Market Scene: Mercado San Juan in Morelia, Mexico

[Photographs: Naomi Bishop]

The hard cement walls of the 20th-century building enveloping the Mercado San Juan hardly evoke the market's half-millennium of history. It feels a little disingenuous, a little false in its newness; disconnected from the centuries of trade, the cornucopia of tropical fruits, high-altitude vegetables, and white fish traditional to the state of Michoacán. Situated in the heart of Morelia, Mexico, the unremarkable façade is an alien representative of the location, which has hosted a market in one form or another since pre-Hispanic times.

But once inside, facing down rows of indigenous pottery, staring at stacks of hand-folded corundas and uchepos (local types of tamales), the newness gives way to tradition. There are larger markets in town—ones with better facilities, fancier handicrafts, or specialty cheese stands—but at Mercado San Juan, the fruits and vegetables are largely local and seasonal, the sundries often homemade. The honey was drawn straight from the hive and the pineapple vinegar is sold in recycled Coke bottles with the labels torn off.

The ingredients for sale at the market are the building blocks of the foods you see on the streets of Morelia: brightly colored guavas, pitayas, and tiny plums, other fruits that will turn up in gaspacho de frutas (local fruit salad, topped with cheese and hot sauce); honey and sugar that will end up in the multitude of sweets for which the town is famous; and sweet corn, in varieties ranging from kernel to leaf, and even in fungus form.

Click through the slideshow to view the colorful and delicious world of Morelia, Mexico's Mercado San Juan »