Mexican Culture is diverse and holds many aspects that might seem a bit odd for westerners. Food, traditions, customs can be quite particular and few places show them off quite as well as the market place. When our hostel in Mexico City offered a free tour of the mercado mexicano we didnt’t have to think about it for too long and tagged along to be overwhelmed with a one of a kind cultural experience.
Our tour guide Monica, who has been backpacking for 14 years, has studied religion, graphic design, anthropology, bakery and tourism. Then, finally, she decided to work in tourism to present her home country with pride.
myself and lovely tour guide Monica
The tour program consisted of three mercados:
- speciality market (food & meat)
- food market
- arts market (Mercado artesanía).
Mercado 1: Special Meat and other food
When Monica told us that you can get any kind of meat here, I was quite impressed (and shocked). From kangaroo to crocodile, tiger or lion, you could get everything, you wished to eat. Of course this business was largely based on a black market and illegal imports. Also, the price for these specialty meats was quite high, as the meat is freshly imported from continents all over the world (especially from Africa, Australia, Asia).
A feature of Mexicanos is that they eat with their „senses“- they need to see, smell and taste their food and that´s why animals on markets are often sold in a full format, meaning that all their organs, their head and feet are still attached to the body, not really our usual way of buying meat (warning – the following pictures are bloody and show dead animals).
Another unusual thing you could find here, were insects and dried shrimps. A glass full of dried ants was sold to a price of 150 pesos (= 9€), which is quite expensive, compared with a full menu of soup, chicken and noodles for about 2€ or delicious tacos for about 0,60€.
Who believes this is a tomato…
… is as wrong as me. Tomatoes in Mexico are rather green and small- and the red “tomato” you can see on the picture is called “jitomate”
Mexico is famous for its spicy food. If you ever decide to go to Mexico, be aware of the small chilis- they are super spicy and can easily take your breath away – a first aid against being “over-spiced” is licking salt from your hand or use after-sun lotion for hurting lips.
Next, I want to introduce you to an exotic fruit called Guava – this fruit is a miracle and helps to fight stomach aching and diarrhea on completely natural way. Why? The seeds of the fruit give our body kind of a balance.
MERCADO 2: Food, Food, Food
Mexicanos love cooking and eating- their most common and social room in the house is the kitchen, not the living room like in many European or American households.
Now a little riddle: Even though the majority of food-preparers are women, the best chef in the world is still a man- why? Women often adapt their cooking style to their emotions- so if they have their period, conflicts with their boyfriend/husband or problems at work- it is likely that the soup gets more salty than normal, whereas men are “flat with their emotions” and don´t let themselves get distracted.
When thinking of Mexico, you might have a similar picture in front of your eyes:
Sombreros, guitars and cacti – yes, Mexico is the country of cacti and they belong to the Mexican tradition- But cacti can not only be watched, they have other uses as well- for medical purposes, as food or as drugs.
Cacti as food: All spikes are removed, then the peel comes off and finally the cactus gets cooked. The result is a a very healthy food which is often used for diets. It actually tastes a bit like cooked pepper.
Cacti as a drug: San Pedro Cactus, for example, leads to hallucinations, where people go on spiritual journey with lots of colors and visions. Apparently the song “riders on the storm” of was written whilethe Doors singer Jim Morrisson was taking the drug.
Here some more impressions of the food market
MERCADO 3: Arts and Crafts
Death is sacred in Mexico: Everyone deserves the death after you have lived. Mexican people are fearless of the death and it is a topic that they often talk about. They even have a holiday to honor death, called “Día de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead), held on the 2nd of November, a day of prayer and memorial of dead family members and friends. Day of the dead is by no means a time of silence and sadness, but of celebrations and getting together. The festival is primarily dedicated to the “Lady of the Dead” – the famous god of death named Catrina, represented as an aristocratic, well-dressed woman in shape of a skeleton.
Thanks Monica for this excellent tour.
I hope that everyone of you will be able to visit the gorgeous country of Mexico one time. Of all the countries I have visited so far I must say Mexico was definitely in my personal top 3, as it has a lot of different sides and interesting things to see. I will come back, for sure!