Jul 8, 2005, 9:58 AM
Post #5 of 41
I've spent more hours in Mexican markets than I really care to admit and must say you've taken on a daunting task with your web site. Good luck with it. Below are some thoughts on some of the markets I've visited.
The markets in Oaxaca are truly special. This past October I was in Oaxaca and had the opportunity to spend time at Abastos, 20 de Noviembre, Tlalcolula, Teotitlan del Valle and Ocotlan. I was at all of them in the week proceeding Dia de los Muertos, the energy level was amped up more than a little :-).
The market in Teotitlan del Valle is daily (M-F) and usually concludes by Noon. It's a very small, intimate market lacking a lot of the general chaos of some of the other, larger markets. It's a lot like T de V, neat and tidy. The purpose of this market does seem to be to service the local community more than anything else.
At Tlalcolula we were the only non-indgenous people and were regarded with some level of suspicion. I think you need to be a market enthusiast to enjoy this one, and would err on the side of caution when advising people to visit here. There were a number of interesting chiles, particularly some that are more usually seen in the Ismthus than other parts of Mexico, coffee beans in various stages of process (i.e. raw, roasted, ground). I would not trust the fondas; sanitation was pretty suspect. Most vendors were open to photographs and no one wanted more than $20 pesos.
Ocotlan was pretty cool, well, except for the vendor that wanted to charge one of my companions $20 USD for a photo ;-). This was the one where we encountered the most resistence to photographs even though one of our group was a local. Many vendors simply said "no", while another lot would only allow photos of their products, or their body below the neck. Lots and lots of flowers for Dia de los Muertos were coming into the market making for a stunningly beautiful sight. It's also worth stopping in to visit the vendors inside the permanent market building that's part of this market, with these particular vendors being open everyday. Inside are an assortment of bakery, tortilla, chocolate/coffee vendors, along with some pretty good looking fondas and lunch counters. This is a very fun market because it's small enough not to be overwhelming and large enough so that there is a very wide variety of products with many unique things.
As I'm sure you're well aware, the 2 primary market days for Abastos are Tuesday and Saturday. I would not recommend the average tourist hit this market on either of those 2 days. First it is total chaos, and second, from a safety standpoint I think novice market tourists would be better off on a lighter market day. Their chances of being the victim of a crime (can you say pickpocketing) is reduced. That being said, Abastos is one of the best places to pick up really good quality Chile Pasilla Oaqueno, the smoked chile Oaxaca is famous for. Price is usually around $20 USD for a kilo of chiles. Mayor Domo has a branch in Abastos where is is possible to watch them grinding and blending their chocolate mixes. It's also possible to purchase beautiful green glazed pottery that is lead free, though it probably helps to speak Spanish for this last purchase since most of the vendors don't.
I actually prefer 20 de Noviembre because it is smaller and more manageable. Besides, Chiguita's is located in 20 de Noviembre and I happen to like their nieves, kind of a refreshing treat after a hard day of tourist power shopping :-).
Last October I also had the chance to visit the Abastos in Guadalajara, Mercado Libertad in GDL and a street tianguis in Ajijic. (Thank you Esperanza for being a great tour guide). The Ajijic tianguis was a real treat with all manner of fresh produce, some pretty good looking raw chickens, some of the BEST yogurt I've ever had the pleasure of eating and the usual array of bootlegged CDs, cassettes and computer software, not to mention the ubiquitous underwear, cheap jewlery, and plaid nylong bags. This market covers a few blocks up and down a cobblestone street and runs some good energy, making it an engaging place to shop.
What can you say about the Abastos and Mercado Libertad in Guadalajara? If you're a market junkie, they should be on the must see list, definitely falls into the catagory of "local color". Abastos is also, clearly the commercial arm catering more to the food/restaurant trade. I saw, and tasted, some produce items I'd never seen before. I would have no difficulty eating from any of the fondas in this Abastos. Mercado Libertad is, of course, in every tourist guide. I liked it, but there is a little under-current of danger here. The pace is very fast and if you gawk around like a tourist I think you could set yourself up to be a crime victim. The point being you need to pay attention to what and who is around you and keep your senses about you. But that being said, you'll find the most amazing assortment, from shoes to saddles to every conceivable piece of electronics to clothing, to candy, not to mention some pretty yummylooking fondas and food booths.
This past January I was in Monterrey and had the opportunity to visit their Abastos market (every city of any size seems to have an Abastos). I wouldn't recommend this for tourists because, frankly, there just isn't that much too see. This is primarily a commerical concern for local reataurants, food service and the trade. It reminded me a lot of the produce markets in Los Angeles and San Fransico; large terminals where fresh products are arriving from all over to be resold.
Two weeks ago I was in Michoacan, once again doing the market thing. Daily street market in Patzcuaro is great, mostly food oriented. Had my first experience with nanches - rather bland and tastelss, and leaving a starchy film in the mouth. Tiny wild cherries and blackberries were in season. Bionicos at breakfast were a wonderful treat. We also stopped at a local street market (next to the Catholic church) in Quiroga on our way back to Guadalajara and had some terrific mole tacos for breakfast.
Good, bad or indifferent, Mexican markets serve a purpose. They keep the connection between the land and the people alive, which from the perspective of food traditions is a necessary thing. By and large, Mexicans (and the French and Italians) still understand the connection between where and how their food is grown, how it gets to market, where it comes from and how it affects their survival. Contraste that with the impact that Agri-business has made on most Americans and there are several generations who don't know where their food comes from, don't understand how it is produced and don't really care. Having spent 15 years basically feeding kids, I can't tell you how many times I heard kids tell me that tomatoes and cucumbers grow in the back room at the local Safeway. Or, for the adults, most can't tell you where a cut in that plastic sealed package of meat comes from, nor do they understand much about their meat supply since it no longer roams the front or back yards. But I digress.............Mexican markets are a cultural connection between many worlds and serve many purposes. The larger and more commerical the city, the larger and more commerical their Abastos operations (with the possible exception of Abastos in Oaxaca). These markets reflect their local communities, providing both a cultural and social connection. The fact that these markets can hold such an allure for foreigners and tourists speaks not only to their exoticness, but also to that lost connection many of us have with our food supply.
While in Monterrey I also had the chance to visit one of the local H*E*B stores. This is a chain out of Texas and is kind of like a much smaller version of a Sam's or Costco. It was still a better experience than going to my local Albertson's. There was some heart and soul compared to the rather sterile experience of shopping a U.S. supermarket. So far in every Mexican market I've visited, I've been a small fish in a small pond. When I go to Sam's, Wal-Mart or Costco I'm still a small fish, but in a very, very big pond, and that, frankly, can be overwhelming. I'd much rather be connected with my shopping environment. (And for the record, here, NOB, I don't shop the big stores, I still shop small groceries, bakeries, go to a meat market, go to a fish market and visit local farmers markets)
Didn't mean to ramble, but this is a subject near and dear to my heart.