A big city needs a big marketplace to supply food for its inhabitants. Mexico City, being one of the largest cities in the world needs one of the largest wholesale markets, too. Central de abasto is not a place that I used to like. When my parents still owned their restaurant my dad did all the shopping for it there. On vacation breaks I was “forced” to go with him and that was something I really, really disliked. It wasn’t because of the food, I loved looking at the food even back then. But we always had to be there very early, sometimes 5 or 6 in the morning when my dad had to go to the fish section, and stay there for hours. At that early age the huge market looked even bigger. My dad navigated the sections, aisles, locals and little vendor booths so fast that we (sometimes my sister was with us too) had to run behind him dodging people, vendors and angry dolly operators that didn’t care who they ran over with their dollies full up to 2 story high of goods. Yes, it was rough.
But my perspective has changed, and when I asked my dad where we could go to buy the items needed for my tamalada he didn’t hesitate, “let’s go to la central”, he said. They are having a lunch for some friends tomorrow and my mom is making some fish dishes (I’ll pitch in with a risotto with scallops, but I’ll write about it later) so our first stop was at the fish section. You can pretty much find any kind of fish here. Trucks get here loaded with fresh fish from both coasts every morning, usually 3 or 4 am, and if you are early enough, you can buy from them and choose the best pieces before anybody else. Here we got bream, shrimp, baby shark and scallops. My dad has always been very careful when buying fish. He examines them and even sniffs them to make sure he’s getting the best quality. For 20 pesos more they clean and cut the fish right there for you. This saves so much time and effort.
The rest of our trip was very familiar and brought back so many memories. We navigated long aisles full of fruit, vegetables, groceries, dairy, prepared food, kitchen supplies, tools… It’s really overwhelming but I had a lot of fun, unlike many years ago when I dreaded coming here. I could try to explain the feeling of being in such a big place, but I rather let my camera show you what I saw:
On our way to Mercado Portales (another market where we bought the meat and some other ingredients. I’ll talk about it in a future post) I commented to my dad how much fun I had had and how different the market had looked to me because of that. I think the place is busier, dirtier and the dolly guys are more rude, but I was there for the food and we got some great ingredients and delicious tacos for lunch, so everything was very good at the end of the day.
What’s the biggest market you have visited?
Some interesting facts about central de abasto:
- Annual turnover: 9 billion USD
- People employed directly and indirectly: 70,000
- Size: 328 hectares
- Space dedicated to commercial activity: 300 hectares
- Average fresh food traded daily: 25,00 tons
- Percentage of fresh food destined to Mexico City’s metropolitan area: 80%
- Average delivery vehicles a day: 55,000
- Average daily visitors: 300,000
- The market is so big and important that it impacts the food distribution chain throughout the entire country