Photo: Ron Mader, Jacarandas (Some rights reserved)
Mexico’s markets are among the finest in the world. Traditional markets link the present with the past and hopefully the future.
A friend leads first-time visitors through Mexico City’s Anthropology Museum in Chapultepec Park. He purposefully stops at the maquetas (models) that depict markets held in the days before Columbus and Cortez. Take a look, he says. There is a great diversity of products bartered, traded and sold. Some vendors sell inside the market, others outside.
A day or two later he takes his visitors to a traditional city market. There’s practically no difference (outside of the vendors now have cellphones and purchases are carted away in plastic bags). Visitors see that markets are living museums and impart lessons that are educational and nutritional. They are also a good place to meet the locals and for locals to meet visitors.
The tianguis is a moveable feast traced back for centuries and are in a different class than the established markets — mercados — where vendors sell their wares each day.
Markets have been a chief ingredient in the social fabric of the country. The tradition goes back thousands of years to a time when cultivation of corn allowed people to live in settlements. For those who live in remote areas this is an opportunity to come to town to acquire provisions. Another prime motivator of the market is that it provides a place for people to socialize.
Markets provides a meeting point (punto de encuentro) in time and space for locals to gossip and for travelers to get a chance to take a peak at the ‘real’ Mexico.
Mexican markets are friendly venues for travelers as they welcome visitors. Enjoy your visit!
A good example of a market with an indigenous past is Tlacolula de Matamoros.
For visitors heading out to the markets, we have a recommendations to make the most of your market visit.
Before you arrive – Learn how to say ‘thank you’ in the local language (or languages).
Buy something – See something you like? Make a purchase!
Bring small bills – Don’t expect to get change for a small purchase if you are paying with a 200 or 500 peso note.
Bring change – Exact change is always appreciated.
Be time specific – If you are seeking produce for today or tomorrow, be specific. vendors are pleased (and at times insistent) in choosing the right produce.
Don’t block the corridors – Remember that the market is a work environment. If you’re in a group or traveling by yourself, keep the corridors clear for other clients.
Always ask before taking pictures – It is common courtesy, particularly for portraits, but also of goods in general. Better than taking a photo is printing out a photo from Flickr, find the vendor and give them the copy. Be Generous!
Pay attention – Tourists in markets are easy targets for thieves. Lessen the chances of robbery by paying attention.
After your visit – Evaluate your experiences and share photos on Social Web websites including Facebook and TripAdvisor.
What to buy
In a traditional market, visitors can buy food and crafts. Meals are often available as are fresh juices.
Kitsch and loveable in the United States and Europe are the durable market bags, made of synthetics and often embossed with a design or the merchant’s name. What better thing to buy in a market than a market bag? It’s like buying postcards at the post office!
Yet the markets are evolving as agriculture and distribution are changing.
Traditional markets are competing with global enterprises. They are also points of sale for nationally and internationally produced merchandise.
Traditionally, market purchases were placed into a basket (canasta). Market baskets were made very broad so that purchases would not be packed on top of each other. Baskets have been replaced by market bags, some of which are quite attractive.
Traditionally, purchases would be wrapped in natural materials such as corn husks (totomoxtle). For example, higuerilla leaves would be used to wrap grasshoppers.
The merolico is a street vendor whose loud and often humorous oratory is used to garner sales.
During holidays, temporary or popup markets spring up throughout Mexico. Visitors may think these markets are open all year long. It comes as a surprise to many that during low season the streets are empty of the temporary markets. Here’s an example — the 2006 Easter Market in Oaxaca City.