I recently moved to Colonia San Rafael in Mexico City. It is a beautiful and charming neighborhood that was established in the late 19th Century as one of the first formal neighborhoods outside of the city center. A neighborhood that catered to the wealthy in the Porfiria Diaz era, the beautiful buildings and facades that still grace the streets of Colonia San Rafael speak to those long-ago days of glory.
Whenever I move to a new neighborhood, one of the first things I look for is the local market or tianguis. As I’ve mentioned many times before I love Mexican markets. They’re still a very important part of life in Mexico and you can find almost anything you need for your house in their narrow and colorful aisles.
For the last two months I’ve been doing most of my grocery shopping here. With every new market experience, you try to get to know the layout and the best vendors to buy produce, meat, cheese, etc. This past weekend I decided to take my notebook and camera and talk to some of the vendors I already knew to find out more about the market and its history. My first stop was Quekas San Cosme, a little establishment that has been selling fried quesadillas, tostadas and pambazos for decades. My friend Marco had first introduced me to this amazing little jewel last year and I’ve gone back many times ever since.
The market was founded on November 23rd, 1902 by Porfirio Diaz, then president/dictator of Mexico. It was originally at the corner of Cipres and Ribera de San Cosme, a couple of blocks west of its current location. The grounds where the market sits now used to be a cock-fighting ring. Then circo Atayde, one of the oldest circuses in Mexico, bought the grounds to set up there.
Finally, in 1953 under Ernesto Peralta Uruchurtu, then head of the Department of the Federal District, Mercado San Cosme was moved to its current location as a part of a project to build bigger and better markets. “Originally,” Mr. Franco tells me, “the market was de galeras just like the Merced market. ” The market was open and only covered with sheds, but after a severe hail storm and some problems with buildings sinking in the unstable soil (this part of the city sits on top of what used to be a lake), they built the stronger structure that makes up the market today.
“It is a beautiful market,” my chicken vendor tells me while she cuts a chicken breast in two. “The aisles are wide, it’s clean and it’s not as crowded like other markets in the city. There are things that need to be fixed, like the floors, the ceiling and a new layer of paint, but overall, this is a very beautiful market.” I would personally add that all of the vendors I’ve purchased from have been very pleasant and very helpful.
“Have you lived here in Colonia San Rafael all your life?” I asked.
“No, here,” he states and points to the market entrance, smiling when he sees the confusion on my face. “There used to be a vecindad (tenement house) next to the cock-fighting ring and I grew up there. Then the circus came and we worked for them. You should’ve come last Tuesday for the market anniversary. We had a picture exposition of the market history.”
I tell him that I’d love to see the pictures some day and he invites me to come back another day during the week so that we can sit down and have a chat about the history of the market and the colonia. “A lot of famous people used to live around here.” He gives me a long list of names, and I recognize a few actors, actresses and politicians. I promise to stop by in one of my next visits to the market.
Before heading back home I stopped at one establishment that has always intrigued me every time I walked by. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.