“It’s as good as the Marché Aligre!”, exclaimed my Parisian friend Carolyn, closing her eyes enraptured. As we passed the fruit section the subtle aroma of fresh mango wafted through the clear spring air. Food maven of the New York Times, Mark Bittman, agreed, quoting this story in his blog.
The Condesa tianguis or “Mercado sobre Ruedas” appears every Tuesday morning in the streets surrounding the famous Edificio Condesa (aka “Peyton Place” due to the notorious scandals of its artsy residents). There are other attractive daily markets throughout the city, but none beat this one for its picturesque quality. The fruits and vegetables, many of them exotically tropical, are gleaming and radiant, piled high in neat displays or creatively sliced and splayed open like origami. Chilies, yellow, red and all shades of green are lovingly stacked like candies in a Belgian sweets shop.
Myriad scents perfume the air, 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. Another hunky purveyor of melons, his biceps as large as his products, implores me to buy: “Dulce y sabroso…” he proposes.
I took my sister-in- law Kathryn to our Tuesday market, just before her return to Florida. As we examined the fish and seafood she commented, “I live a block from the ocean and I can’t find fish that fresh at home—most of it’s frozen. And shrimps with the heads still on—impossible.” As she passed that fruit aisle, eyes half closed, taking in the sweet perfume, a defeated look came over her face. “It’s just not fair” is all she could utter.
I do my food shopping here every Tuesday. One stand on the east side of Pachuca offers a dozen varieties of lettuce, arugula and endive, all organically grown nearby in the state of Puebla. Refuting a common perception that this market is too expensive, these greens range from $10-15 pesos a bunch, cheaper than anything at the supermarket. While some items do indeed cost more than they might at a ‘popular’ market such as La Merced, the quality is generally superior –only the very best is sold here.
Several stands also proffer what here are considered ‘exotic’ vegetables. Salsify, kale, okra, Brussels sprouts and turnips can be found. Crisp green artichokes are in season now, in all sizes, tied in bunches that would make an Italian housewife squeal with delight. Tiny thin asparagus make French shoppers stop in their tracks.
You can also find what might be described as fancy convenience food. Fresh soup mixes, ready for your sopa de flor de calabaza or sopa de hongos are sold by the kilo—just sauté, add water or broth and cook. I often buy the diced peas, carrots and potatoes – perfect for anything from grandma’s chicken soup to Indian curry.
Meat, chicken and fish here is fresh and clean. Be sure to take advantage of the skills of these vendors. You can have a chicken breast sliced up for a Chinese stir-fry, fish filleted and cut up to order, or get kebabs skewered, ready for grilling. And of course more esoteric offerings, like oxtail, liver, heart and kidneys are available.
One of my favorite stalls is that of Doña Victoria down at the Juan de la Barrera end of Calle Pachuca. Her hair in traditional braids, dressed in layered aprons, she sell product from the country like quelites beans, tortillas and even chickens (sometimes tough old birds, but good for coq au vin). Her large beans called ayocotes are divine - they taste like chestnuts.
Other culinary gems to look for are a roving vendor of fresh lentils, another itinerant lady who sells crepes, ready to be filled, out of a basket. Bright green chorizo from Toluca is found down at the Juan de Barrera end, as is the best chicharrón I've ever tasted.
And you can even have your zipper fixed at 'Hospital de Ropa' see this post.
I try to plan my market visit on an empty stomach as the prepare food available is extraordinary. An obligatory stop is the tamal lady at the corner of Veracruz and Pachuca. If she’s not there (she often runs out by 11 and goes home) I head to the “food court” on Agustin Melgar that offers a veritable encyclopedia of Mexican antojitos. Stop by 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 you’ll find sopes, earthy blue tlacoyos, and golden quesadillas (a good lunch option for vegetarians). Carnivores shouldn't pass up a taco of mixiotes, a shredded mutton dish, spicy and fragrant with cumin, which will remind you of an Indian curry. When in a dietary mood I head for the seafood stand and order a ceviche cocktail, avoiding the mouthwatering fried fish filets, albeit with great difficulty. A hearty splurge is their sopa de mariscos (shells are removed—a nice touch). At the end of the line are more flautas, salty grilled cecina and a huge table of 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.
The market gets going after 9 am and winds down by 4 pm. Best time to go is before the comida rush which starts around 2 pm.
Nothing makes me want to kiss the Mexican ground I walk on more than this beautiful street market. Support this and/or your local traditional market. And bring your own bag!
The Tuesday Market
Calle Pachuca, from Juan de la Barrera to Veracruz, extending to Agustin Melgar, Condesa