Or E. coli. Perhaps even Ebola if that can be contracted from food.
I signed up for a Colombian cooking class where we were to start off at an open market, try tropical fruits, and pick out the ingredients to make our lunch. Doesn’t that sound cool?? Well, that’s what I thought too. We started with breakfast.
We also had some juices/smoothies (they called them juices; I called them smoothies) made from tree tomatoes (look like small mangoes) and something else of which I forgot the name. I do know it looked like a potato though (no, not jicama). It tasted like shit, for the record. But the tree tomatoes were deeee-licious!! Also, this should have been my first clue that germs weren’t revered – we all shared these juices/smoothies. Nothing introduces you to people like sipping their backwash.
Anyway, at this point we started touring the market to taste the fruits. [Note: never wear flip flops to a South American market – just take my word for it.] I didn’t take pictures of most of the carnage (literally) because according to our guides, camera phones get swiped like credit cards (heyyyyooooo), and also because most of the time my face looked like this:
But here are two clean pictures that were interesting! Dried beans and dried herbs/other crap that help holistically heal all the ailments that you will surely sustain in the rest of the market.
Now it’s time to start tasting the fruits. The first thing I saw was a guy using his fingers to scoop raspberries in some sort of liquid into bags. We are talking invasive scooping. Then I saw him lick his finger. I was glad we didn’t try those berries. We did, however, try some stuff that required a knife pulled out of the guide’s purse. Yes, there were flies, and no, there was not washing. I also don’t like people touching my food before I eat it, so I was having a real germophobe nightmare (seeing someone dig through jelly-fied tamarind without washing their hands and try to feed it to me turns my stomach). Then there was the booth where we tried 3 different mangoes where there was a man sitting on the table with his bare feet touching the produce. Regardless, I survived (SO GRATEFUL FOR NOT GETTING SICK).
Now we pick out fish.
At this point I was actively looking for a way out of eating this meal. I’m sure most people would be fine, but I didn’t want to take the chance. When you’re used to a very high level of food and water standard for cleanliness, your system has a hard time adjusting. I’d rather just go to KFC (yep, I saw them there…why the world love for KFC??) and be not sick. I decided to heave ho when we hit this place where they were washing fish juice off the tables with dirty bowls of water (again, forgo the flip flops):
Finally we left this place (the sweat dripping down my back was grateful!) to head to the guides’ house to cook up all this spoiled goodness. The entire ride I was poring over how to get out of this. Long story short, my out came when one of the guides asked me for help essentially shucking coconuts. I told him this would not end well, except it ended in the best possible way for me – I sliced my hand!! YESSSSSS, done! Another telling sign of “don’t eat here” was that no one seemed to be concerned that I was bleeding near the food (I removed my hand immediately – I’ve seen enough Top Chef and Chopped to know how to properly handle blood in the kitchen). One of the guides rushed to get me bandages, but he unfortunately touched them with fingers covered in fish juice, having just taken it out of the bag (his wife and one of the students tasted the water in which the raw fish was soaking. I am not joking). Now is time to tap out, because “blood makes me squeamish.” (For the record, it doesn’t, but all the other stuff did fo’ sure.)
The guide drove me back to the hotel (he and his wife were really very lovely and welcoming people – I felt badly that I failed them), from where I went in search of Colombian Neosporin.
While I was waiting for the pharmacist to pull it off the shelf, I also got in touch with the 13-year-old me:
Once back at my hotel, I tried a whole different type of dumpling! I have now learned that I don’t think I’ll ever meet a dumpling I don’t like.
And winding down the day, as those suckers in the class were sick with food poisoning, I was reading a magazine on the roofdeck next to the pool.
I don’t regret this experience, because it was certainly authentic (also, I’ve been to other markets outside of the US and Europe, so this isn’t me being a sheltered dickbag). This is just something that wasn’t for someone who has had food poisoning 3 times and very much wishes to avoid it again. It was really interesting to see the market, but I just couldn’t eat there.