Coming up: my online travel writing class for Catapult in mid-April.

Guest post: Mexico City

This week, we travel to Mexico City for an exciting ramble through the city’s colorful markets. Our guide on the journey is Lesley Téllez of The Mija Chronicles, a freelance writer who recently relocated from Texas to Mexico City and blogs about the adventures – from food to dance – in her adopted country.

EXPLORING MEXICO CITY’S MARKETS

I’ve lived in Mexico City for nine months now, and grocery shopping has become one of my favorite pastimes. Not in the supermarket – where the lettuce is often wilted and the garlic sold in little plastic mesh bags – but in the real markets. Every neighborhood has at least one. Often without any sign, they tend to have the same drab, painted-brick exterior. But inside, these buildings bloom with produce, flowers, comida corrida stands, butcher stalls, cheese vendors, dry-goods sellers and the occasional fishmonger.

At any market, there’s a lot to see. And smell. And hear. The first time I went to one, I stared open-mouthed at the piles of fresh green-leaf lettuce and spring onions, while a woman in a checkered smock asked me, “Qué le damos señorita?” (What can we give you, miss?) I kept walking, ignoring the vendors’ calls of “Qué le damos guerita? Qué le damos linda?” (What can we give you, light-skinned one? What can we give you, beautiful?) Everyone offered a little taste of their wares, a chunk of papaya, or watermelon, or avocado plucked onto the end of a knife. But to stop and taste meant you’d be open to negotiation.

These days I use the markets both to shop – in and out in 20 minutes, when I’m in a hurry – and to wander, for an hour, if I’ve got the time. Here are three of my favorite Mexico City markets, in case you ever find yourself in town.

Mercado San Juan
Mercado San Juan specializes in gourmet goods. It has a great selection of exotic dried mushrooms, and imported Spanish and Italian cheeses and meats. I once bought an amazing Parmesan Reggiano (grated while I stood there), for a fraction of what it would have cost at a gourmet Mexican supermarket. Mercado San Juan also sells fresh beef, seafood and lamb. Some vendors may even deliver it to your house. The market’s specialty, however, is Asian products; fresh tofu sits in a plastic bucket on the west side of the warehouse, along with stacks of daikon, bitter melon, bok choy, and more. If you go, it’s also worth stopping at the El Progreso spice shop just a few blocks away, on Calle Aranda. They offer mole pastes, corn and garbanzo bean flours, and pretty much any spice you might need, including whole star anise, cinnamon sticks, and dry mustard.

Mercado San Juan
Located on Calle Ernesto Pugibet, at the corner of Luis Moya, across from the Telmex building in the Col. Centro
Metro Stop Salto de Agua (Line 1)

La Central de Abastos
The Central de Abastos – a giant maze of concrete tunnels and warehouses, south of the city center – is the meeting point for every piece of wholesale produce in the Mexico City. It’s open to the public, so if you don’t mind trekking about an hour south, you can watch as vendors unload, load, and sell some 30,000 tons of produce. Entire tunnels are devoted to onions, garlic, apples. Wholesale cereal is sold from plastic buckets. Burlap sacks bulge with dozens of pounds of dried chilies and spices. There’s also a section that operates as a regular neighborhood market, selling fruit, vegetables, yogurt and cheese by the kilo or less. They don’t sell anything exotic here, by Mexican standards, but it’s worth the trip for the spectacle alone. If you’re hungry, dozens of food stalls offer tacos, flautas and roasted chicken.

La Central de Abastos
To get there: Take Metro Line 8 to Aculco, and then grab a pesero right outside the Metro station that says “Central de Abastos.” The stop is at the end of the line, past the long row of seafood empanada stands.

Mercado Lázaro Cárdenas
A Mexican friend turned me on to this market several months ago, saying she loved the carnitas at one of the restaurant stands. We visited together early one Sunday morning – Mexicans like to eat carnitas for breakfast – and sure enough, they were tender and juicy, covered in a tangy green salsa. The carnitas spot, known simply as Ricas Carnitas y Desayunos, is reason enough to visit this market. But there’s another reason too: a café called Passmar. The owner roasts his own coffee beans, and has taken first place in the Mexican Barista Competition twice in the past three years. Order a latte, and they’ll make a cute design in your milk. Plus you can shop for produce afterward.

Mercado Lázaro Cárdenas
At Avenida Coyoacán and Aldolfo Prieto, in the Col. Del Valle

Blog Comments

Yum…this made me long to be back in DF. Thanks!

Someday soon, I hope to make it to Mexico City. I need to get out of Shanghai first though.

i love your blog. I'm glad you wrote this guest post… I'm moving to d.f. in december and i'm using your blog as a guide. Maybe i'll be lucky to meet you.

Last weekend I met the mercado that is located behind the California Dancing Club, (historical place to dance danzón and other tropical rhythms) at the colonia Portales DF, and I found a very enjoyable experience. I went on Sunday afternoon, and a huge crowd was still doing shopping: That's an uncommon, schedule for mercados. I found it nice, clean, and plenty of tasty food to try out, maybe I'll go back next weekend to get deep in details. Regards

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