Oaxaca has a number of beautiful markets, each specializing in something different. The Mercado 20 de Noviembre sells bread and chocolate (my kind of market), Mercado Benito Juarez has ceramics, coffee, leather, textiles, and lots and lots of grasshoppers (a local delicacy). Mercado Abastos has ceramics, wooden figures and wrestling masks among other things. Our local market, Mercado Sanchez Pascuas is known for rugs and ceramics but we know it for being a really good daily market with lots of fantastic produce and fresh meat, colorful juices and fantastic food. Perhaps because of its location away from the center, it is calm and happy and people are incredibly friendly.
Traditionally the markets in Oaxaca have two different names, a religious one which comes from the location of the market, and a civil one controlled by the city. Mercado del Carmen Alto is the religious name for this market since it used by be located right across from the Carmen Alto church. But the locals mostly know it by its civil name now, Mercado Sanchez Pascuas, given to this market over 40 years ago when it was first opened
Every day when we were in Oaxaca, we visited this small market for breakfast. There were two food stalls that we preferred and we alternated each day. You can enter the market at Calle del Gral Portirio Dias and Hialgo, through one of two small doors hidden by a beautiful big tree, some interesting graffiti on the wall and a stunning flower stand, and walk through to the other side. There near the back entrance you will see a stand making fresh juice and right in front of that two tables with small red plastic chairs and table clothes on one side and women preparing the food on the other.
There are three separate stands in the row. The first sells tamale, a traditional Mesoamerican dish made with masa (a corn based dough) which is steamed in a leaf. These are filled with meats, cheese and other fillings. Our favourites here were the mole tamale (because of course when in Oaxaca you must eat mole) and also the chepil tamal, chepil being a small green edible leaf very popular in Oaxaca that has an interesting taste that resembles watercrest and spinach. These are easy to buy to go too if you prefer.
The second stand sells memelas. The woman pressed each tortialla fresh as we ordered and it is first cooked on the hot comal. Then a thin layer of lard is spread on it (to make it taste even better although you can ask for it without but why would you really!). Then a layer of bean paste is spread before your choice of toppings. There are a lot of toppings in the different plastic containers on her tiny table and we tried all and they were all equally good. My favorite though was anything with quesillo, the traditional Oaxacan cheese that is stringy and gooey and just delicious. The memelas are presented flat on a simple plastic plate but the easiest way to eat them is by folding them in two and just devouring them while they are nice and hot. Six of these (which are a good size) cost 90 pesos which is nothing for the amount of happiness they gave us and our stomaches. One is probably enough for most people…but we couldn’t get enough.
The third stand is a family selling atole, a traditional masa based beverage. They sell one that is both plane and one sweetened with brown sugar…and of course the very popular atole flavored with chocolate; the champurado. I fell in love with champurado in Mexico City and would be happy to start every day with this drink (as many here do). This one comes in a beautiful clay bowl that had green and blue flowers painted around it for about 15 pesos. A bowl full is almost a full meal in itself. You can get this to go as well.
Verdict: Highly recommend this breakfast combination if you are visiting Oaxaca. My mouth is drooling as I write this. So good. During the week the women pack up right around lunch so make sure if you go for lunch you go early.