What the Market will Bear: The Mercado San Juan

Pescadería Alicia

The Mercado San Juan, our 'gourmand's paradise' is my favorite market in the world. I go at least once a week, always with a chef’s open mind, never knowing what to expect. Maybe it will be a fresh plump duck from Michoacán, head and all. Or a nice rack of lamb from Hidalgo. Perhaps Pescadería Alicia will have gotten in some glistening scallops on the half shell or shiny metallic looking fresh sardines. I’ve walked in thinking 'dinner in Provence' and left with fresh pea shoots, long beans and tofu from the Asian stands in back – “Ladies and Gentlemen; there will be a change of program tonight: Szechuan.” The vendors are my friends. I stop to chat with the López family and sample their latest artisanal cheeses accompanied by a plastic cup of nice Rioja. I may have a couple of oysters opened to devour on the spot. Or, if it’s lunch hour, I’ll sit down at Doña Juana’s, one of the best fondas in the city and slurp pozole.
The San Juan market (whose proper name is Mercado San Juan Ernesto Pugibet) embodies the history of Mexico itself. It is located near the site of a pre-Hispanic trading area called Moyotlán.

 (See The Washington Post for the article in which I do just that).

The Mercado San Juan as it looked during the colonial era

With the arrival of the conquistadores the humble barrio was renamed San Juan. The market continued to serve the settlers – imported products such as wine and olive oil were sold there, as were slaves. This tradition – minus the human
trafficking - continues today as just about everything edible is offered and many clients are foreign-born or descendents thereof. The overriding theme is Spanish – embutidos (cold meats), cheeses and seafood tend towards the Iberian, though stands cater to the city’s growing population of Asians. And all kinds of Mexican grown exotic meats, fruits and vegetables can be found.

Gastronomica San Juan, stall no.162, and its neighbor La Jersey offer imported Italian cheeses such as parmesan, pecorino, fontina, French - raw milk brie, Epoisse and the best of Spain: cabrales, good aged manchegos and Extremadura’s elusive torta de cazar. But don’t miss the increasingly high quality and reasonably priced artisanally made goat, cow and sheep cheeses, many from the state of Queretaro. These stands, as well as La Catalana, which reproduces the aged and smoked sausages of Catalonia, offer tempting cold cuts as well.

Pescadería Alicia and her neighbors sell piles of mussels, clams and calamares (they will clean them on request). They are often available fresh, as are unusual varieties of fish, fresh tuna and amazingly big shrimp either in or out of the shell. Hispanofiles’ eyes will pop when they see the hideous but delicious percebes at a fraction of the price of the old country. And if you’re lucky you’ll encounter a whole fresh monkfish.
In the meat section (if you can stomach the piles of sacrificed kid goat and bunny corpses) my foodie friend Stan swears by stands 44-46 who sell veal scaloppini and ossobuco ready to cook. Nearby stands stock lamb, both New Zealand and national (which is good for Indian or Moroccan stews), but it is often frozen on weekdays. You could pick up an armadillo as well if your soiree has a pre-Hispanic theme. More tempting are fresh farm turkeys (they’ll remove the head and feet for you) packaged ducks, and, occasionally, free range local ducks which will produce a knockout Peking roast or á l’orange.
The well stocked Oriental vegetable stands, the only ones in the whole country, cater to flocks of bewildered looking Asian immigrants as well as people like me who want to buy bitter melon, long beans, okra, baby bok choy or pea shoots.
A wild boar - tamed, now.
The ‘gourmet’ produce stalls, meanwhile, offer such hard to get greens as crinkly kale and Savoy cabbage, tiny haricot vertes and yellow wax beans, celeriac (outlandishly expensive, so only if you MUST have celerie remolade and can’t wait to go to France), tiny peas, shelled favas and sweet potatoes.
One lady has fresh herbs such as dill, tarragon and real Italian basil (not the Mexican variety, which won’t do for Italian cooking, although it works well as a substitute for Thai basil).
And, of course, there’s Doña Guadalupe's mushrooms, to the left as you enter, who sells an amazing variety of fresh wild mushrooms in season, including cultivated local porcini. I always see French people at this stand madly stashing chanterelles, girolles and morels, happy to be paying 100 pesos instead of 100 euros. Dried versions are available all year around and make good gifts.
And, in addition to all of these quotidian offerings, as the holiday season is upon us, a mind-blowing selection of meats, fowls and seafood will be on display until the beginning of January. Racks of lamb and veal, whole venison and jabalí (wild boars), pheasants, geese, sparkling clams and evocative oysters. Go now or forever hold your pesos.

A French lady picks her own 'crevettes'; try that in Paris and you'll get your hand slapped!

quesos & embutidos La Jersey

La Catalana makes hams, fuet and other Iberian delights - and will let you taste

A nice rack of lamb

Asian fusion

Doña Guadalupe, the famous mushroom lady with a new load of morels

Doña Juana, the San Juan's best cook. Her stand across from La Catalana 
offers great pozole on Saturdays, perfect milanesas every day.

Mini vegetables

Mercado San Juan
Calle Ernesto Pugibet, centro
Metro Salto de Agua – walk up c/Lopez and turn left at Delicias (or down Lopez if you are coming from the Alameda – you will see the enormous Telmex tower which is across the street
open daily until around 4 – there is free parking for customers next door.


  1. I love Mercado San Juan. When I lived in DF, I was doing research in archives in the centro, and San Juan was on my walk back home to my apartment. I stopped in a couple of times a week or more. Ricardo used to have a nice spot on the sidewalk in front, selling Oaxacan specialties. Sadly,last I was there, he was reduced to a small spot at the entryway. He can still hook you up, however.

    One of the neat documents I came across in my research was an agreement between two Japanese merchants settled in San Juan in the early 17th century, and from what others have told me, there was a not insignificant Asian community there at that time.

  2. There was a large Chinese population here in the 19th century, workers brought to build the railroads. Most of them were kicked out after the revolution. Suspected communists.

    As for the sellers outside the building, the delegation, in its fervour to clear the streets of vendors, swept these people from the sidewalk, hence Ricardo's smaller stand is in the doorway, and the poor old Aergentine 'Che Burnett' has to sell his marvellous empanadas out of the Chinese shop down the block. Talk about 'baby with the bathwater'. How stupid can politicans be ? Never mind....

  3. This market sounds incredible! Lucky you! What I would give for some napa cabbage. We have not spent any time in D.F. in years, so I'm not familiar with it. But we know the Mercado Libertad in Guadalajara very well. It has wonderful, regional food of the state of Jalisco. We have many great market memories from travels in years past, a notable one being the Oaxaca market when it was still held outdoors.

    Thanks for this visit to Mercado San Juan.

    Feliz navidad!



  5. Love that Mercdo and the surrounding barrio.

    There's a cocina económica down Calle Ernesto Pugibet almost to Luis Moya that does good barbacoa on weekends.

    Don Cuevas

  6. I'm just starting a new business here in Uruapan .All Italian rest. cafe, retail, takeaway. The dream is to have all italian products the reality is that here is very difficult to get any italian products. Walmart has mozzarella from Uruguay. Sam's the best is Parmigian padano. Hope with my next trip to DF to find something at S.Juan market. Like Prosciutto san daniele, Italian cheeses etc. If anyone has suggestions I'm all ears with a great thanks.

    1. weisswolfen, did you get the new business started? If so, where is it located? Inquiring foodies in the Pátzcuaro area want to know.

      Don Cuevas

  7. See my post on Italian food in the city especially Partimar. http://goodfoodmexicocity.blogspot.mx/2009/03/mangia-italian-food-in-mexico-city.html