The tianguis, or open-air street market, is much more than a place to buy and sell merchandise. Throughout Mexico – and maybe especially in Oaxaca – markets are a fundamental element of the cultural structure. They are where people meet and catch up on news and gossip, new babies are shown off, and young romances are kindled. Market day is a ritual that has been celebrated every week – virtually unchanged – for thousands of years. These markets are not set up for the tourists (although tourists certainly can be found there – often with their cameras, like me), they are an important component in the day-to-day lives of many of the citizens.
The city of Oaxaca has several tianguis that are open each day. Mercado Sanchez Pasqua, located very close to our house, was our go-to source for fruits and vegetables, as well as freshly made tamales. Just about every day, we stopped by on our way home to purchase delicious, just-picked avocados, mangos, and bananas.
Oaxaca’s original and best known market, Mercado Juarez, is housed in a huge, warehouse-like building. The energy and chaotic mix of sounds, colors, smells, textures, and shapes is an experience not to be missed. Among the multitude of stalls selling merchandise, one can find fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, mezcal, sauces, beef, chicken, and seafood. Other stalls tempt buyers with displays of brightly colored clothing, crafts, woven bags, shoes, and blankets.
In addition to the markets in the city center, the Valley of Oaxaca is famous for the tianguis that each of the surrounding villages set up one day a week (each village has its designated day). These local markets not only sell the usual food, flowers, and clothing, but they also feature items that their particular village is known for, such as weavings, cheese, or wooden furniture.
As unique and exciting as these markets are, there is some worry that they might eventually become a victim of our global society. Oaxaca now has two Walmarts and several large grocery/department stores called Chedraui (all, mercifully, outside the city center). Amazon deliveries are also available. While I understand the ease and time-savings of going to a single location for all ones needs, I fear this convenience will someday lead to the demise of the traditional street markets. A ritual that has been around for thousands of years could be made irrelevant in a few years by big box stores and the internet. That would be an unimaginatively sad and irretrievable loss.
48 thoughts on “Oaxaca’s Street Markets”
Hi, Janis – I LOVE markets like this, and fully understand your fear of them eroding into our global society. When I moved to Beijing in 2001, markets like this were alive and thrived, They were an important part of the cultural landscape. By the time that I left Bejing in 2015, more and more of the genuine markets had been torn down to make room for ‘contemporary’ stores and malls. It was such a loss…and incredibly heart-breaking!
While I understand the desire to evolve and enjoy the comforts of a modernized society, I find it sad that the beauty, rituals, and traditions can be overcome so quickly by globalization – even before the loss is recognized. I imagine the markets of old Beijing were amazing!
I was reminded of a trip (long ago) to Ensenada, where we camped on the beach and bought some of the best tamales I have ever eaten from an old woman/street vendor. It would truly be a shame if this aspect of Mexican life became another victim of ‘modern society.’
Ahhh, beach camping and fresh tamales for breakfast (and lunch and dinner)… nothing better! The smaller villages are probably more immune to the march of globalization, but not by much.
Your photos really show the vibrancy and excitement of the street markets! I suppose I shouldn’t be at all surprised that the big box stores are threatening their future, but what a shame. You’re adventurous to go for the grasshoppers! Not so sure I could do that. 🙂
My husband tricked me into eating some… but, afterwards, I was happy he did. I would never had tried them on my own and now I have bragging rights 🙂 . They really weren’t too bad – lots of spices and the locals love them.
You really did earn those bragging rights! 🙂
Local markets are always so colorful and a buzz of activity; they are the best place to soak up an area’s or town’s atmosphere and to people watch! I have a hard time imagining that markets in countries like Mexico could disappear, but, then, again, I can hardly believe that there are two Walmarts in Oaxaca now as well. Crazy! While fried grasshoppers don’t taste as bad as one might imagine (they are mostly crunchy), they will never become my favorite snack! 🙂
I sure hope you are right. Although many of the older people still wore traditional dress, we hardly saw any of the younger ones in anything but western attire… and many had smart phones. It’s really hard to stop “progress” when young kids don’t see the benefit of maintaining their traditions (just like young people everywhere, I guess).
You are right about the grasshoppers: they were crunchy and spicy… I could never see myself digging into a bowl and eating a big handfull, but they weren’t awful.
Fabulous photos, Janis – the boots especially. I hope the big box stores keep their distance in more way than one!
Aren’t those boots great? If it wasn’t 80 degrees outside, I may have picked up a pair.
I never see that much variety or amount in any of our markets. Great pictures.
You are so right about the variety of food items displayed. While our local stores might have four or five types of peppers – they had at least ten or twelve. We typically only see one variety of banana in the produce section – they had four or five to choose from (and they were a lot more flavorful). I miss the fresh mangos the most.
I’ve visited the markets in La Antigua de Guatemala. That’s still one of my best memories of the trip.
I’ve never been to Guatemala, but I bet their markets are fabulous too. So much color and energy… very different from what we have here… even our Farmers Markets are boring in comparison 🙂 .
I got a huge kick out of all the live animals at the market in Antigua. Women carrying around chickens. You just don’t see that here.
I prefer to remain oblivious to where meat comes from 🙂
Fresh picked fruits. I don’t even know the last time I had that! So wonderful. We have a farmers’ market but most of the vendors don’t grow their own. It’s not all that different from a grocery store except for the industrial ambience.
The mangos were like candy… and incredibly cheap. We have farmers’ markets here, but the prices are pretty high so I don’t usually go. I’m not even sure if many of them are organic.
Our prices are high here too and except for some things, the food is the same as in the grocery stores. There are food stands where the food is made from scratch. That’s worth the trip.
Oh so yummy! Lovely photos, too!
It was a feast of sights and sounds… and tastes.
Your photos and descriptions made me crave fresh local fruit. The strawberries are a couple of weeks behind because of the rain, but when they are ready I’ll be making a meal of them morning, noon and night.
We have farmers’ markets where I live and lots of local fruit and veggie stands that operate on the honor principle – a jar for putting in money and making your own change. I just love the markets/ farm stands way of life. It would indeed by unbearably sad if Walmart destroyed all of that.
I wish we lived in an area with fresh fruit and vegetable stands. I had never experienced “real” corn on the cob until I had some from a stand in the country. There is a world of difference.
Small market or store or large box stores is certainly something we’ve witnessed here in the US. Sorry to hear it is spreading.
I hope they are able to keep their traditions. I was disappointed that they had not one, but two, Walmarts. Fortunately, they are away from the historical city center.
Beautiful, colorful photos, Janis! What a treat to enjoy fresh fruit and veggies (and grasshoppers) right near your doorstep! Did you visit the big markets in LaPaz? These reminded me of the one we visited after whale-shark swimming 🙂
I never visited the markets in La Paz, but our stay there was very different. If we had been in a place were we could cook, instead of a resort, we definitely would have shopped locally.
I really hope the open air markets aren’t driven out of business by the big box stores. Even in my own city, I prefer to shop at Farmer’s markets when I can.
It is so much better to get our produce closer to the source. The fruit and vegetables in Oaxaca were amazing.
Gorgeous pictures! Love the framing; you have a very good eye.
These pictures are fabulous – the photo of the fried grasshoppers is particularly…umm..compelling. You mentioned you tried one….good for you!
The people who grew up eating the grasshoppers didn’t think twice about scooping them up and chomping on them. They thought it was funny that others not used to the “delicacy” had such an strong reaction. Now I can say that I tried them, but that will probably be the last time.
There are few things better than browsing through a market checking out all the local goods. All the colours and smells are intoxicating. I’ll take a pass on the grasshoppers though 😉
I love seeing all the fruits, vegetables… and insects… that we don’t see in our local markets. I’m currently trying to source jamaica (pronounced hah-MY-kah) which are dried hibiscus flowers that make the most refreshing tea. They were sold in big bins in Oaxaca.
Wonderful photos. We are huge fans of street food markets all over the world. Ooh you are very brave trying fried grasshoppers. Uh, no thanks haha.
The first taste was because my husband tricked me into it 🙂 After that, I actually ordered a wonderful dish that included chapulines in the sauce.
I am sitting here catching up on old blog posts and debating whether or not to go to the farmer’s market. So, you have given me an incentive with your lovely pictures. Thanks.
We really miss having that market so close to where we were staying. Having incredibly delicious mangos every morning for breakfast was a treat. I hope you enjoyed your visit to your local farmers’ market!
Markets are great and they make for nice photographs. These are lovely!
Thank you! I love to take my camera into the markets. I just wish I was braver about taking pictures of the vendors. I always worry about bothering them and invading their space.
Great shots of the marketplace. I never would have guessed the contents of the vat where the fried grasshoppers were – I was thinking it was some type of red pepper, until I read the caption of the picture. And what a citified person I am – seeing the chicken in the market with their feet sticking out – oh my!
Well… there are a little spicy 🙂 Although I was brave enough to try the chapulines, I wasn’t brave enough to buy a whole chicken and take it home to cut up and cook.
They looked like dried peppers – but peppers wouldn’t be crunchy like fried grasshoppers.
I’m not necessarily an Angelina Jolie fan, but I do recall seeing her in an exotic locale eating grasshoppers with her kids gathered around and encouraging then to eat them as well … notwithstanding the “ick factor”. I knew it was all over the internet that day and I have found one of many stories: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4265620/Angelina-Jolie-eats-bugs-too.html
Like you, I couldn’t see those yellow feet, and probably yellow beaks as well, and go home and cut it up for Sunday dinner. 🙂
Thanks for the link. I guess it’s all what you are used to. The locals LOVE the chapulines – they eat them by the handful like nuts.
You’re welcome – there were many videos on it as well. It was quite the novelty on the internet at the time as I recall. Oh my – you have to just close your eyes I guess.
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