While there might be a hint of Truth in the old Hemingway maxim about culture and travel, “If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars”, Pablo Neruda has a much better take on Mexico when he says, “ Mexico is found in it’s markets”. Economists gauge the rate of inflation by measuring the cost of a kilo of tortillas, the change of season is marked by the arrival one fruit or another, and most of the culinary traditions pass through the market. Mercado de Abastos is a wonderful place to look for Mexican culture.
While most visitors are told to visit Mercado Libertad, more commonly known as San Juan de Dios, el Central de Abastos is the regional wholesale market that supplies all the other markets with produce. The market is the size of a neighborhood with the vast majority dedicated to wholesalers. However there are several retail sections that have the freshest produce you will find in Guadalajara at a fraction of the price of the supermarket. Big Rig trucks arrive 24 hours a day with treasures from the provinces. This is where the price of staples of the Mexican diet are set based on supply and demand. Seasonal changes are marked by the arrival of the mandarin or the pitaya and you can find excellent examples of the local culinary traditions. Pay particular attention to the birria and the menudo.
The easiest way to access Mercado de Abastos is from Calzada Lázaro Cardenas turning onto Avenida Mandarina (200 meters from the Arcos de Milenio monument). Look for the parking structure on Av. Mandarina between Calle 1 and Calle 2. I spend most of my time in the retail section between Calle 2 and Calle 4. This is where you will find the most established food vendors, meat market, fishmongers and vegetable vendors. There is another covered retail section on Calle 9 that has some great deals but is a little rough around the edges.
The vast majority of the market is a wholesale section. Most vendors are dedicated to one or two products and break the truckload down into crates for distribution to retailers, restaurants and even the supermarkets. One of my favorite pastimes is walking around the market asking people where different products come from. There are a number of different microclimates within a three hour drive of Guadalajara each with a different specialty and growing season. The port of Manzanillo is also close by so you will regularly see out of season fruits coming from South America and specialty foods from Asia and the United States.
Where to eat
In the main retail section between Calle 2 and Calle 4, right next to the parking structure on Av. Mandarina, is where you will find the best food stalls with some of the best food in Guadalajara. In addition to the traditional dishes from this part of Mexico you can find a good sample of Korean and Japanese options. Look for an open seat, pull up a stool and get ready to dive in!
Quite possibly the best birria in a city famous for making birria. Rogelio Aceves has been making birria his entire life and took over the family business when his dad got old. No frills, down home, ranch style birria made out of goat and veal. Grab a juice at the stall next door because its hard to drink coke in the morning.
Menudería Chela is another cultural icon that just happens to be found in the market. Chela has also been serving food in the market since they opened in the 1967 and has a pretty impressive list of clients. Besides the presidents, governors and businessmen, there is Vicente Fernandez. There is more than one photo of Don Vicente hugging Chela with a look of admiration and love in his eyes. There are few cultural ambassadors that represent Jalisco than Vicente Fernandez and when this man says that Doña Chela has a spectacular menudo you can believe it. The motto of this restaurant is, “The traveler who visits Guadalajara but does not visit Chela, did not really see Guadalajara”.
Menuderia & Carne Asadas Alfonso
Alfonso grew up working on the other side of town in Mercado Corona but has had prime real estate in Mercado de Abastos for the last 20 years. He makes one of the best and most economical breakfasts in town.
There are few places that have better tortillas than Alfonso’s. They use a a corn nixtamal masa from a small vendor that gets the best quality corn. This is not maseca! Don’t forget to tip the tortilla lady a 10 spot!