My visit to the Benito Juarez market started in a dangerous way.
Squeezing through the diminutive alleys, lit by dim light bulbs and clogged with a multitude of shoppers, bear the risk of breaking something or being patted down TSA style. Moreover, the alleys were blocked with dry Jamaica flowers, clay jars and flower pots. Tall people (like me) had to protect their heads from hanging piñatas, bags or skeletons commemorating the “dia de los muertos” (day of the dead).
This particular market occupies an entire block square and it is located one block south of the zocalo. It is the biggest permanent market in Oaxaca. Even though locals told me the market is not as authentic as it used to be, you can still find grandmothers buying their produce in here. For what I experienced, the quality of the products offered is high, the prices are good and the vendors are very friendly. It is a place to get lost in Oaxaca’s flavors, textures and aromas.
But to absorb a place like this, you have to make peace with all the dangers on sight.
The danger of getting cloyed by the sweet chocolate samples in many kiosks.
The danger of getting your skin and clothes stained while trying the black, red and almond moles.
The danger of ingesting several insects (chapulines, maguey worms, etc.)
The danger of getting teary-eyed when inhaling the pasilla, guajillo and ancho chile fumes.
The danger of staying all afternoon (and forget about other sightseeing) at “Aguas Casilda” or “Nieves Chaguita.” The first one sells fresh drinks made from fruits such as pinapple and soursop. Their horchata is famous too. If you ask, they add tuna (cactus fruit), cantaloupe bits or nuts to your drink. On the nieves booth, I couldn’t leave without trying the rose petal flavor and the beso Oaxaqueno (Oaxacan kiss, made with carrot, pineapple and apple).
The danger of burning your throat after trying potent mezcal.
The danger of getting bummed because you are not going to bring back home perishable food.
The danger of scaring people when trying to take their photography without permission (always ask before taking a picture).
The danger of spending too much money not only on food or drinks but in all sorts of crafts.
And of course, the market has vendors offering fruits, candies and potato chips covered in chamoy (a sauce made with pickled fruit, salt and chili). Chamoy is one of the few things I detest from Mexican cuisine.
Sorry, I don’t want to be negative but entering this market (if you can find the entrance) requires a level of courage. Once you are inside, it is easy to realize why some risks add joy to life.
Have you visited any “dangerous” markets? Let me know in the comments section below.