Travel

Five of the best markets in Mexico City

Ever-expanding Mexico City knows no limits to its size, colours or flavours. Explore the metropolis through its markets - here are five of the best to get you startedTuesday, June 25, 2019

By Francesca Mills
Skeleton dolls

On the site of former Lake Texcoco, where the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan once stood on a swampy island, the change brought about by 500 years of Spanish influence is evident wherever you look: cathedrals sprung up in the place of demolished temples, the lake was drained in an effort to prevent flooding and a modern metropolis was built on the ruins of the Aztec empire. Today, Mexico City’s unique blend of indigenous and Spanish heritage lives on in its food, folk art and superstitions.

To really get to know the Mexican capital, head to one of its many markets. Try sweet, pink mamey fruit or tuck into steamed corn cooked in banana leaves and stuffed with chicken and salsa; admire collections of painted skulls, an art derived from the Aztec tradition of decorating the dead; and weave through stalls adorned with piñatas shaped as animals, superheroes or politicians (the piñata was first introduced to Mexico by Spanish missionaries in the 16th century; today, it remains a part of the national culture, but has mostly shed its religious associations).

Thousands flock to these mercados (permanent markets set in government-operated buildings) and tianguis (open-air markets that are only open on certain days of the week) daily, and it’s here that you’ll truly get a feel for Mexico’s history and identity. 

La Merced

Roam warehouses overflowing with fresh delicacies at this food market, one of the oldest and largest in the city. This is the place to go to sample anything from fried grasshoppers to mole, a traditional, rich sauce made from some 30-plus ingredients including chilli and chocolate. Its origins are disputed, although one story goes that it was created by two nuns in Puebla frantically trying to come up with a dish to serve the visiting archbishop.

Mercado de Artesanías la Ciudadela

Head here for a showcase of folk art and local handicrafts, including clay pottery, feather work and jewellery carved from precious metals and gemstones — the market was established in the 1960s to promote the country’s cultural heritage. Perhaps the most notable art to be found here is that of the Huichol people, who often make use of beads, shells and seeds in their colourful works. The tiny dioramas of immaculately dressed skeletal mariachi bands aren’t to be missed, either.  

A woman sits at Mercado de Artesanias la Ciudadela

La Lagunilla

This antiques market is famous for its extensive, and often bizarre, collection of trinkets. There are enough vintage clothes, rotary dial telephones and old tumbler glasses to delight a set designer for a 1920s film set. The question on everyone’s lips: ‘Where does all this stuff come from?’. Uncategorical oddities lay in every direction — but with delicious street food options, plus chilled beer and tomato juice combos being sold out of shopping trollies, there’s no need to rush. Visit on a Sunday for the open-air section, which offers by far the best collection of treasures.

Mercado de Sonora

This is the notorious witches’ market, where Catholic ideology blends with superstition to sell love, money and remedies. Here, you’ll find medicinal herbs and do-it-yourself spells (although it can prove challenging to distinguish the genuine from the fanciful). The back half of the building is reserved for the sale of animals for domestic, agricultural and even sacrificial use. Beware — this market isn’t for the fainthearted.

Mercado de Coyoacán

The former Spanish colonial village of Coyoacán, in the south of the city, is an oasis of cobbled streets, vibrant pink and blue houses and fluttering hummingbirds. This is the place where Frida Kahlo had her family home, and where Trotsky sought political refuge. The borough’s charming market covers all aspects of Mexican culture, offering goods from handicrafts to festive gear as well as plenty of great eateries; snack on a fried cactus taco or corn topped with mayonnaise and chilli as you browse.

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