The sign said $30 pesos a orden - $30 pesos an order. Just exactly how many oysters could one get for $30 pesos ($2.75 USD)? The answer turned out to be a whopping 15!! And these weren't tiny little critters, these were nice big, fresh, briny babies only a few hours removed from the sea. I thought of all my friends who love oysters and chuckled. They would be GREEN with envy if they knew they could be slurping down fresh oysters for less than $.20 a piece. Too bad they are the one shellfish I really can't stomach. So much for a great bargain on seafood.
You'd think that after the full day before in Zapopan I'd be ready for other parts of Guadalajara. But there was one thing I hadn't see on Sunday that I really to want see......the fish market, Mercado del Mar. It is, after all, the 2nd largest one in Mexico. Visitors to Mexico always seem surprised, first, by the quantity of fresh fish available in the interior of the country and then, second, but the quality of it. Mexico does have thousands of miles of coastline and for generations fish has been a plentiful and economical source of protein. And Guadalajara and Zapopan are only about 2 1/2 - 3 hours by truck from the coast, so it's not inconceivable that they can get good, fresh fish that is only a few hours removed from the source.
The Mercado del Mar occupies a good sized city block. A short set of steps up leads to a wide promenade lined on both sides, from front to rear, with fish mongers and fish restaurants. There is some tell-tale fishy aroma, it isn't overpowering and the sense of smell quickly acclimates. It was mid-morning when Cristina and I arrived, the overcast was just starting to burn off in earnest and the temperature was quite pleasant. I suspect if it was sunnier and hotter the smell of fish would probably have been a good deal more pervasive.
Perhaps it's a good thing Cristina's kitchen wasn't quite completed in her new house yet. I am sure we'd have purchased enough fish for a substantial fish feast and that she'd still be eating the leftovers, now 10 days later. By and large, the majority of the vendor stalls were clean, well stocked, and well maintained. There was a wide variety of fish and shellfish available, here is just a sampling.
Red snapper is a very popular fish in Mexico and was well represented at the Mercado del Mar
These were about the size of the ones we'd had for lunch a couple days earlier in Tlaqupaque. And since the freshness of a fish is often apparent by the bulge and clarity of the eyes
as you can see these guys were no slouches in the fresh fish department.
They even grow big enough so that an entire family could be fed with one fish
These big 'uns were going for $58 pesos per kilo, which is $2.45 USD/pound.
That sign for "Molido Tilapia" is for ground tilapia. The grind is somewhere between hamburger and the chunkier chili grind, and is used for ceviche. At $24 pesos to the kilo, it converts to about $.99/pound.
Dorado (below) goes by the name mahi-mahi here in the U.S.
I even learned how to tell the difference between a boy Dorado and a girl Dorado. The male Dorado is the one that has the pronounced and prominent doming of the upper part of the head. The female Dorado has a much sleeker, more streamlined upper head. In my book, anything without a price tag on it is free. Somehow I don't think this vendor would have agreed. Besides, what would I have done with all that mahi?
Other varieties of fish that were abundant during this visit were sierra, tilapia, catfish, sea bass and shark. There were whole shark bodies being broken down into filetes that we were allowed to touch. Sharks have a totally different feel to their skin. It's taut and leathery as opposed to the scaley somewhat limp skin on the other fishes.
If whole fish isn't on the menu, it is just as easy to get it already processed into chunks, hunks, pieces, parts and filetes. Fish heads for stock, soup and boullibase abound.
$2.75 USD/pound for sea bass, $2.92 USD/pound for mahi-mahi and $2.20 USD/pound for red snapper. I wish the fresh fish prices in San Diego were this reasonable.
There must of have been a run on rays because we saw lots of manta rays for sale, either whole or fileted out. At one shop we lucked into watching a guy quickly make short work of this ray.
All the guys with knives were really quick and efficient, stopping only every few fish to sharpen their knife on a hone kept wet in a bucket of water. With their knife skills, I'm sure these are not guys you'd want to meet in a dark alley some night, or with whom you'd really want to start a bar fight.
When we had walked the entire promenade and checked out every vendor, we ducked around to the corner to the loading docks where all the fish is received. Most of the vendors had already received their shipments, processed them and were beginning their daily clean-up. But there were still crates of whole fish of assorts sizes, shapes and colors, all packed on ice still awaiting the butchers blade.
Most of the trucks in which the fish had been delivered were small to medium sized pick-up or box trucks, but as we neared the far end of one dock there was a full size semi-trailer parked in one of the bays. It's back door was open and every so often things would come flinging out. We stopped for a peek when we finally pulled up to it. Inside the trailer, nose to door, stainless steel tables butted up against each other and on either side were people picking shrimp. Each person wore a white smock, hairnet and rubber boots and did the same thing, endlessly sizing, sorting, and otherwise getting the shrimp ready to cross the dock, go through the back door and on to the counter for sale.
There were a lot of shellfish at Mercado del Mar. Thousands of crabs, gorgeously pristine sea scallops, oysters, octopus, slabs of calamari filet and clams. But none of these compared to the voluminous mounds of shrimp.
Some shrimps were sold whole with head, legs and roe still attached. Others, like those above had already been cleaned of heads and feet. And the majority of what is pictured above is farm raised with one exception.
Cameron de Mar are wild shrimp, caught in the ocean, not on a shrimp farm. These are selling for $4.86 USD/pound. Most of the farm raised shrimp we saw was going for $3.35 - $3.80 USD/pound.
This is probably one of the only times I've left any kind of Mexican market empty handed. But with Cristina's kitchen out of commission and a pending luncheon engagement, any fish purchases would have to wait until next time. Perhaps I really didn't miss out the fresh fish at all. There's a pretty good chance my lunch came from the Mercado del Mar.