Many years ago, when I first traveled to Mexico, I went to the market in Cuernavaca and was overwhelmed with the desire to have a place to cook. A tiny cucina would do, a hot plate and a mini fridge. I wanted to round up a basket full of those glorious fragrant vegetables and herbs, and quesos and meats. What I would do with a handful of avocados and some cilantro, and bright red chilies that turn your fingers into lethal, scorching weapons. Limons! Mangos! But I was staying in a hotel. Small and cheap, with the bathroom down the hall, but a hotel.
Later, when I was living in Korea and traveling in Southeast Asia, I had the same desire when I visited markets. For what I could afford on my traveling budget, I would eat better if I could cook, not always, but sometimes. There is no knocking the street food in Asia, but sometimes I was so provoked by the wet markets that I deeply yearned for a kitchen.
This post was going to be about hosteling in general, but I can see that my passion for cooking has sidetracked it to one of the main reasons I’m a hostel convert. Not only can I cook, I can sometimes share.
This is an homage as much to markets as it is to hostels. Indigenous markets are essential to the communities they serve and the small producers. The market here in Villa de Leyva, where I am staying now, brings growers from all over on Saturday. They sell and cook and visit with each other. Catch up on gossip. Trade. On Thursday and Saturday there is an organic market, which is an important outlet for struggling organic farmers, and a wonderful service to us who are looking for fresh, organic produce, cheeses and other products.
By frequenting markets and having a place to play with new foods, you are experiencing a different level of travel. Food is an essential and integral part of a culture. Having it cooked in a restaurant is an level of abstraction. I have been to two markets here in Villa de Leyva, and on the secon.d on I was recognized and was recognizing people, and stopping for a chat or two while shopping. I met the director of the local library and ran into fellow travelers. The fellow travelers were having the sort of experience I used to have, wishing for a kitchen.