Working with dried chiles is my favorite part of Mexican cooking—I find the earthy, fruity, and sometimes smoky aroma of roasting chiles intoxicating—so it was only fitting that I was met with a wall of them when first entering this vast market. Ancho, mulato, guajillo, pasilla...
Even More Chilies and Jamaica
...morita, arbol, pulla, all the varieties in abundance. Nestled within the chiles was a huge bin of jamaica—dried leaves of the hibiscus flower used to make tea and agua fresca.
We found a variety of Mexican sweet breads including conchas, so named for their resemblance, in shape and color, to a seashell.
Cal, or slaked lime, is an alkali that, when soaked and cooked with dried corn (a process called nixtamalization), creates the masa used for tamales and tortillas.
Corn, Corn, and More Corn
There’s never a need to husk and cut your own corn with pros like these. The immense task of working through that floor full of corn seemed overly daunting, but these guys sped through each ear with incredible ease.
This variety of white corn is commonly dried and used for making hominy.
Named for its resemblance to rosemary, these sprigs from the romerito plant are in season in the months around the new year and are used in a traditional holiday dish that also includes potatoes and dried shrimp in a mole sauce.
Tower of Nopales
One corridor in the giant maze that is La Merced was completely filled with vendors of nopales—the young pads of the prickly pear cactus. Merchants sat dutifully
stall after stall, cutting away all the spines from each individual piece catus.
Among the endless stalls of La Merced, a market for more common goods, I found only one seller offering more rare Mexican delicacies like chapulines—toasted grasshoppers.
Although I’m glad I made my own mole poblano, after seeing dried and paste versions of these complex sauces premade and ready to go, I think I’d forgo the entire day in the kitchen and opt to take this easy route instead.
Leaving the vegetable building(s)—it’s hard to keep track of where you are in La Merced—we entered the meat area of the market, which was no less daunting. Upon entering, I got big smiles from these fresh poultry vendors.
Huge sheets of chicharrones—fried crackling pig skin—were found around almost every corner. I could live here!
Walls of Meat
The overflowing stalls of the meat market gave the feeling of roaming through a building whose walls were made of meat.
Although not as plentiful as the vegetables or meat, there were a few vendors of traditional Mexican cheese like queso blanco and queso canasta—named for the impression left by the basket which serves as the mold.
I ended my market tour outside, where the traditional Mexican sweets attracted as many bees as buyers. Candied vegetables abounded, like calabaza (pumpkin), chilacayote (squash), and camote (sweet potato).