Mexican Markets — By Ben on 04 October 2011
Mercado San Cosme

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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.

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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.

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After a “light” lunch of fried quesadillas, I headed inside the market to do my grocery shopping and some research.  The first thing I noticed was that the market was decorated throughout, as if Christmas had come early to Mexico.  I asked my favorite produce vendor what was going on and, as it turns out, the market had just turned 109 years old.  The decorations were part of an anniversary celebration the previous Tuesday (that I had unfortunately missed).  However, the excitement was still in the air and vendors were open and willing to talk about their beloved market.

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Even though everyone I talked to was eager to share what they knew about the market’s history, I was directed to the flower section where I was told I would find more answers.  According to my favorite chicken vendor,  I would get a lot of information from Agustin Franco, the person who knew everything about the market.  Walking through the flowers, I noticed a wall of photographs and news articles, some very old, many of which had the same man pictured.  As it turned out, they were of Mr. Agustin himself.

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Mr. Agustin was a very nice and friendly man who willingly gave me a quick history of the market. “If you want the whole story”, he said with a smile on his face, “we would need to sit down for a while.”  I will definitely take him up on that offer in the near future.

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.

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“I’m the only person remaining who has lived here all his life,” Mr. Franco tells me.

“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.

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Mercado San Cosme, just like Colonia San Rafael, may have seen better days, but it’s still a very nice market that exemplifies markets throughout Mexico and Mexico City.  Shopping in one is all about trial and error, and at least a little bit adventure.  You don’t always find exactly what you need the first time, and not all vendors are of equal quality, but the hunt is part of the fun.  I had heard great things about the market before my first visit, and although not everything has lived up to my expectations, I have learned to love the market, especially because it’s so close to my new place.  It took me a little longer than usual to find “my favorite” vendors, but now that I’m more familiar with the history and people of the place, I see it in a much different perspective.  At Mercado San Cosme you just have to dig a little deeper to find the treasure that every Mexican has to offer.

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¡Buen provecho!

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About Author

grew up around food. His family owned a restaurant in Mexico City and he spent a big deal of his childhood helping and learning after school the art of creating delicious dishes from simple ingredients. He created this blog to share his kitchen adventures with the world.

(15) Readers Comments

  1. I love markets and visit them wherever I go:)And when ones sees the pictures here you would know why.
    Greetings from New Zealand.
    p.s Gave you couple of clicks on adsense ,not quite sure where to click to follow your page;)

    • Hello Dzoli,
      Thanks a lot for visiting and commenting. You can follow my blog via RSS feed by clicking on the orange RSS icon on top of the sidebar or by email by providing your email on the subscribe box, also on the sidebar.
      Cheers!

  2. I’m a fairly new reader, and I really enjoy your website. I know this is about food, but have any of your articles ever discussed living in Mexico City (costs, hassles, etc)? You and Rick Bayless have made me want to try every restaurant, market and vendor in D.F. My wife and I would love to spend at least 6 months there (and maybe more).

    • Hello Bill,

      As a matter of fact, Jon is planning a series of articles related to living in Mexico as an expat. We hope to start publishing them very soon. Alternately, you can visit Lesley’s blog themijachronicles.com. She has great advice about living in Mexico City.

  3. thanx 4 dropping in my space ben…awesum pics……nice one..n happy 2 visit here.
    maha

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