verduria in Santiago, Chile

As I mentioned in my last post, there are little sidewalk businesses and gigs all over the place in Santiago, Chile. Most businesses here are small – even the ones not on the sidewalk. The mall across the street is full of tiny shops that are just packed full with merchandise. (If you don’t see what you want/need, you should ask! There’s simply no way to see all the things packed into these little shops, so just ask. You’ll be surprised by how quickly the merchants can put their hands on what you’re looking for.)

Well, among ourselves, we started calling the owners of all these small outdoor businesses “little men.” ”I’m going down to the little man to get some produce.” And, “If you decide to buy some sunglasses, you should check out the little man at the corner of _______.”

At some point, Sudoku said, “Why do you call him the ‘little man’? He’s not particularly ‘little’…”

Good question. Why indeed? ”Little” sounds demeaning, or at the very least unappreciative. Were we belittling his work? His livelihood? We certainly don’t want to do that. We want to appreciate and honor honest work. Why would we call him “little?” We could argue that it sounds quaint. But why choose a word that could be perceived as derogatory? We benefit greatly from the man who sells produce two blocks from us. He offers fresher and a greater variety of produce at better prices than we can get at the supermarket. We didn’t want to belittle him or his business any way. But we don’t know his name, so what are we to call him? That’s when we decided to call him the “Wonderful Man.”

I heard about the Wonderful Man before I ever met him. My 80+ year old neighbor who lives two flights down drove me to her favorite verduria (produce stand) shortly after we moved here. The produce was better and cheaper than in the supermarket, so it was great. The only problem was that it was too far to walk, and we have no car. For a while I just rode with my sweet friend, but that wasn’t always at a convenient time for me. I tried their delivery service several times, but they sometimes did not bring what I ordered (it being out of season or of poor quality – they wanted me to only have the best!), so it was a bit unpredictable.

This 80+ year old friend told me that there was a verduria within walking distance on the next street behind or between some buildings. She’d heard about it for years but had never found it. Being elderly, she prefers to drive rather than walk, and the Wonderful Man’s place is not very accessible by car…

That's me, in the orange shirt and purple backpack, selecting potatoes.

Marathon went on a scouting trip for me but came up empty-handed. Months later, I went on a walk with another friend, and she wanted to stop by the mysterious verduria. Sure enough! It was there. Nestled in a sort of patio/sidewalk/courtyard area among three tall apartment towers. You would never know it was there unless you lived in those towers or had heard from neighbors. He had a large selection of produce, scales for weighing, bags to put your items in, helpers… It was wonderful!

He’s been in a the same location for about 15 years. His setup is comprised of a disguised pickup (I don’t know how many times I bought from him before I realized I was standing beside his truck as I selected my produce!) and some tables which are put up each day and broken down each afternoon. (He’s open for business from 9-1.) He knows many of his customers by name, and greets the ones he knows well with a Chilean air kiss. He has 3 or 4 other people who work with him – all of them relatives of his.

Some things are sold by the unit (lettuce, peppers, cucumbers….) Others items are sold by the kilo or 1/2 kilo to keep the math simple (fruits, beets, potatoes…) You grab a plastic bag, put one type of produce in it, weigh it, add more to the bag if needed. When you “check out”, you just tell them what you ordered. “I have two lettuce, 2 kilos of bananas, 1 kilo beets, etc.” They don’t re-weigh anything unless they think you’re way off. They have a good idea of how much your items weigh, and they seem to really trust their customers. [See how the truck above is disguised? A sheet hides the door and tire; the green umbrella obscures the windshield; and you can’t see it very well, but a box of produce is propped in the passenger side window. One day music was flowing out the window from the truck’s radio. That’s what gave it away for me. 🙂 ]

So, in between my La Vega trips, the Wonderful Man is my go-to place for fruits and vegetables. And if he doesn’t have what I want, I can put in a special order, and he’ll have it for me the next day. It’s wonderful. Hence, his new name. 🙂