Thursday, 3 March 2011

Gettin' By Comes Back... with Tamales!

Remember when I used to write semi-regular posts called 'Gettin' By', that looked at (informal) street sellers in Monrovia, and how they make money despite the purported 85% employment rate at the time? And then, how I said I was going to keep it up in Mexico, but then I only wrote three posts?

Well, I do. It is still a topic that greatly interests me, and that I actually spend a lot of time engaging with here. But I let the blog posts slip, mainly due to time. Mexico's street selling/informal economy - like I noted months ago - is really different than where i started in Liberia. To sum up: its massive, more organized, more diverse, more service based. But ultimately, just as essential.

Hanging out with a lot of vendors lately, I have a few lined up. So here's one to start, from a few months ago in Ocosingo, Chiapas.


Profession: Tamale Vendor

Location: There are many ways to spot a tamale for sale. Sometimes vendors set up with a large steel pot near a market, store, metro stop or other busy area, often in conjunction with luke warm café or atole. Carts retrofitted to stack these pots onto are equally, if not more, common. They are either pushed while walking or powered by a bicycle.

Anyone in Mexico City is well aware of the sales pitch. Every night, between 7:30 - 10, the carts pass by, blaring the classic recording: tamales, oaxaqueños, tamales calientitos!

(jaja... not joking, as soon as i wrote that, dude biked by on the street, blaring it out. Classico!)

Breakdown: First and foremost, tamales be the bomb. So a lot get sold. But the range is huge.

In the photo, Sylvia sells at the 'pirata' bus station in Ocosingo, Chiapas. She sells 3 small ones for 13 pesos, and tends to clear 60 - 70 in a 10 hour day. Net profit: 80-ish pesos a day (3 - 4 hours selling, 2 - 3 hours preparing + a few times a week buying supplies and travel).

The morning tamale vendor near my house packs about 100 big'uns. 10 pesos each, served in bread (una torta de tamal). They offer other products, but claim to claim to make 600 + pesos in a morning, after all expenses. This gets shared between the 3 people involved.

In my favourite small town on the Michoacan coast, the two tamale ladies plod their course each day, and make 50 ish pesos a day off visiting surfers. This jumps up on weekends and exponentially during Navidad o Semana Santa. Interestingly, their new sales pitch is that they sell them at 6 pesos each, or 3 for 20. I usually go for the three, just cuz.

Point of Reference: In Ocosingo and rural Michoacan, cost of living is quite low. Many earn the Mexican minimum wage, which is 50 pesos/day; $4. Five pesos can get enough corn flour for daily tortillas for a small family. But gas still costs 9 pesos a liter and drinking water about a peso a liter.

In Mexico City, 3 pesos gets you on the Metro. 30 pesos buys you the cheapest comida corrida lunch, and a plain t-shirt at a street market, 40 pesos.


Anonymous said...

What about the Ticla Tamale lady during this extended period of depressed tourist activity? I would be interested to know how else she supplements her income in that town.

Liz said...

Glad to see the series back online. Keep 'em coming....

you know who said...

you finally responded to my request to put gettin' by into action, huh?

Esteyonage said...

anonymous is smart! I think that she just rolls with it, to be honest. Daily wages are low on that coast, and she probably still does better than most - even with way less turismo.

Liz - As much as time permits, I will

ykw - I do? And, I did!