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January, 2009:

What Not to Wear… to a Mexican market

This past weekend, we decided to check our Mercado Sonora and Mercado de la Merced here in Mexico City. Mercardo Sonora is known as the “Witches Market”, meaning that its vendors proffer a wide variety of goods that tend to fall under the “potions” category (perhaps optimistically). So lots of incense, herbal/folk remedies, images of saints to pray to, lucky charms, etc.  Mercardo de la Merced is one of the largest wholesale/retail markets in Mexico City, with aisle after aisle of fruit, veg, grain, party invitations, clothing, and really anything else your little heart desires.

Saturday was a gorgeous day (after a bit of unseasonally crap rainy/cold weather the previous weekend), so I felt like taking advantage of the warm temps by wearing a skirt & sandals. And one of my favorite Threadless t-shirts. (Those of you who know me, know that my inept wardrobe basically consists solely of t-shirts from http://www.threadless.com.) This was before we decided to go check out the weirdo witchcraft market, located in arguable not the ‘best’ neighborhood in D.F….  (Point of reference: in recounting my latest market trip to my boss on Monday, we discussed how perhaps I should begin sending him emails with our plans for Saturday so he would know where to start searching for me if I don’t show up to work on Monday.)

Anyway, John felt a photo was merited to document for all my readers “What Not to Wear to a Not-Super-Touristy Market in Mexico City If You Want to Remotely Blend In”.

Ways to identify yourself as a foreigner

Ways to identify yourself as a foreigner

 Tips:

  1. Wear a skirt  (women generally wear pants here to avoid harassment)
  2. Wear sandals  (even during the summer months, I rarely saw any Mexicans wearing sandals…probably because you don’t necessarily want what’s on the streets to subsequently be on your bare feet)
  3. Be 6’2, or within 6 inches of that  (everytime I ride the elevator at work, I awkwardly note that usually I am at least a head higher than my elevator-mates)
  4. Travel with someone else who’s 6’2  (I’m sure I would totally blend in if it were not for John)
  5. Have blonde hair  (not so common here)
  6. Wear t-shirt with images representative of the Communist Party on it  (I’m not a communist, people; the shirt just has communists AT at a party… see, it’s totally different)
  7. Stop and take photo on the pedestrian walkway over the busy street between the two markets 

All of that said, we were harassed no more than usual at the market and enjoyed wandering around the numerous “one vegetable only” stands at Mercado Merced (i.e., if they had a store name, it would be “All Avocados” or “Totally Tomatoes”).  Mercardo Sonora, however, was a different story– the distinctive feature of this market was the animal section.  Here, we found wire crate after wire crate filled with puppies, bunnies, birds, roosters, chicks, you name it.  The condition of the animals was certainly offputting enough, but selfishly, all I could think while walking through the overwhelming stench of animals-in-close-quarters was the completely irrational thought of “If I was going to get the bird flu somewhere, this is it.” I think this first popped to mind when I saw a glimmer of sunlight peeking through the roof, which highlighted the disturbing amount of particulate in the air for our breathing enjoyment…

A view from the pedestrian walkway down along the side of the Mercado de la Merced

A view from the pedestrian walkway down along the side of the Mercado de la Merced

In summary, I would not necessarily rush to Merced or Sonora– Merced is interesting for its size, but not particularly differentiated in its offerings. With Sonora, there is certainly a treasure trove of odd folklore medicines, charms, and amulets, but it is difficult to discern much meaning from merely walking by. I think if you are fluent in Spanish & interested in chatting at length with the vendors, Sonora could be an interesting experience. Barring that, I would not put it on the top of the must-do list (but to be fair, I was skeeved-out by the animal section)…  If nothing else, both are easy to get to via the metro– the Merced stop on the pink line deposits you literally *inside* the market to make for easy exploring. And of course, we did continue our exploratory food trend with huaraches at one of the stalls in Merced!!

We had huaraches for lunch inside Merced... yet another food stall victory with no problems!!

We had huaraches for lunch inside Merced... yet another food stall victory with no problems!!

Mercado de Jamaica– the flower market of Mexico City

This Sunday afternoon, we decided to go for a exploration of the wholesale flower market of Mexico City, Mercado de Jamaica. This massive market is apparently *the* place for purchasing flowers for basically all flower vendors in Mexico City and for locals looking for fresh, gorgeous, bargain-priced flowers. We decided to go here with John’s dad Bob (who’s visiting along w/John’s stepmom Pam) because he’s a certified master gardner (I’m told this is an actual title? Who knew!) & thought he would be amused. If I was holding any sort of celebration here in Mexico City, I would definitely hit up Jamaica to stockpile on stunning flower arrangements in advance, since I cannot arrange my way out of the proverbial paper bag. 

We were initially somewhat skeptical of how different this would be from the other bazillion mercados here in Mexico, but I can confirm: it is definitely worth a visit & also a good spot to bring visitors. (Most of the aisles are quite large/spacious, making it both easy to gawk & take photos from afar, and less stressful for disoriented gringos as you are less likely to be run down by locals with small grocery carts or men carrying sides of beef.) That said, there is plenty of the standard market fare as well, so if you are looking to see piles of avocados, hanging pig heads, or the best damn carnitas stall I’ve experienced, you will still be in luck.

Bob poses with roses (as well as bags of pre-plucked rose petals, in case you are too lazy for a full-fledged game of "He loves me, he loves me not")

Bob poses with roses (as well as bags of pre-plucked rose petals, in case one is too lazy for a full-fledged game of "He loves me, he loves me not")

John's favorite-- pollen-laden lillies. That said, by some act of God, we managed to get through this whole market with neither John's nor Bob's allergies acting up. A small miracle.

John's favorite-- pollen-laden lillies. That said, by some act of God, we managed to get through this whole market with neither John's nor Bob's allergies acting up. A small miracle.

This intriguing arrangement has complements its roses on top with another set of roses upside down, dipping into the water in the vase

This intriguing arrangement has complemented its roses on top with another set of roses upside down, dipping into the water in the vase

The boxes of brightly colored gerberas were some of my favorites

The boxes of brightly colored gerberas were some of my favorites

I have never seen such a vibrant blue dye-job on a calla lily

I have never seen such a vibrant blue dye-job on a calla lily

Whatever your religious ceremony needs-- wedding, funeral, baptism, you name it-- Mercado de Jamaica has you covered

Whatever your religious ceremony needs-- wedding, funeral, baptism, you name it-- Mercado de Jamaica has you covered

For those of you who find individual flowers a bit dull, but love dogs, do not fear: Mercado de Jamaica has something for you as well…

In case this isn't immediately obvious to you, these flowers have been formed into a white dog carrying a rose in his mouth.

In case this isn't immediately obvious to you, these flowers have been formed into a white dog carrying a rose in his mouth.

Pam has a little white kick-dog named Teddy back in Florida, and since she was trapped in our apartment today with a displeasing illness, Bob brought her back a white Teddy look-a-like made from flowers. These are brilliant-- cost $2.10 USD in Mexico, but I bet you could sell these puppies for $30+ in the US. :)

Pam has a little white kick-dog named Teddy back in Florida, and since she was trapped in our apartment today with a displeasing illness, Bob brought her back a white Teddy look-a-like made from flowers. These are brilliant-- cost $2.10 USD in Mexico, but I bet you could sell these puppies for $30+ in the US. :)

 And finally for those of you who hate flowers altogether, still do not fear: like I said, you can always just eat. :)

For those of you familiar with the fruit-like vegetable jicama, this was a stand that sold "paddles" of jicama (note round, white thing on a stick in the back), which were then dampened & dipped in various colored/flavored sugars. A fan favorite with the kids.

For those of you familiar with the fruit-like vegetable jicama, this was a stand that sold "paddles" of jicama (note round, white thing on a stick in the back), which were then dampened & dipped in various colored/flavored sugars. A fan favorite with the kids.

And finally I think we found the best stand for a late lunch-- "Carnitas Paty". The carnitas tacos (braised/carmelized pork) were fantastic. Though we were a bit more skeptical when the client after us ordered what appeared to be several pig penises chopped into taco filling. Concerning.

And finally I think we found the best stand for a late lunch-- "Carnitas Paty". The carnitas tacos (braised/carmelized pork) were fantastic. Though we were a bit more skeptical when the client after us ordered what appeared to be several pig penises chopped into taco filling. Concerning.

John & Bob, mid-pork festival. A productive market trip on all fronts!!

John & Bob, mid-pork festival. A productive market trip on all fronts!!

HOW TO GET TO MERCADO DE JAMAICA IN MEXICO CITY: It is conveniently located right on top of the Metro stop of the same name (Jamaica) on the brown line (#9), whose endpoints are Tacubaya & Pantitlan. By taxi, it is just north of the Viaducto east-west highway and about ~2 miles southeast of the Zocalo.

Photo highlights from Querétaro State

A post with the relevant details of our trip to Querétaro, Tequisquiapan, & the Freixenet Winery will be forthcoming, but for now the behind-in-her-readings MBA student can only be bothered to post a few of the random photo highlights of our 3 day trip to the state of Querétaro….

I love this picture-- beat up Ford truck, manly-man in a cowboy hat, and the damned girliest kick-dog this side of the Rio Grande perkily riding along in the truck bed.

I love this picture-- beat up Ford truck, manly-man in a cowboy hat, and the damned girliest kick-dog this side of the Rio Grande perkily riding along in the truck bed.

I was pleased to learn that the hilarity of writing "Wash Me" (lavame) on a filthy car is an act that transcends all cultures

I was pleased to learn that the hilarity of writing "Wash Me" (lavame) on a filthy car is an act that transcends all cultures. The pig art is a nice touch.

 

You may be expecting to see the typical ropes to ring the bells in this tower? Not here folks-- these bell ringers had better be some of the most agile kids in town. I reckon the business side of that bell could fling a child halfway across town .

You may be expecting to see the typical ropes to ring the bells in this tower? Not here folks-- these bell ringers had better be some of the most agile kids in town. I reckon the business side of that bell could fling a child halfway across town .

 

John's new thing is when I pressure him to pose for a jack-ass photo, I am forced to pose for one return. Here's me, trying to fly higher than an eagle.

John's new thing is when I pressure him to pose for a jack-ass photo, I am forced to pose for one return. Here's me, trying to fly higher than an eagle.

Looking back, I'm surprised I hadn't seen one of these stickers sooner in México. Roughly translated: "In this home, WE ARE CATHOLICS. We do not accept propaganda of other religions. God bless this home."  More roughly translated: "Back off, you dirty Lut'rns; we don't want you or your up-to-no-good pal Martin Luther hanging 'round these parts."

Looking back, I'm surprised I hadn't seen one of these stickers sooner in México. Roughly translated: "In this home, WE ARE CATHOLICS. We do not accept propaganda of other religions. God bless this home." More roughly translated: "Back off, you dirty Lut'rns; we don't want you or your up-to-no-good pal Martin Luther hanging 'round these parts."

We are one with Street Food Vendors of Querétaro

We felt obligated to take advantage of both of us having New Year’s Day 2009 off from work, and so parlayed it into a 2-night stay in Querétaro, a town of ~1.6 million people located two hours northwest of Mexico City. Our recent string of luck continued, as we happened upon yet another holiday festival– the town squares were bustling with folks celebrating the New Year with their families & street vendors doing a “land office business”, as we like to say back in the Midwest.

One of the most prevalent offerings appeared to be these sandwiches made with buns that were liberally fried in oil (in the center of that grill they are sitting on). I was initially tempted, until I saw one up close & realized that the red-ish coloring was the oil that permeated through almost the entire bun... Sounded like a recipe for a displeased tummy... :)

One of the most prevalent offerings appeared to be these sandwiches made with buns that were liberally fried in oil (in the center of that grill they are sitting on). I was initially tempted, until I saw one up close & realized that the red-ish coloring was the oil that permeated through almost the entire bun... Sounded like a surefire recipe for a displeased tummy... :)

I will admit, I have been a bit shy about partaking from street vendors during my stay in México thus far. The food always (well, almost always) looks amazing, but my stomach is not über-resiliant to new bacteria friends in general, and YMMV when it comes to hygiene practices at any given food cart. However, the delights being proffered in the aisles of vendors along the north & south sides of Jardin Zenea were attractive enough to inspire me to gamble.

To cut to the punchline, I ate at SIX fantastic street vendors in Queretaro and did not get remotely sick!! I was very excited about this accomplishment, which I interpreted both to mean that my stomach is becoming as strong as a team of Clydesdale horses, and that Queretan food stalls excel in cleanliness.

The only trick about dining at street vendors is that the bathroom options are fairly limited, so one must be careful to resist the siren call of these tasty drinks with Squirt & fresh-squeezed OJ too early in the evening. I held strong, despite the fact that you GET TO KEEP THE GLASS the drink is served in, and free glassware (or earthenware?) is my Achilles heel...

The only trick about dining at street vendors is that the bathroom options are fairly limited, so one must be careful to resist the siren call of these tasty drinks with Squirt & fresh-squeezed OJ too early in the evening. I held strong, despite the fact that you GET TO KEEP THE GLASS the drink is served in, and free glassware (or earthenware?) is my Achilles heel...

To highlight our fine dining selections between John & me:

  1. a tamale verde (tamale stuffed with green salsa & pork), probably the most flavorful tamale I’ve ever had. (Confession: as my first course of the evening, this is an admittedly wussy choice– tamales are known for being one of the “safest” options from street vendors, because they are made in advance, wrapped in their protective corn-husk jacket and steamed, thereby being the epitome of safe food handling practices. But hey, I was easing into things, ok?)
  2. elote (corn), cut off the cob, piled into a styrofoam cup, and covered in lime juice, mayo, chili powder, salt & shredded cheese
  3. pseudo-flan (aka, something that looked like flan & we thought was just plain-old flan but apparently we misunderstood when we asked the lady who was selling it, because though it had the consistency of flan, it had a nutty flavor. Still good though!)
  4. tacos al pastor , these are cooked on a spit similar to another favorite of mine, gyros. The pork is marinated with various spices & chili peppers, cooked vertically, then served with onions, cilantro, and whatever other toppings you desire!  I always get excited about adding guacamole salsa to them, which is sooo good but also sooo spicy (be forewarned)

    Our Tacos al Pastor vendor hard at work

    Our Tacos al Pastor vendor hard at work

  5. churros rellenos, basically Mexican donuts (with a straight line instead of circular shape) filled with whatever goo your heart desires– we opted for fresa (strawberry) and cajeta (carmel-y syrup)

    John excitedly waits for his fresh churro action

    John excitedly waits for his fresh churro action

  6. and finally, un esquimo, a milkshake-like drink made by blending ice, mystery liquid (likely evaporated milk/water), and flavoring (we recommend Rompope, an intriguing eggnog-flavored liquor).

    This esquimo stand was a 4-blender operation.

    This esquimo stand was a 4-blender operation.

The best part of the esquimo is that while we were standing in line to place our order, we observed that you could select either a cup or plastic bag as your serving vessel. John was undecided for a while, but after the two locals in line ahead of us BOTH opted for the plastic bag + straw, he determined that must be the auténtico way to go. This was another first for me (drinking from a baggie), and I think it totally helped us to blend in with the locals & offset my height…

In summary, our New Year’s Day dinner cost a total of about 80 pesos for two people (aka $5.78 USD), and each course was fantastic! My street vendor bravery continues to increase.  And don’t worry– when my luck runs out, I will try to spare you the details of any gastrointestinal repercussions.

Various Forms of Security in México

Security personnel are incredibly pervasive throughout México, but we’ve seen a few incarnations in the last couple months that strike me as particularly amusing.

"I totally have this situation under control. As you can see, I've been working out. I strategically chose this height of stone to maximize the view for the ladies."

"I totally have this situation under control. As you can see, I've been working out. I strategically chose this height of stone to maximize the view for the ladies."

Mark & John take their turns guarding the highly-coveted Santo mask

Mark & John take their turns guarding the highly-coveted Santo mask

During our visit to Garibaldi Plaza, we were befriended by this gentlemen on the left who was selling cervezas & tequila shots, who seemed to take ownership of our little group of 6 gringos. When crazies approached us trying to sell crap (i.e. not tequila/cerveza) or beg for money, he shooed them away. Here, our bartender-turned-security-detail is seen in a rare moment of letting his guard down with Ben & the bottle of tequila in question

During our visit to Garibaldi Plaza, we were befriended by this gentlemen on the left who was selling cervezas & tequila shots, who seemed to take ownership of our little group of 6 gringos. When crazies approached us trying to sell crap (i.e. not tequila/cerveza) or beg for money, he shooed them away. Here, our bartender-turned-security-detail is seen in a rare moment of letting his guard down with Ben & the bottle of tequila in question

 

And finally, you may recall Ponch from the television classic CHiPs in the late 70's-early 80's, yes...?

And finally, you may recall Ponch from the television classic CHiPs in the late 70's-early 80's, yes...?

Well, the town of Morelia has Ponch on duty 24-7, intently trying to figure out the protocol for writing traffic tickets. Classic.

Well, the town of Morelia has Ponch on duty 24-7, intently trying to figure out the protocol for writing traffic tickets. Classic.

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