Bed of Roses: The Jamaica Market

    A spectacular, old fashioned, covered market serves almost every Mexico City neighborhood. While, sadly, more and more Mexicans are convinced that it is cheaper, easier and ‘more modern’ to shop in American-style supermarkets, where lower quality food is shipped from shady sources beyond our borders, traditional mercados continue to thrive. A centrally located market was menaced a few years ago by the possible construction of a Walmart nearby: the vendors protested, the Walmart won. But the Martínez de la Torre, lives on, full of savvy shoppers who prefer quality food. And someone tried to torch the Walmart; I swear it wasn't me.
     The Mercado Jamaica (pronounced “hah-MY-kah”) is the archetypal covered Mexican market. Built in the late ‘50’s during a government effort to modernize local outdoor markets, it is divided into three parts.  In the first two you’ll find the usual fruits, vegetables, chilies and meats. The third nave houses the city’s main retail flower market.

This neighborhood emporium continues a tradition that goes back to Aztec times, when the area was crisscrossed with canals and boats  used to transport produce grown in Xochimilco.  Surprisingly, there were still a few canals in use as late as the 1940’s. Doña Beatriz, an ‘elote’ (fresh corn) vendor, whose mother worked here too, explained to me that the  area was once a wholesale center for corn products. This tradition survives in the form of several vendors offering fresh and roasted corn as well as sweet, rich pan de elote (corn bread) in an aisle filled with flowers. 
The main retail venue for flowers, open round the clock, 365 days a year, is a must-see—it’s bursting with all the colors that define Mexico. Arriving by metro, (the Jamaica station) enter the first building and keep walking back to the rear where you find the flowers. The hangar-like space, paved with soft petals and leaves, is home to mountains of roses, in all shades from white to deep crimson, that fill the air with their heady perfume. Stems of lilies as tall as a man, pallid or deep pink, lure passers-by. Calla lilies “suitable to any occasion” are always in bloom. Perky white daisies, imported purple irises and mums tempt shoppers. Weird, exotic jungle blooms, out of a King Kong picture, are abundant--and cheap. Vendors arrange wild, ornate baskets and wreathes of blossoms, for any affair from births to deaths and everything in between.

In the food section, good quality fruits and vegetables are carefully piled up in colorful pyramids.  The scent of tropical fruits like mameys and maracuyas waft through the air. The usual fresh meat, fish and poultry stands serve loyal customers.
The Jamaica is a good place to eat: several classic Mexican antojitos are found here. This market has become known for its huaraches – elongated, thick, bean-filled, corn dough patties so-named because they are shaped like a shoe. A meat-topped plate of two, accompanied by chorizo, grilled nopal cactus and onions, avocado and cheese costs just $65 pesos at Huaraches Adita. A smoky, corn-instilled delight, it’s also one of the most grease-laden repasts I’ve consumed--I suggest sharing.
Carnitas Paty, around the corner, offers huge, ultra juicy tacos of confit of pork, garnished with 
chopped onion, cilantro and brick-red salsa, for 
 $15 each. “Holy Mother of God” my friend M. exclaimed on a recent visit after taking a bite, the
 chili infused meat juice dripping down his chin. 
Jamaica is one of the few markets where you can still find tepache, an old-time Mexican drink. This mildly fermented, non-alcoholic fruit juice is usually made with pineapple rinds, but sometimes other fruits are added. It’s produced by macerating the fruit for several days in orange-painted wooden barrels. Reminiscent of New England apple cider, it’s icy and refreshing, redolent of pineapple, sweet but not cloying. A large glass from Tepachería ‘El Oasis’ costs only $5.
The Mercado Jamaica has something for everybody. Go yourself and bring your out of town visitors for a taste and a view of our great city’s living heritage.

Mercado Jamaica
Av. Congreso de la Union and Morelos, south of the centro
Metro: Jamaica

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