Shopping in Mérida, the smells, the colours, the tastes, the sounds and the sights all challenge the senses – particularly in and around the city’s largest market, Mercado Lucas de Galvéz.
The downtown streets around the mercado are packed by mid-morning with everyone (and I mean everyone) masked-up and going about their business. There’s so much going on that it’s hard to take it all in, but some of my favourite shops for some reason are for ladies’ wedding and formal attire, where gowns are (apologies) truly gaudy, not (can we say?) the last word in fashion, and exceptionally cheap. But clearly they make someone’s day… and they make me smile (there are lots of shops renting flashy tuxedos and suits to men for similar occasions).
Another kind of shop you’ll find all over Mexico are the Farmacias Similares, their catchy slogan “Lo Mismo Pero Mas Barato” (The Same but Cheaper)– a Mexican-owned pharmacy chain of some 5000 outlets that provides cut-price medicines for people of all income levels. You’ll often find the large cartoon doctor dancing out on the street, enticing you in. As a traveller needing prescription medicine, all you need to do is present your empty packet with its list of essential ingredients and they’ll provide a generic (or pharmacologically adjacent) alternative at a fraction of the usual cost. It’s an excellent service that I just wish would exist in Australia!
There’s no grand entrance to Mercado Lucas de Galvéz, just a series of dark narrow rabbit-warren passages (often lined with shoe repairers and haircutters for some reason) that lead you into different sections of the mercado.
Then there’s the Comida section, the eating stalls heaving with locals tucking into their favourite dishes. Mérida’s favourite dish, Pibil Cochinita, the slow-roasted suckling pig that just melts in the mouth, served in a freshly made hot tortilla with lashings of red onion, and, of course, some spooned in habanero salsa. My favourite. Or how about another local favourite, Tamales Yucatecos, banana leaves stuffed with everything you can imagine – chicken, pork, vegetables – then steamed.
If you’re after an on-the-go snack you might go for some Chicharra, pork skin fried in its own fat accompanied by sour orange, a habanero salsa of course and some cabbage. But if you’re game, how about a bowl of Menudo – beef stomach (tripe) in a steaming bowl of broth with red habaneros. Just don’t find yourself in the butcher section if you’re a vegan… It’s a far cry from your normal high street butcher I can tell you.
And if you’ve had a few too many tequilas the night before then the locals might suggest you have a Ojo Rojo (Red Eye or ‘Clamato preparado’ ). It’s lager beer with tomato and clam juice with a salted rim. You won’t find any candidates here, so apologies for no photos of us drinking this bracing concoction.
After the Comida section you’ll wander through the packed fresh fruit and veg stalls that are heaving with familiar and unfamiliar produce. Mangoes, Papaya and Bananas are less than $1 a kilo. There are fruits here I’ve never heard of such as Mamey, oval-shaped with suede-looking skin and bright red/orange flesh. There are mounds of Caimito which are large purple round tropical fruits that have a hint of pineapple but are apparently best described as reminiscent of caramel flan… go figure! Must get me some of those! And many more that I’m yet to discover and try.