Being Here Now: A Shopping Trip to the Mercado

I feel like life is starting again after a year of being on hold; Covid restrictions, concern about infection, etc. etc. etc. all influenced us to such an extreme degree that I was pretty much a recluse for the last 12 months. I’m just really starting to realize that and venture out of the shell I’d so carefully and deliberately created. It’s not always easy – I’m still uncomfortable around any group of people and sometimes have to step away and catch my breath. Restaurants, grocery store lines, parties or getting together with groups of friends, and even, yesterday, walking through a crowded beach after surfing, still unnerve me a bit .

That said, the central mercado in Mazatlan is big and often crowded. I’ve avoided it so far, shopping instead in the more sterile and controlled aisles of Sorianna, Ley and yes, even Walmart. I’ve walked several times – early early – to a smaller market near my house and dashed in quickly for veggies, chicken and such. But yesterday, in the spirit of “being here now,” I braved the big mercado.

Granted, they swipe your temperature and give your hand a perfunctory squirt of sanitizer, and you’re supposed to wear a mask, but there’s no enforcement. (Same as the U.S.) Whatever! I’m fully vaccinated but wear a mask in public as per suggested guidelines.

Shopping in a mercado is such a different experience than a grocery store! It’s fun and surprising – you never know what you’ll find that you weren’t expecting – and the vendors are enthusiastic and helpful. Because I’m a gringa, often they want to explain what something is, or give me a sample to taste, even though I’ve been shopping here for more than a decade. But that’s OK! I love the camaraderie, the exchange, the friendly familiarity.

While there’s a huge selection of produce, here in Mazatlan, my educated guess is that none of it is organic. (If someone knows otherwise, please tell me!) Organic produce can be found at the seasonal Mercado Organico de Mazatlan held in Zaragoza Park, or sometimes at the big grocery store chains, packaged and shipped from wherever. One of the trade-offs to living here, folks.

I’d intended to just get a few things (limes to make a pie and limeade, bananas, a few potatoes) and instead went home with two overflowing bags that included a fragrant sweet pineapple and one of those papayas in the photo below.

As you wander the aisles that first appear like a confusing rabbit warren, you start to see some order. The bakeries are in one area; delis (with cheeses, milk products, chorizo, salsas etc.) in another although here they’re scattered throughout; Vendors selling meat, chicken and fish are (mostly) in one section, which I try to avoid because my many years as a vegetarian make seeing the carcasses hard to deal with. Those selling produce – neatly piled stacks covering their counters – make up the main, middle section of the mercado. And then there are vendors selling dried chiles of all kinds, beans, rice and other grains, piloncillo (cones of brown sugar), dried fruits, nuts and spices in bulk.

And of course the souvenirs, T-shirts and things like that. Mazatlan likes to take care of its visitors. Scattered through the market are a few stands offering simple comida and agua frescas (fruit waters), and the second floor is like a food court, with small cafes set up around a central opening to the bustling market below. At this level, you can also sit outside on balconies surrounding the market, although for me, the noise and traffic are a bit much.

Aguas frescas – basically blended fruit, water and sugar – are a traditional Mexican drink, refreshing and delicious. (And easy to make at home, too!)

So what else did I find?

Fresh ginger and turmeric, piloncillo, and tamarind pods.

Eggs are sold by weight, not how many, and are usually given to you in a plastic bag. I always forget to bring my own empty egg carton, and yes, no matter how careful I am, one or two always get broken on the way home. Asi es!

These little limes, similar to Key Limes, are sweet and inexpensive. (REALLY inexpensive!) One learns to use them instead of lemons in everything. But I will admit that there’s nothing like the taste of a real yellow lemon – a little exotic here – and I do buy them once in awhile.

Radishes: sliced, chilled and served on the side of …almost everything! And those little onions, grilled, are absolutely delicious.

Produce vendors sell sliced and cut-up fruit and also packages of basic ingredients for stock or soup. So convenient!

All in all, a fun shopping trip. Today I’m making that Lime Pie. Will post pix once it’s done. Wish me luck!

2 Replies to “Being Here Now: A Shopping Trip to the Mercado”

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