy toes to reach the bananas at the very top of the bunch, only willing to share the most perfect gem. And they effortlessly run their fingers across the fruit; tap tap, tapping the skins, picking the perfect one. Ripe for today, tomorrow, or from yesterday (for juicing). It isn’t possible to lie, they wouldn’t dream of it, or likely even conceive of it. Only the best for everyone.

A few days ago, we took the short drive to pluck up a couple of bags of goodies, nature’s candy if I might. I soon spotted a pile of some of my Ecuadorian favorites, which I hadn’t seen in a while. The fuzzy grayish- brown skin makes me think of the innocent coat of seal pup. It is shaped like an acorn, only it’s the size of my palm. And inside, is the most divine stringy, fleshy, orange fruit that somehow smells just like corn silk and tastes a bit like squash.

I marched straight for it, hands in the air, declaring a need for half a dozen zapatos! And this pretty twenty-something Latina burst into the grandest smile I had ever seen, and I knew that she must be so proud of me. For she knew she has not taught me this word. But, no, I was wrong. I misjudged her pride for unfiltered candor. She quickly ducked her eyes beneath her lashes and tried to cover her smile with the tips of her fingers. But, her friend in the back round betrayed her, and soon enough their giggles filled the air around me as they struggled to compose their amusement. Finally, she quietly and shyly spoke to me, holding up the prized fruit. “No, Senora, No. Estas son ZAAAPPPOOOTTES, no Zapatos”.

Before the words left her mouth, I knew my mistake, and I couldn’t help but giggle, too, even if my cheeks blossomed as if I’d had too much sun. My friends, I had asked the fruit princess….for six shoes.

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Zapotes…not Zapatos!

 

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44 Replies to “I Say Zapatos, You Say Zapotes”

    1. In some countries the spelling is a bit different, with an S in place of the Z.But, pretty much sounds the same when you are asking for it: Sapotes or Zapotes. I had never heard of them before either, they are delicious!

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  1. I never thought of reading something so good about fruit! Really!!! Good luck learning all the fruit names and of course you can get six zapatos too if you want 😉

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  2. One of my favourite things about travelling is trying new food but particularly new fruits! Im pretty sure Ive had zapotes a few times in Central America during this past year, I love them! Can you get rambutans (or lychees as the locals call them) in Ecuador, they’re my fave 🙂

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    1. I never knew how much of a foodie I was, or a frutie for that matter! 🙂 I’m a bit crazy about trying every new fruit I see. I know exactly what you are talking about…and yes, those are so much fun to eat 😀

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  3. Mmmm. Mouthwatering story. I love mangoes, and there were a few luscious ones in the pictures.

    I think of these little language incidents as the price we pay for learning. Maria von Trapp reported in her autobiography how she was so proud of her English skills in New York until she tried to buy a head of “garbage” in a greengrocer’s.

    Much to his surprise.

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    1. Haha! Love that story! I think that is true, we have to make these little mistakes to keep learning. My husband just said that today as we listened to our 4-year old practicing her Spanish int he car. 🙂

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  4. In everyplace we have ever called home…even for a day or two…our goal is to find THEE best fruit stand. This looks amazing. I love papaya and lilikoi are my absolute favorite.

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    1. That sounds a rather lovely goal! We haven’t really been able to distinguish one as better than the others…but, we do like to drive by and see which one has something that we haven’t tried before. 🙂

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  5. What a wonderful story! I recently tried zapote for the first time too, but in Guatemala. So tasty. And I love sampling the fruit when I travel to Latin America, so the fruit sellers are also my unwitting victims of Spanish butchery. Practicing in everyday life is the only way to get better though 🙂 What other fruits have you tried in Ecuador? Anything rare or unusual?

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    1. Thank you for enjoying my story! You are the first reader that knows about Zapote, I believe! I have tried more fruits than I can even remember, and even those are just a small fraction of what is out there. Another one of my favorites is the Granadilla, a very weird but delicious type of passion fruit. In addition, Guaba is a furry seed that grows inside what looks like a super sized pea pod. Not, my favorite but certainly one of the most memorable.

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      1. Oh yes I love the granadilla! I recently tried what you call the Guaba too. In Guatemala they call it Paternas, in English some people call it the ice cream bean. I don’t think it tastes like ice cream, but it definitely is weird, wonderful and memorable. Cheers!

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