The commotion begins around 4 in the morning. Trucks are rumbling to a halt outside the window; people are shouting and the clanging of metal echoes through the otherwise empty street. The bars and restaurants closed only moments before, but the calm is quickly destroyed by the parking of carts and assembling of tables. This is the Saturday market.
The array of color is amazing; only the freshest ingredients are displayed and sold here. Fruits you’ve never heard of or seen are offered to anyone that wants a free taste. The salesmen point you to the best seasonal fruits and prepare them however you prefer, usually throwing in an extra granada or a few peaches. You may have to duck to walk under the tarps as men on empty crates shout “what can I sell you today?” Little dogs scamper around people’s feet as their owners blindly stroll through the tight avenues, and everyone has a smile on their face when you come to their table. The prices are nicely displayed on colorful paper and children proudly help their parents weigh the wares.
Sausage makers stuff their casings with fresh chorizo right next to a booth displaying whole, mostly plucked chickens and giant stacks of egg flats. The cheese monger tosses out whole strands of mild Oaxacan cheese and offers you discounts by the kilo. Little old ladies make fresh masa and tortillas for you to take home. The smell of corn lingers in the air as it hits the hot plate, along with the fragrance of dried spices and both dried and fresh chilis. Mounds of rice are piled high along with candy lined up in neat, colorful rows.
Sample whatever you want, just don’t be greedy. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to eat on the outskirts of the market. Portable grills and deep fryers are set up alongside a red checkered table lined with a dozen types of salsa and few moles. The people working the grill are thrilled to have their picture taken as the crowds buy and sell and eat along the crowded avenue. Music wafts from a nearby truck as shoppers enjoy their tacos and flautas.
This is the epitome of street food culture.
In addition to the food, tools, kitchen utensils, electrical wiring, nail polish remover, bootleg movies, hair dye, and power tools are all lain out for sale. Craftsmen sell wood workings and baskets woven from pine. Tables and chairs, hats and baskets, even bassinets line the stalls. If you have a special request, just give them a week to fulfill it. Two magnificent flower stalls display huge arrangements of sunflowers and gladiolas.
In spite of the noise and the chaos, the mercado is the most picturesque thing in Mexico. People shop, eat, joke and laugh; they have nowhere to be. By afternoon it sounds like a festival is thriving across the street. But by 3:00pm, the crowd dwindles, the music stops, and the food is stored back into containers. By nightfall every sign of the market has disappeared as if it were washed away by the evening rain.