Saturday, January 17, 2015

Oaxaca Sojourn—Part 5 El Mercado de La Merced

Biggest is not always best. In regard to mercados, I prefer the more intimate markets that serve their local neighborhoods. The Mercado de La Merced qualifies. We first went there with Sra. Lilia, wife of Sr. Arnel Cruz of Casa Arnel, to buy ingredients for a  Oaxacan-Southeast Asian meal we cooked cooperatively. Later, Pilar Cabrera, chef of La Olla Restaurant and maestra of the Los Sabores Cooking School, led me there to get ingredients for a mole verde. She treated me to a chocolateatole, a cold, foamy, two part drink that hearkens back to the Aztec style of drinking chocolatl.

Last year, I walked to the Mercado de La Merced (AKA Mercado La Democracia) to explore, but especially to buy smokey, picante dried chiles pasillas de Oaxaca, chintextle (Dark, chile based paste with other ingredients).The Merced is of manageable size and the vendors are friendly. This year, I noticed for the first time the cleanliness of the carnicerías, with brightly lit refrigerated showcases. In the fruits and vegetable stands, you will find some unusual herbs and greens, as well as the succulent tomates criollos.
Tomates Criollos, Mercado de La Merced
One of Oaxaca's mottos should be: "Tanta comida pero poquito tiempo." It's impossible to even begin to discover and taste the many gastronomic delights, unless you live here. All we can do during our less than two week stay is sample that which appeals to us. (I tend to be dubious when reading recommendations for expensive, chi-chi ("attempting stylish elegance but achieving only an overelaborate pretentiousness") restaurants that feature such delicacies as beet ice and goat cheese foam. That starts to narrow my field of exploration.)

This brings us to fondas. Fondas are small, normally unpretentious eating establishments, often presided over by an older woman whose name ends in "ita", as in "Rosita", "Teresita", Florecita", and so on. There are often no menus, but your server, or the proprietress herself will recite what's available. You will usually sit at a long table, sharing it with other customers, and the seating is usually on benches, not chairs.
Just a few of the fondas in the mercado

(There is one larger fonda within La Merced, Fonda San Diego, that has actual 4-spot tables and chairs, as well as waiters in chartreuse tunics, something like bellhops in classic hotels. Those non-traditional features immediately make me dubious. 
We were there at San Diego yesterday, in spite of my doubts, but ended up leaving without eating, as the place was jammed, in the weeds, because of the hundreds of protestors stoking up before the day's activities. In fact, every fonda in the mercado was filled to capacity. But just think: if hundreds of protestors eat there, it's like a vote of approval from el Pueblo, ¿verdad?)

Despite our best efforts, we have barely begun to try the twelve or so fondas inside the Mercado.  We went to Fonda Teresita first, where we drank from bowls very good chocolate Oaxaqueño de agua and a bowl of champurrado (something like drinking hot, liquid chocolate pudding only better.)
Champurrado from Fonda Florecita, opposite Teresita's
At Teresita's that first day, we both had enchiladas (YES! For breakfast. I love Mexican breakfasts.)
I had Enchiladas en Mole Coloradito con Tasajo (Thin, salted semi dried beef.)
Enchiladas de Coloradito con Tasajo. A stand up breakfast

Doña Cuevas enjoyed Enchilada Verdes con Tasajo. The salsa is tart with chiles and tomatillos.

Enchiladas Verdes con Tasajo
Based on that single breakfast, we recommend Fonda Teresita. The prices are low and the service is friendly. I also enjoyed looking at the attractive young woman working at Teresita's, an enhancement to a nice breakfast experience.

At our next opportunity, we breakfasted at Fonda Florecita (one of two fondas in the mercado but apparently unrelated.) Our breakfast was simpler than that at Teresita's: unusual Huevos Rancheros for Doña Cuevas

Huevos Rancheros Florecita's

I had Huevos Revueltos con Chorizo Oaxaqueño, accompanied by frijoles negros de olla. Not bad, but the frijoles were a little salty.

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Huevos revueltos con chorizo
Our third fonda experience in the mercado was at the bigger, non-related Fonda Florecita, near the panaderías, deeper into the center of the mercado. We were attended by a not too attentive teenage boy.
I went all out and had a tlayuda con cecina  ($80 pesos) (cecina is the pork counterpart of tasajo.) A tlayuda is analogous to a thin, crisp crusted Oaxacan pizza, based on a large dried tortilla, but with significant differences. See photo below (the Blogger caption function is intermittently buggy.)

Doña Cuevas ate (Sorry, I forgot what and don't have a photo.

So far, based on three single experiences, we rate Fonda Teresita #1, The smaller Florecita #2, and the bigger Florecita deeper in the mercado #3. (Demerits for iffy hygiene and service lacking attention to small details.) OMG, there are also three or four lunch counters in the hallway from the northeast entrand serving antojitos regionales, like memelas, empanadas, quesadillas, etc.  "La Güerita" appears to be the most attractive and draws the most customers. This opinion is based on a very brief look. I had a melita de huitlacoche  at the neighboring Antojitos "La Pao". Not bad.

I've run out of space and time in which to describe the wonderful juice bars, as well as other, tablecloth restaurants we ate at, so this is all for this morning. Here's a peek at juices at the "La Victoria" juice bar.

Mercado de La Merced is located on Avenida Morelos, between Calzada de La República Calle Nicolás del Puerto lies in between) and Calle Aparicio. Bounded on the north by Av. Murguia and the south by Av. Morelos.

 A map:

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