Maria’s “Fruta Fresca” Stand

Where the Perfect Mango Comes with Lime Juice, Chili Powder, and a Dash of Nostalgia

Maria’s “Fruta Fresca” stand is usually parked on Wilshire right outside Zócalo Public Square’s global headquarters in K-Town. The smiling but inscrutable Oaxaquense always manages to have the perfect mango, no matter the time of year, and always greets me with what seems to be a trick question: “Lo quiere de a cuatro o de a cinco?” The $4 container she points to is about half the size of the $5 plastic container. Is Maria pulling my leg? I’m all in, of course.

Next decision point: “Quiere de todo?” No way, no sense wasting precious space on cantaloupe. Just give me mango, cucumber, jicama, and watermelon (which always sounds more enticing when called sandia). That’s right, you can choose fruit and veggies. There is a solemnity to the way Maria chops up the produce, then scoops it into the container before proceeding to the coup de grace–the squeezing of the lime juice atop the plate, with one of those industrial-strength lime-squeezing contraptions, followed by the raining of the chili powder. By this point, the anticipation has made me impatient. How quickly can I go up the 14 floors and rip into the container?

But there’s also a triggering of nostalgic flashes. Of mangos enchilados in Chapultepec park as a kid, and pepinos consumed after soccer practice outside Chihuahua’s Soriana store. And so I thank Maria a bit too profusely with each visit, realizing she is providing a lot of us with far more than tasty nutrition.

Andrés Martinez is editorial director of Zócalo Public Square and vice president of the New America Foundation.


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