By Carole Reedy
A recurring request from all visitors to Mexico is “Can we to go to a market?” One might think this question would evoke a simple answer, but as long-time residents know, in Mexico things are continually changing while at the same time remaining the same. Why should markets be any different?
Where markets are concerned in this city of 20 million+, you’re spoiled for choice. There are hundreds of markets of different varieties throughout the city. Here’s my way of honing the choices …
Original, traditional granddaddy markets
Hernan Cortes and the conquistadores would have been the first foreigners to savor the wondrous items of the Mexican market. Long before their visit, though, the local tribes had established a place for inhabitants to find whatever they needed for daily living: food, tools, clothing, medicines, and trinkets.
Every city in Mexico has the traditional market, but today the buildings for these markets are provided by the government. The markets are open every day, all day, and you certainly can roam for hours among the vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, flowers, meat, fish, cheese, healing remedies, tools, clothing, and the list goes on. The best prices will be found here.
The biggest markets in the country are in Mexico City, the most famous being La Merced, an area of commercial activity since the beginning of colonization. The permanent building was constructed in 1860. Fair warning: this market goes on for literally blocks and blocks and you will find yourself lost in a maze if you don’t go prepared. These days the metro conveniently stops in the middle of the market. The area surrounding it is famous for prostitution, however, and it’s best to hang on to your purse or, even better, don’t carry one.
This market is organized by category and subject, so ponder first what you’re seeking. One visitor wanted to look for pots and pans for her new home. We went to the region of the market where all vendors are hawking goods for the cocina (kitchen) and it took us all day just to cover that single area!
The other large market is the Central de Abasto, located in the neighborhood of Iztapalapa, and it supplies restaurants and other companies in the food industry. More money flows through this market than through any other commercial center in Mexico except the stock market. The best prices are found here, which can be attractive if you, like my friend, buys baking goods in bulk for her Christmas cakes and pudding.
Smaller traditional markets
I very seldom take visitors to La Merced or Central de Abasto, as they’re just too daunting, making for an exhausting excursion. You can get a better feel for the marketplace by visiting the Mercado de Medellin, located in Roma Norte, on Campeche and Medellin streets. Here you’ll find anything you desire. A bonus is the goods and produce you can find here from other Latin American countries, such as Colombia and Honduras.
In addition, there’s a delightful eating area that serves all the traditional Mexican foods: tacos, fish, quesadillas, chile relleno, carne asado, etc. My favorite puesto (stall) is Las Tablas Roma, from where you can view the hanging piñatas, a display of flowers and house plants, and all other market activities taking place. The back of the market is dedicated to toys and household goods.
Another popular and accessible market is the Mercado Coyoacan, located in the centro of the beautiful colonia of Coyoacan and just minutes from the Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky museums.
Mercado Jamaica is the place to enjoy the fragrances of colorful Mexican blooms of the season. Flowers abound here!
Mercado Sonora – Arrive prepared for anything! The market is famous for its tonics, powders, incense, charms, crystals, and other magic cures for your ailments. Traditions from Santa Muerte to Voodoo dominate the atmosphere.
La Lagunilla – Interested in other people’s excess? The market specializes in antiques, furniture, clothes, jewelry, and other miscellanea. Of course you can bargain, but these vendors know the value of their products, so don’t think you can outsmart them!
Mercado San Juan – This is a great place to purchase fresh fish and wild meats (wild boar, iguana, scorpion, alligator) as well as imported European meats and cheeses.
Arts and crafts
I steer toward two very different markets when visitors wish to gather remembrances of Mexico. La Cuidadela is a 100% authentic Mexican souvenir market with all the traditional souvenirs, guitars, cooking items, shawls, blankets, and other trinkets. Charmingly, you’ll see older adults dancing outside the market on weekends. Music pervades every aspect of Mexican life.
On the other hand, the Bazaar Sabado, located in San Angel, is an upscale artist market in which artisans sell their creations, from jewelry to ceramics, huipiles (square-cut traditional blouses), lighting sculptures, and clothing. The works are of the highest quality in the city, and a Saturday in the market is not to be missed. The bazaar has graced the area for almost 60 years and is as popular today as it was in the beginning. Outside the actual Bazaar Sabado building, painters sell their easel art in the two parks surrounding the bazaar. Strolling musicians, restaurants, bars, and small stores also abound around the parks.
New food markets
In the past few years a new kind of market has appeared in the upscale neighborhoods of Roma, Condesa, and Coyoacan. These are food markets, yes, though the products are not your everyday basics but rather specialty olive oils, honey, and coffee. There’s also a distinct focus on the variety of eating areas providing fresh, creative small meals.
Mercado Roma on Queretaro street, just off Insurgentes, is one such market. It also boasts a German beer garden up top that serves a variety of pricey imported beers.
An unusual concept for a market is the Comedor de los Milagros, right across the street from the Mercado de Medellin, where you’ll encounter a series of booths selling foods from different South American countries. After making your meal purchase you can sit at the tables and chairs clustered in the middle of the market. There are tidbits from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela. Why not try a pizza from one country and an ice cream or donut from another? You can’t miss this market with its large, flower-filled truck and a bakery at the entrance.
My favorite markets are the tianguis, the outdoor temporary markets that show up the same day each week in every neighborhood in Mexico. Here you’ll find similar items to those in the permanent markets: fresh fruits and vegetables from the campo, clothes, tools, plants, and flowers as well as a small eating area where you sit side-by-side with your fellow shoppers and across from the grills where your carne asado is being seared. Many of the tianguis serve the famous and tasty barbacoa.
In the same way I enjoy flaneuring through museums, I get a thrill window shopping with the locals at the tianguis.