Thursday, 30 January 2014

Touring the markets of Mérida

MERIDA, YUCATAN.  If you live in, or have visited Mérida, chances are you’re aware of the markets. The region south of Calle 65, east of Calle 60 is the main market area of the city, with Mercado San Benito and Mercado Lucas de Galvéz being the best known. Perhaps you have been inside one or more of the markets, or are even a regular visitor, shopping like a local to pick up the freshest seasonal produce. Or, maybe, like many expat residents and visitors, you find the markets too confusing or even a little intimidating, and, while you would like to go in, you haven’t done so for fear of getting lost, or of not knowing what you are buying. Recently, I discovered there is a solution for anyone who is in the second group, who wishes they were in the first.

Mercado Lucas de Galvéz 

Whether you are ‘market shy’ and want to learn the ropes, or a regular market shopper who would like to gain more knowledge, “Rosa’s Market Tour” may be for you. Born and brought up in the UK, Rosa Soares has lived in Mexico for 14 years, the last 6 of which, in Mérida. As a housewife, married to a local man, and living in Mérida on a local budget, necessity initially took Rosa to the markets, where she found her pesos stretched considerably further than they did at the supermarket. Day by day, she explored further, finding she had an interest in the products on sale, the vendors, and their stories. As time went on, her knowledge expanded, as did her desire to share it. Fast forward to March, 2013, and “Rosa’s Market Tour” was officially born.

Visiting the 'molino'

Now, almost a year later, Rosa is finding ever increasing interest in her tour, both from resident expats, keen to learn how to shop like locals, and visitors with the desire to see this unique side of life. Although she hesitates to describe herself as an ‘expert’, Rosa’s knowledge of the markets, the products on sale, the vendors, their backgrounds and way of life is truly amazing, and although already a regular market visitor myself, I learned a great deal from her, when I joined her on a recent tour.

The tours generally last around 4 hours, and take place on demand on weekdays, with no more than 5 people in a group. Rosa talks about the history of the markets and the city in general, highlighting points of interest while walking around and between the markets. She includes folklore and anecdotes, as well as product and shopping knowledge, making this a fascinating tour even for those who are not specifically interested in market shopping. Tours cover all the main markets in centro, and are customized on a per tour basis according to time of day, seasonal produce, etc. Upon request, Rosa also customizes the tours further according to interests of the participants, for example bakers, or cake makers. I’d encourage any resident expat or visitor to take Rosa’s tour; it’s almost guaranteed to teach you something new. Wear good walking shoes!

Did you know that 13 types of citrus grow in Yucatan?

Rosa’s latest venture is collaborating with two locals who have developed an all-day gastronomic workshop tour, which they operate approximately once a month. The tour features a village near Izamal, highlighting pre-Hispanic cooking methods, visiting a local Maya family, and culminating in a meal, which the participants help to cook. During the day, you’ll learn how to make your own achiote / recado rojo paste, muc bil pollo, and the refreshing drink pozole. All ingredients used are sourced from the family’s vegetable patch, farm, or village. While the muc bil pollo is cooking in the pib (underground pit oven) there are options to visit surrounding attractions. Rosa is on hand as translator and to explain what is happening. It sounds like a brilliant way to spend a Saturday or Sunday (which are the only days the tour is offered), while helping to promote, preserve and sustain an authentic rural village in Yucatan. The reasonable tour price includes transportation from Mérida.

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