Guide: The Markets of Mexico City
Mexico City’s markets are vivacious hubs of culinary activity that help define neighborhoods. Wherever you are in the DF there’s a market to explore, shop, and snack in not very far away. Many are clustered around the Centro, the city’s often chaotic downtown, though even the quieter, smaller mercados and food halls in neighborhoods like Roma and Coyoacán have plenty to offer.
Mercado La Merced
See entire rows of vendors carving up nopales or baskets full of edible insects arranged as if they were tomatoes at the sprawling Mercado la Merced, the largest retail market in Mexico City. Mercado La Merced, east of the zocalo and built on the grounds of the former La Merced monastery in the 1860s, was the city’s wholesale market for the entire city until the Central de Abasto opened in the 1980s.
Look Out For: Basic Mexican foodstuffs such as Oaxacan cheeses, huitlicoche, medicinal herbs, epazote, chiles, and chicharrón can be spotted around the market, though things like holiday decorations, housewares, and candy can also be found.
What to Eat: Be on the look out for antojitos like tacos dorados, garnachas, and quesadillas with a variety of fillings.
Time: Expect to spend at least two hours here, though you could easily spend days wandering around and not see it all.
Mercado San Juan
Unlike the sprawling La Merced that includes a little bit of everything, Mercado San Juan is more specialized, focusing on gourmet and hard to find products. Starting as an open-air market, or tianguis, more than 150 years ago, the warehouse-like concrete building, built in 1955, has developed into a go-to source for cooks, culinary students, and foodies in the city seeking out things they can’t find anywhere else.
Look Out For: Exotic meats like wild boar and armadillo, insects, spices, chiles, and imported foods.
What to Eat: Snack bars sell tastings of insects (escamoles, chapulines, chicatana ants)
Time: 1-2 hours.
Central de Abasto
Located in Iztapalapa on the southeastern outskirts of the DF, the Central de Abastos, the world’s largest market, is a city unto itself – with its own churches, daycare centers, and police force – covering an astounding 810 acres. It lacks the charm of the Centro’s markets, yet it’s the source of much of their produce. The market, only three decades old, handles more than 30,000 tons of merchandise daily (all paid in cash), representing 80 percent of the consumption of the entire metropolitan area of the DF. You can find anything here. Anything. That’s why more than half a million people wander through its 110 kilometers of passageways each day.
Look Out For: Produce of every sort.
What to Eat: Carnitas, esquites, various fruits.
Time: Come here before dawn to see the most action and try and map out the things you really want to see. It’s impossible to visit all zones.
Mercado La Nueva Viga
After the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, the Mercado La Nueva Viga is the next largest seafood market in the world. Sitting adjacent to the Central de Abastos, and nearly as big, you’ll find specialty items ranging from Baja bivalves to dried cod imported from Spain. IT was built in the 1990s, replacing the Mercado La Viga, which couldn’t handle the surging demand for seafood in the DF. Come during lent to see the market at its busiest.
Look Out For: Almejas chocolatas and oysters from Baja, octopus from Nayarit, and lobsters from the Yucatán, as well as frozen fish and seafood products imported from around the world.
What to Eat: Seafood empanada stands in the parking lot.
Time: A full morning.
Right on the Coyoacán’s main plaza, this small market feels more like that of a smaller Mexican village than a bustling Mexico City one. If you want to browse for basic food items to bring home at reasonable prices, then have a break to munch on one of Mexico City’s most emblematic food stalls, look no further.
Look Out For: Traditional Mexican foodstuffs, cooking tools, handicrafts.
What to Eat: The bright yellow signs of Tostadas Coyoacán in the center of the market is obligatory, though there’s also a small food court.
Time: 1-2 hours.
Mercado de Jamaica
Built in 1957 southeast of the historic center, the Mercado de Jamaica is Mexico City’s premier flower market. More than 1,100 stands sell an estimated 5,000 different types of flowers and ornamental plants, both native and non-native to Mexico. An additional several hundred stands sell food items, including seasonal candies and sweets for Day of the Dead and Christmas, as well as a great selection of native fruits and vegetables.
Look Out For: Flowers, piñatas, fruits, seasonal decorations.
What to Eat: Huaraches, tamales, fruits.
Time: One hour.
Mercado de Sonora
One of several mercados públicos built in the 1950s, around the same time as the Mercado La Merced and Mercado Jamaica, when the local government started to organize retail commerce, the Mercado de Sonora is best known as Mexico City’s witchcraft market. Here you can have a limpia, an herbal cleansing meant to rid the soul of negative energy, have your palm read, or pick up items like dried snakes and armadillos and La Santa Muerte statues.
Look Out For: Medicinal herbs, alebrijes, and occult items.
What to Eat: Huaraches, barbacoa.
Time: 1-2 hours.
More of a hipster food hall than a traditional Mexican market, Colonia Roma’s Mercado Roma features numerous gourmet food and drink stalls, a rooftop beer garden, and Senerí, an upscale Michoacan restaurant. Outpost of several famous eateries in the city allow you to get your fix all at once if your time in the city is tight. The market has been so successful they opened a southern cousin, the Mercado Roma Coyoacán, in 2017.
Look Out For: Baja shellfish, paletas, cemitas, craft beer,
What to Eat: Tortas from La Barraca Valenciana, churros from El Moro, and pozole from José Guadalupe.
Time: 1 hour.
Hours: Sun-Wed 9am-8pm, Thur-Sat 9am-2am.
Mercado de Medellín
Also known as the Mercado Melchor Ocampo, the Mercado de Medellín in Colonia Roma Sur has more than 500 stalls selling a wide variety of Mexican foodstuffs, plus items from around Latin America and the Caribbean, especially Cuba (it has earned the nickname La Pequeña Habana). More of an everyday market for those in the neighborhood than a major tourist lure, yet the general quality and selection tends to be quite good.
Look out for: Colombian coffee, Cuban rum,
What to Eat: Pozole, aguas frecas, arrachera.
Time: 1 hour.