If you want a mini-adventure, this is the place for you! Since 1955 Miguel Hidalgo has been the center for fresh produce arriving in Zona Rio/Zona Centro. Taking up a whole city block, the mercado is two floors of commerce surrounding a parking lot where shopper’s cars mix with refrigerated box vans and open produce trucks.
There are mercados municipales from here to Tierra del Fuego, and this is no different – you’ll find all kinds of fruits, vegetables and meats, along with a vast assortment of spices, seasonings, kitchen implements, and serving items. As the mercado serves the local population, prices are lower than anywhere else in town.
Looking for a tortilla press? Got ’em, in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Hand-wrought copper cauldrons and tubs? Got ’em, in all their sun-blazed glory, stacked outside one of the tiendas. Glassware? Got it, from restaurant-sturdy to hand-blown artistic. Flatware, enamelware, crockery – they have it all. They even supply taco joints and cafés with plaper plates and boats, napkins, and even the little wax squares for wrapping tacos! And one place is full of beautiful ceramicware that is painted by hand and looks like family heirlooms.
In front of a great little seafood joint next door to some of the best chicken tacos around you’ll find fresh agua de coco still in the coconut shell. Surrounded by piles of coconuts in the outer pulp on one side and the empty shells and husks on the other, the cocodero uses his special machete to hack the coconut open, pour the water into a bag and whip the bag closed around a straw, then scoop out the snowy white coconut and bag that too – mixed with lime, salt and chile sauce. The couple of dollars spent is worth the show alone.
We get our dried chiles from huge table-top bins that hold every kind of chile you can imagine. Scoop it up and bag it for pennies (well, for quarters). Shelves are lined with real vanilla extract in a half-dozen differently-shaped bottles. One shop only sells panoches – candies and candied fruit (including pumpkin and yams, and a special treat that is a coconut confection in a candied lime rind – yum!). I usually buy several bags of sweets, since the stuff keeps for a long time without refrigeration.
And if all that food around you makes you hungry, you’ll find some great eating places just a few steps away. Inexpensive, they serve all the normal meals, along with seafood, chivo (goat) and pastor (pork off a rotisserie spit). There’s a big bargain liquor store too, where you can find dozens of different tequilas.
When it’s time to find the restroom, look to the center of the parking lot, where you’ll see a small building. For this public restroom, you buy a token (good for either the ladies’ or the men’s room), along with toilet paper. Don’t forget this important point!
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