If there is one thing women traveling in Mexico learn very quickly, it is that not only are the embroidered blouses colorful, they are also are cool, comfortable and easily laundered. After dining at Marganzo one evening, and seeing the blouses the waitresses were wearing, I knew I had to track one down. They are a stunning contrast in black and white and include the coat of arms for the city of Campeche. So the next morning I headed for the municipal market with some friends in search of a blouse and , clearly, we were not the first tourists on that quest. The market was well stocked with blouses and it took almost no time to locate them and make a purchase. That, of course, then left us lots of time to explore the rest of the market.
You would think that if you've seen one Mexican market you've seen them all, but for a confirmed mercado geek like me, each one is unique and holds tremendous potential and invitation to explore and discover new treasures. The mercados all move to their own beat, and hum with their own rhythm, each one different than the last or from the next.
Campeche's municipal mercado was a delightful surprise, and without a doubt one of the friendliest and nicest markets in which I've been. From soup to nuts - quite literally - if you need or want something, chances are good you could find it somewhere in the market.
There were a few mercado surprises, such as these oddly shaped jicama
...and gigantic cucumbers weighing in at close to a kilo each!
Plantains were hung by degree of ripeness from the overhead framework. The bunch below was a middle bunch, ripe but not fully ripe. They are perfect for frying and serving over white rice with a healthy dose of crema...YUM!
Perfectly ripe mangoes and guacamole ready avocados were in abundance, and abundant would be a good way to describe this particular mercado. Though most likely commercially grown, the produce was aromatic, enticing and luminous.
Campeche isn't in the state of Yucatan (it's in the state of Campeche), but it is on the Yucatan peninsula, which is famous for those righteously hot habanero chile peppers. This box full of peppers will certainly generate some spicy heat. If you can get past the incindiary heat factor, habaneros have a beautiful floral flavor.
The mercado sprawls over several blocks, as we came around a corner we ended up face-to-face with some of the most enormous cauliflowers I've ever seen. Some bigger than my head...and the beets weren't far behind in the size department, they were pretty hefty as well.
Everywhere in the Yucatan I was struck by the gorgeous radishes. There were great, huge bunches of them everywhere. Buy a few, or buy a lot, they were vivid and appealing. The stall below had one of the best displays. Along with the radishes there was mint, habaneros, normal sized cucumbers and green onions. The round, pebbly green stacked fruit are the famous naranjo agria, or sour orange. It's indispensable to Yucateco cooking and adds an acidic citrusy element. I had more than a few meals where the plate was garnished with a quarter or half a naranjo agria that could be squeezed over the plate as desired, much like the lime garnish is used in other parts of Mexico. Once I realized it wasn't just some over-sized plate garnish I began squeezing it over some of the items on my plate and discovered it really did add some spark and nuance to what I was eating.
Some vendors have regular stalls in the mercado, others simply spread their goods whereever they can find an open space. Such was the case with the vendor below. And, yes, if you look closely, you will see there is kohlrabi on the stand (next to the chayotes).
Fresh produce is not the only feature in a Mexican market. There are stands selling a variety of pantry items like the one below.
This stall had a laundry list of available products and the woman running it was a pretty persuasive saleswoman. Working from the top down, she was selling preserved nanches, mangoes and habaneros. The plastic bottles (all being reused, by the way) contained honey, salsa and tamarind pulp. The assorted plastic bags were full of things like rice, jamacia, several varieties of bean, nuts and seeds, and small packets of the Yucateco seasoning mixes called recados.
On our way out of the market we ran across this small stall selling marvelous looking grapes. We bought some to sustain us through the remainder of our morning. They were fat, sweet, juicy and refreshing given the heat and humidity of Campeche
The best way to experience a Mexican market is with all your senses wide open. Go slowly, keep your eyes peeled for anything that looks interesting. Look up, look down and look both ways you never know just what you may find in an out of the way nook or cranny. Or follow your nose. If it smells good (or even bad) let your nose lead the way. Listen to the hawkers in each stall, it doesn't matter if you understand Spanish or not, the voice and cadence of it can pull you in a direction that, perhaps, you would not have originally considered.
My friends and I had originally gone to the market to find a cute regional blouse. That took 10 mintues, but we spent over 2 hours exploring the rest of what has to be one of the friendliest markets in Mexico.