Bit By Bittman: The Condesa Market

I was recently invited to a dinner where I met renowned NYTimes food writer and chef Mark Bittman. As the Bittman’s were visiting Mexico City for only a few days, I suggested taking them to the San Juan market in the centro, my favorite. Mark, a world weary traveler, had already been there once or twice, and didn’t want to go again, but when I described our local Condesa tianguis, his ears pricked up. “It’s as good as the Marché Aligre, according to my Parisian friend Caroline", I championed. Well, he took me up on the suggestion and a couple of days later a report on our Tuesday eyefeast appeared as his column in the New York Times: see link.
The Condesa “Mercado sobre Ruedas” ( market on wheels) appears every Tuesday morning in the streets surrounding the infamous Edificio Condesa, AKA “Peyton Place” so-named because of the notorious scandals of its artsy residents. There are other attractive daily markets throughout the city, but none beat this one for pure picturesque-ness. The fruits and vegetables, many of them exotically tropical, are gleaming and radiant, piled high in neat , bijou–like displays. Sweet and perfumy aromas waft about, inviting you to buy with your nose as well as your eyes. “Try some papaya!” encourages a vendor as you pass, “PAPAYA!!!” he pleads, in disbelief that anyone could possibly pass up such a treat. I took my sister-in- law Kathryn here, just before her return to Florida. As she passed the fruit aisle, eyes half closed, taking in the bouquet of sweet perfume, a defeated look came over her face. “It’s just not fair” is all she could utter.

I do my shopping here every Tuesday, and I always eat at the multiple mouth-watering street stalls that set up. The “food court” on Agustin Melgar offers a veritable encyclopedia of Mexican antojitos. Stop for some of the best carnitas in the city, or sit with regulars at the long table where tacos or flautas of succulent, slowly baked lamb barbacoa are served with a bowl of heartwarming broth. Across the aisle, beany sopes, earthy blue tlacoyos, and golden quesadillas offer good vegetarian lunch options. Carnivores should not pass up a taco of mixiotes, shredded mutton steamed in a maguey cactus leaf, spicy and fragrant with cumin; it will remind you of an Indian curry. When in a dietetic mood I head for the seafood stand and order a ceviche cocktail, avoiding the tempting but off the calorie chart fried fish filets, albeit with great difficulty. At the end of the line are more flautas, salty grilled cecina and a huge table of taco “guisados” of all sorts – I especially like the mole verde. All this can be washed down with a fresh juice prepared by two sisters at a little table nearby.
Thanks, Mark, for helping to put our Tuesday market on the map. From Bayless to Bourdain to Bittman , the word is out: Mexican Street Food is in!

A note to my readers: I have inaugurated a new blog as a forum for my non-Mexican writings.

***Read Nicholas Gilman interviewed (in Spanish) in Mexico's prestigious La Jornada - see link