Every guide book mentions it. They even say it's a "must see" destination. But nothing quite prepares you for the controlled chaos that is the Mercado Libertad. Begun in 1956 and completed in 1957, the Libertad is home to 3,000 retail vendors and the largest covered market in Mexico. Vendors sell everything from apia to xoconostle, saddles to shoes, electronics to housewares and probably a pretty hefty amount of contraband and bootlegged stuff, legal or not.
Every market in Mexico has it's own energy and the Libertad is no exception; it runs on high octane fuel with a slight hint of danger. Not that it's dangerous, it isn't; dangerous more like getting caught smoking in the bathroom at school, or illicitly dating someone totally wrong for you or of whom your parents disapprove. Because rhythms move quickly and there is a lot of hustle and bustle, it pays to keep your wits about you and to be aware of where you are and who is around you. The Libertad is a safe market, but it is also a market with a lot of distractions; distractions that can put you at risk of being a victim if you let your guard or attention down.
Guadalajara is the land of mariachis and as if to serenade all the visitors to the Mercado Libertad, one of the buildings across the street from the market has this merry band of mariachis keeping a vigil
Once inside, the 3 stories of the market surround a central plaza into which agua fresca and fruit vendors radiate. There are multiple doors from which to enter, just pick one and forge ahead. You may find yourself suddenly surrounded by throbbing beats being pumped out of boom boxes for sales. Or you could find yourself amid exotic candies, fruits and chiles. Or you could come face to face with another facet of the food chain
The carneciera, or meat market. We read a lot about mad cow disease in the American press these days and chances are good that if you asked most Americans where their meat comes from they could only give you vague answers. We've become so accustomed to the convenience of being able to pick up nicely vacuum sealed packages of meat that the process by which it got to the meat case has all but been forgotten. Even going to a meat market in the States presents a neatly ordered and sanitized image. This is not a value judgment on my part, it's just the way our market process has evolved here in the States. It's much different in Mexico where the food chain is much shrter and closer to the end user. And while we waste a lot of food in the U.S., not so much is wasted in Mexico. Where there are pieces and parts of the cow, pig, lamb or chicken that Americans won't eat, not so in Mexico.
Where these calf heads might end up I'm not sure. Posole perhaps, though that is usually made with pork not beef. Perhaps as a base for stock.
Here are two popular innards that make onto the meal plate with regular frequency tripas, or tripe
and stomach lining, most often used in the (alledged) hangover cure, menudo.
I've noticed a growing interest - or perhaps obsession is more accurate - in offal in the U.S. over the last year or so. Offal is a common taco filling in Mexico. You may occasionally see sesos on the menu as a taco filling, I have. Just know that sesos = brains. Here they are in all their glory, along with labios, or lips, complete with some of the whiskers still left on them.
And finally, there is that little marinated number known as Mexican Viagra
Those creamy white tubular pieces floating there among the carrots and jalapenos are, ahem........how do I put this? Well, since there is no delicate or polite way to put it, those white pieces are bull penises. Let it be said that no part of a Mexican bull goes uneaten. There are, of course, any number of bad jokes I could make about this, but I want to keep my "G" rating so I'll just leave it at this.
Remarkably, even if you think you don't have the stomach for acres of offal and other bloody offerings, after a while you don't notice it. Or it could be that there is a morbid fascination with death and raw meat. At any rate, raw meat was not what I was after in the Mercado Libertad. No, I was out to find that specialty of the Jalisco and Guadalajara, the Torta Ahogada
Hmmm...........I must make a note to tell Chef Vinny I've found a turnkey business opportunity for him. Most tortas are made on a telera roll that has been split, speared with a dab of refried beans and then filled with all manner and variety of fillings, topped off with some shreds of cabbage and perhaps a couple of thin slices of tomato and/or avocado. The torta ahogada is kind of like a torta on steroids. It's not just big, it's behemoth and made on a special roll called a bolillo salado. And as if trying to eat one of these things was hard enough, the Tapatíos make it all the harder by covering the whole thing in a thin chile sauce. And then there are, thankfully, the compromise solution, as served at --
Since 1970, Torta Loca has been serving up these tasty sandwiches
With the sauce served on the side so that the customer can add as much, or as little as wanted. These are big over-stuffed babies filled with thinly sliced pork, lettuce, tomato, mayo, cream and I'm sure what else. And they are served so finger and mouth scorchingly hot no bacteria could dare survive. Not exactly a torta ahogada since it has the vegetables, mayo and crema on it, but certainly close enough to be an incestuous kissing cousin.
On a good weekend Torta Loca can go through 300 tortas, which keeps these flat tops fully occupied.
Each torta is served directly off the heat. Along with the tortas we were served jumbo, as in 1 quart, agua frescas de guayaba (Guava). The drinks were a beautiful shade of pink, just this side of lurid, though somewhat hard to drink as pieces of guava kept getting stuck in the straw. The guavas were simply coarsely ground and then mixed with water and enough sugar to sweeten. If you love guava - and I do - this is quite a refreshing drink.
The Mercado Libertad is easy to find, every taxi driver in Guadalajara knows exactly where it is. The market is open 7-days a week from 10 AM to 8 PM, though some shops have been known to begin closing around 3 PM. Go hungry, eat well and keep your eyes peeled. There are good bargains to be found here, you just might trip over one.