Oaxaca’s Street Markets

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.

We were able to enjoy amazing fruit every day.

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.

Don’t forget to pick up your Chapulines (fried grasshoppers). And, yes, I tried them.

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.

43 thoughts on “Oaxaca’s Street Markets”

  1. 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!

    1. 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!

  2. 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.’

  3. 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. 🙂

  4. 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! 🙂

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

  5. 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.

      1. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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 🙂

  8. 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.

    1. 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.

  9. 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 😉
    Great photos!

    1. 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.

  10. 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.

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