Adventures in the Mercado

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By Fulana

Are any of you foodies ready for some adventure? After all you live in Mexico or you are visiting and surely want to discover the culinary marvels this country has to offer. That’s what travel is all about!

Have you ever been to the “Mercados Publicos”? That would be the Mercado Madero, the Mercado Bravo and the Mercado Olachea. That’s where the Pazeños have been going way before any big supermarkets were ever built. That’s where you will see cow and pig heads, sausages hanging from the ceiling, fresh cheese from the rancho, eggs from “married” chickens, the fish mongers with their enormous white boots cutting up the catch of the day they just got from the local fishermen. No middlemen here. Talk about a low carbon footprint!

One day we saw a huge pig walking in looking as if it is standing up on it’s own. We realized that it was the butcher carrying a whole carcass on his back with it’s head up. We all know somebody who could not deal with this kind of thing…I realized how close people are to their food source here in Baja and that’s a good thing.

The mercado is not for the queasy. It is for the truly adventurous foodie. Each market has a food stalls area where the women cook. There are picnic tables where to sit and enjoy your meal. You will find cheap prices and homemade, fresh, simple food. That’s where the workers go to eat. They don’t eat fast food like “en el otro lado” (the other side; the US and Canada). They don’t have a lot of money to spend and they did not grow up on microwavable “mass produced food like products. They want real food. All you get here is prepared from scratch. Nothing comes reheated or fried from a frozen package. Such a heresy would probably cause a riot!

Fluorescent lights, oil cloth on the picnic tables, hand written menus on cardboard. It is loud, it is hot in summer, TV’s broadcasting “Telenovelas”, there could be a fly or two…You will be issued the dreaded thin napkins wrapped around prison issue silverware with ugly plastic plates. Deal with it! It is worth it! You will like the food. You will feel like Anthony Bourdain himself.

It is a diurnal adventure for the markets are closed at night. Breakfast and lunch only. No alcohol.

They are very competitive. Upon entering you will be called to sit here and there, don’t look hesitant. Don’t make eye-contact. That is perceived as weakness. You say “Gracias, un momento” while you scan to elect a final landing spot. Read the menus and choose where YOU want to go. Take your time, no one bites. The menus are all very similar, I chose by cleanliness. Sparkling tile even if it is old and not so pretty. No trash, organized kitchen, staff wearing aprons, clean kitchen towels, clean fridge doors…a little whiff of chlorine is welcomed. The treasures you will find are worth it. Do not make a faux-pas like asking for altered products like low-fat, gluten-free, sugar-free, lactose-free, whole grain anything, organic blue silk paper wrapped stevia…They will look at you like you just came off the mother ship.

At the first stall on the right from the main entrance on Revolucion called Choyerito, we had a chicken Milanesa and a Pescado empanizado. The fish was brought in on the spot from the fish monger and cooked immediately without delay. Beautiful white Cabrilla filets. I could not believe it! It was a huge portion of 3 good size filets and absolutely exquisite. $60 pesos including a drink. The chicken was so tasty and tender in a thin, crispy coating. Not oily at all. Perfectly cooked. We devoured it without decorum.

Who is watching anyway? I catch the “abuela” a couple of stalls down checking us out. I can see her cleaning the same corner of the counter over and over while looking our way. She would have been a poor spy during the cold war…I am reminded of what someone told me once, that “No Gringo ever goes unobserved”.

At Luncheria Calafia (first one on the left), we had a “Caldo de res” a steamy cauldron size bowl filled with beef stock, chunks of beef, potatoes, squash, carrots and corn on the cob. $40 pesos. Unbelievable value and absolutely delicious. Enough for 2 people.

Next door at Luncheria Araceli (second stall on the left) a woman makes a seafood soup that Neptune would be proud of. It is not on the menu, you have to ask for it and she will scurry to the seafood guy to purchase what she needs on the spot. She makes a lemony fish stock with fish, shrimp, octopus, crab, potatoes. $68 pesos.

We had the fried chicken at Loncheria Colonial (second on the right). They cooked it without the skin, which was a new experience for me. The chicken was incredibly tender and really tasty. It came with crisp homemade french fries! $50 pesos. I love homemade french fries, seriously how hard is it to cut up a potato and fry it? Frozen fries should be banned in my opinion! We had our meal with a Mexican Coca Cola in a glass bottle.

I find that Mexican chicken tastes so much better that the mass produced bland Gringo chicken. Same with the eggs. I don’t know precisely why, one day I will investigate…

The typical foods you will find there are:

Beef kabobs,
Burritos de machaca (dried beef), Pork chops, Beef ribs, Birria, Mole,
Fried chicken,
Fresh whole fish,
Breaded fish,
Stews of all kinds,
Fried tacos (dorados),
Enchiladas, Pan fried liver,
Chile Rellenos,
Milanesa de res o pollo (thin breaded beef or chicken), Caldos (soups),
Fried shrimp,
and Albondigas (meat ball stews or soups).

There is nothing over $60 pesos and that’s for a combination with a drink. Most stand alone items are $40 to $45 pesos. They all serve breakfast too with an average price of $40 pesos.

Everything typically comes with sides like the naked iceberg, blandish rice and soupy beans but it is worth it to overlook those misdemeanors and concentrate on the treasures that are on center stage of your plate!

The 3 main Mercados are marked on all La Paz tourist maps. They serve food from 8 AM to 6 PM.

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