Published On: Fri, May 2nd, 2014

The charm and economy of shopping at the “Mercado” instead of Costco

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To live in the Centro histórico of Mérida, you have two general choices when it’s time to fill your pantry. South to the traditional markets, or north to Costco. The expats of Centro tend to head to Costco, or to the many other modern supermarkets that have sprung up in the last 20 years (such as Walmart, Soriana, Chedraui or Superama), basically because they’re clean, familiar, and prices are clearly marked.

But purists, the ones who eschew any gringo affectations and American0-style influences, will tell you they shop for the big bargains at Mercado Lucas de Galvez, the traditional central market south of the main plaza.

When Martha Stewart and Rick Bayless visited Mérida, they didn’t drag a film crew to Chedraui, they trained their lens on the atmospheric swirl that is the historic mercado.

Chef David Sterling of Los Dos wrote this about the sprawling marketplace:

The cornerstone of that market is Lucas de Galvez, which is crowded, chaotic, and according to Milenio, a fireball waiting to happen. Perceptions of hazard food handling (where is the running water?) and fears of pickpockets already scare away the faint of heart. But complaints of vendors storing gas tanks by the flame of their stoves have made the headlines lately.


Vendors storing full gas tanks by the flame of their stoves

Lucas de Galvez isn’t pretty. It’s not a romantic site. But it’s a real-world market that average Meridanos depend on every day. Tour guides say it’s a piece of authentic Mérida. Now, the question is: Would you eat and shop there?

The two other prominent markets, a lot less crowded, are in the Santa Ana and Santiago parks. There are tacos, juices, sandwiches, panuchos, fruit and flower stands, and — here’s where it gets intimidating — stalls with no refrigeration or air conditioning selling meat and poultry (especially with 100 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures).

A blog post from one American expat lays out the challenge. A walk south to the mercado would be convenient, and we assume a more colorful experience, than a drive north to the American-style supermarkets.

On Facebook, the story caught fire, and expats who do, indeed, shop the local markets for meats, spoke up for the markets. Some more “obscure” markets were also endorsed.

Mercado Lucas de Galvez

Mercado Lucas de Galvez

Some excerpts:

“I buy meat and poultry at mercados – bought some pork loin and fish at the Chen Bech mercado on Friday, in fact. I have bought poultry at the Santiago market in the past. I do, however, get most of our meat at the Maxi Carne across the street from the Chen Bech mercado.”

“Hilarious! I have to admit, I’m not that brave yet, but I’m sure if we saw where the Costco meat comes from, we’d shudder.”

“I think it’s fine to buy your meat at the “Mercado”, but I recommend to get there early in the morning”

“We buy pork from the mercado … and occasionally chicken wings. Beef too but not as good as Alberta beef. Haven’t tried fish yet.”

“We get our chicken from “El Rey del Pollo” (Chicken King) in the Chelem market. Never had any issues. In fact, we love our king raised chicken!”

“Get your chicken from the markets!!! if you can spend the trip and buy what you need every day, that is what most people in Yucatan still do today. Everything is fresh, LOCALLY PRODUCED and these people invented organic in their milpas before you started being part of the organic fashion.”

“I do shop at the meat markets here in Santa Ana. It was a real eye opener the first time. Important things to remember: get to know the purveyors, speak Spanish and shop early in the morning while it is still relatively cool. I still have not bought one of the whole chickens with all the “parts”… I’ll stick with pechuga de pollo!!”

“I haven’t cooked chicken much in Merida yet – we’re so close to Chicken Itza and Big Chicken on Reforma [two takeout restaurants] it almost makes no sense to cook it myself!”

“I live 3 blocks from the big market and love it. I buy most of our meat, except steak from the market vendors, and all of our fish. Never have had any problem. We also buy our turkey there every year for Thanksgiving.”


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