25th September 2015
Words: Adam Park
Photographs: Daniel “Toper” Cabrera
There has been a food market here since pre-Hispanic times, according to a barista called Fernando who gives us a potted history of the place when we stop at his shop for an espresso. “First it was called Moyotlan, or “place of mosquitos”, then El Mercado de Iturbide, named after the military leader and president Agustín de Iturbe, until it became known by its current name in the 1950s1.” In the 70s the market started specialising in exotic foods, and many foreigners come here to source things they wouldn’t find anywhere else in the city.
We approached a variety of shoppers and asked them to show us what they were buying for dinner. Although there was no lion meat on the menu, our findings – for the second part of our What’s Cooking series – were as diverse and interesting as the market itself.
“I came from Mexico state, about 90 minutes away, to get some Oaxacan specialities: chapulines, quesillo [Oaxacan cheese], and some other Oaxacan products. The chapulines [crickets] are already cooked and seasoned with olive oil, garlic and chilli, so we serve them just the way they are, with a simple guacamole. It’s worth the trip as it’s the best place to buy these sorts of things – especially the fresh cheeses.”
“We came here to have a baguette for lunch and have just finished. To be honest, we are just looking around to see what catches our eyes for today’s dinner. So far we’ve got mascarpone cheese, honey from Chiapas State and okra. We are not sure what to do with the okra but I’m guessing that we are going to either bread them or fry them. I tend to do the cooking, but he helps.”
“I’ve been coming here since I was a little boy. It’s really the best seafood in the city. I try to come once a month, and I always know exactly what I want to cook so I’m usually in and out. Today I bought fish, shellfish, vegetables… The fish is called huachinango [snapper] and I’m going to cook it covered with salt. I’ve never cooked fish in this way, but I saw the recipe and I’m going to try it. I do a lot of cooking at home, and love eating meals with all my family. They seem to enjoy my cooking so I enjoy it too.”
“I came over from France 23 years ago, but I still like to make dishes from home – coq au vin, and so on. Today I bought lamb ribs; my son and I are going to make a couscous dish. It’s a Moroccan recipe, though in France it’s best with mussels. I’m just missing some vegetables: carrots, peppers, tomatoes. I’ve been coming to this market for a long time; it’s good for very specific things you will not find easily in Mexico. The meat is a little different than in France because the animals are not fed on the same seeds and things.”
“I came today to buy shrimp, clams and squid for a paella, which is a dish I make every so often for my family. Today we have some other family over from Europe so it’s a little special, it’s my way of saying welcome. I’m cooking for 12, but it can be more sometimes. I don’t really cook much else: mainly paella.”
“We are looking around for inspiration for what to cook. A good fish maybe. We never come with a plan. Usually when we come here to get something for a very special meal – a birthday or anniversary – but today is mostly for fun. So far we have only bought cheese – a type called Asadero, made in Zacatecas. It’s typical of that region, quite like a muenster cheese.”
“We live about an hour away from here in a town called Cuautitlán Izcalli. We came to the market to buy what we need to make a seafood soup called caldo de camaron, or mariscada, with shrimp, clams and so on. To get the best, richest flavour we bought dry shrimp. We are also buying exotic fruit to serve afterwards. I do most of the cooking at home, but we all like to eat together – it’s very special for us as a family.”
San Juan Market is at Av Arcos de Belén, Ciudad de México, D.F., Mexico